The SEC announced Wednesday the week-by-week schedule for the 2021 football season. While last year’s season featured exclusively interconference SEC games, the upcoming season features the reintroduction of nonconference matchups across the board. Here are the five games in the upcoming SEC football season that will potentially shape the College Football Playoff.

5. Texas A&M Aggies @ LSU Tigers (Week 13, Nov. 27):

LSU v Texas A&M
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In true 2020 fashion, the defending national champion LSU Tigers tumbled headfirst into the Mike Leach-led Mississippi State Bulldogs. This loss turned into a 5-5 overall record and one of the worst national title defenses in college football history.

That won’t be the case in 2021. LSU’s fall from glory will turn out to be an outlier, and the Bayou Bengals will be contenders in the SEC West, yet again.

Besides their single loss to Alabama in Week 2, the Aggies had a phenomenal season. In fact, there was serious discussion among the sporting world that Texas A&M deserved the last CFP playoff spot over Ohio State.

Luckily for Aggies fans, this seems to be a trend that will continue for a while. When these two teams square off in the final week of the regular season, it will likely be for the second spot in the SEC West with a New Year’s Six Bowl Bid at large or even a spot in the College Football Playoff.

4. Alabama Crimson Tide @ Florida Gators (Week 3, Sept. 18):

SEC Championship - Alabama v Florida
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While the Crimson Tide and Gators might not be locked into annual matchups because of division, their matchups are always fueled with mutual respect and animosity. These two teams met in December for the SEC Championship, and the game came down to the last minutes of the game. In fact, this matchup between the two SEC juggernauts was the closest game all season for Alabama, including the CFP Semifinal against Notre Dame and the National Championship against Ohio State.

Alabama has reached the point of the Nick Saban era where it is assumed that they will be in the playoff picture in late November. The only real questions are whether new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien’s offense can match Steve Sarkisian’s offense in 2020 and whether first-year starting quarterback Bryce Young can live up to the hype.

Florida will be losing both Heisman finalist Kyle Trask and star tight end Kyle Pitts, so their offense is also up in the air. Still, Florida is expected to be in the running for a return to the SEC title game in Atlanta.

While a rematch of this game is expected in Atlanta come December, both teams are in luck. This game is the first conference game for both teams and is definitely early enough that the loser of this highly anticipated matchup might still have a case for a deep postseason run.

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3. Auburn Tigers @ Penn State Nittany Lions (Week 3, Sept. 18):

Illinois v Penn State
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Boy, did both of these teams have a rocky 2020 season. Penn State, from the very first game of the season, underperformed their usual blue-blood expectations. An overtime loss to Indiana, which exceeded all predictions, defeated the Nittany Lions after a controversial game-winning touchdown. Penn State didn't even win a game until a Week 6 matchup in Ann Arbor against Michigan. Ultimately, Penn State avoided a winless home schedule with a victory against Michigan State. They ended on a four-game win streak, and just like the LSU Tigers, are expected to rebound exponentially and challenge Ohio State in the Big Ten East.

Auburn started strong with a good win over Kentucky but finished the season with all five of their losses being by over a touchdown deficit. Two of their wins were by under a touchdown too, proving that Auburn just couldn’t pull away in a dogfight. Surely, Tiger fans are eager to see upcoming junior quarterback Bo Nix finally maturing enough to be consistent throughout the season, but can Auburn survive this game of teams that underperformed in 2020?

Penn State opens the season in Madison against Wisconsin, which will be a challenge for the Nittany Lions, but if they can pull out a victory, then this Week 3 matchup could be between undefeated squads.

2. Georgia Bulldogs v. Clemson Tigers [Charlotte, NC] (Week 1, Sept. 4):

ACC Championship - Clemson v Notre Dame
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Since the College Football Playoff started in 2014, the Bulldogs and Tigers have been two of the best teams in the country. While Georgia has not been able to finish, losing in the postseason three of the past four years, Clemson has been able to make the College Football Playoff all four of those years.

Sure, Clemson is losing star quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, but will Clemson really drop off that far? The ACC released their 2021 schedule Thursday, and to nobody’s surprise, Georgia is the only challenge to Clemson all season.

Besides this game, the Bulldogs should have a relatively easy road until October when they travel to Auburn and later take on Florida. J.T. Daniels, the USC transfer, is going into his second year in Athens, and most football pundits are expecting a dramatic increase in talent.

This will be Clemson’s first game with Lawrence in the NFL, but backup quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, who led the team in the first meeting last year against Notre Dame, should be ready to keep this game close.

1. Alabama Crimson Tide @ Texas A&M Aggies (Week 6, Oct. 9):

CFP National Championship Presented by AT&T - Ohio State v Alabama
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Yeah, Alabama may have beaten the Aggies last season by four touchdowns, but after that, Texas A&M made one of the best rebounds in recent history. The Aggies ran the table, including an Orange Bowl victory over a powerful North Carolina team, and won their games by an average of 14 points. Plus, the Aggies don’t seem to be slowing down.

As much as it may pain Crimson Tide fans to hear this, Alabama probably won’t live up to the offensive records that they set last year. Still, as previously mentioned, if Bryce Young can live up to the hype, then Alabama’s receiving core- John Metchie, Slade Bolden, and Javon Baker- can make for an electric air attack.

Last season’s matchup between these two teams was very early, which might explain Texas A&M’s rebound, but this season, the two will meet in College Station in October. By then, these two might be in mid-season form, and this game might be a lot closer.

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