Games of the year in the SEC

Some games jump out at you before the season ever begins. Others sort of evolve into epic showdowns as the season plays out.

The 2011 SEC season begins on Thursday night with Kentucky and Mississippi State each playing a pair of nonconference games.

Here are what we see as being the five biggest games in the SEC this season:

South Carolina at Georgia, Sept. 10: The loser of this game has never played in the SEC championship game. So if history holds true, it's an elimination game in the Eastern Division race. It's also one of those "games that count" that Georgia coach Mark Richt really needs to win.

LSU at Mississippi State, Sept. 15: Scott Field has transformed into one of the SEC's best atmospheres under Dan Mullen, and the place will really be rocking on Thursday night when the Tigers come to town. If the Bulldogs are going to take that next step in the SEC, this is the kind of game at home they need to win.

Arkansas at Alabama, Sept. 24: Consider this Round 2. These two teams played a classic game in Fayetteville last season with Alabama rallying in the second half to win. The scene shifts to Tuscaloosa this September, and the winner will take the early lead in the SEC's race to make it six BCS national championships in a row.

Florida vs. Georgia, Oct. 29: It's always been one of college football's most festive rivalries with the catchy nickname and all, but this season's game will tell you a lot about the direction of these two programs. Will Muschamp is in his first season at Florida, and Mark Richt is trying to make sure this isn't his last season at Georgia.

LSU at Alabama, Nov. 5: These two teams have combined to win two of the last four BCS national championships. Only once has the loser of this game gone on to play in the SEC championship game, and that was Alabama in 1993. Each of the last four games in the series have gone down to the final few possessions. Why should this one be any different?