Five games to fear in the SEC

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

The SEC has done a better job lately of scheduling marquee nonconference games.

Case in point: Alabama opens the 2009 season against Virginia Tech in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic, while Georgia travels to Oklahoma State to open its season.

Talk about some serious testers right out of the gate.

But where are those nonconference games that aren't necessarily against big-name foes that will still cause SEC coaches some sleepless nights? You know, the kind of game no head coach would schedule because you don't get enough credit for winning it, but get ripped if you lose it.

Here are the five "scariest" nonconference games involving SEC teams this season:

Louisiana Tech at Auburn, Sept. 5: Mississippi State knows all too well what it's like to open the season against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs lost 22-14 in Ruston, La., last season. Auburn at least gets Louisiana Tech at home, but first games with new coaching staffs are always scary. Plus, Derek Dooley will bring a Louisiana Tech team into Jordan-Hare Stadium that returns 17 starters from a year ago. The Bulldogs won eight games last season, including their bowl game, and won't be intimidated. They should also be better on defense in 2009.

Florida Atlantic at South Carolina, Sept. 19: The timing of this one isn't real good for South Carolina, which will be coming off back-to-back trips to open the season against North Carolina State and Georgia. Despite what happens in those first two games, you just wonder if the Gamecocks will be ready to play. They better be. Florida Atlantic has athletes and is plenty capable after winning seven games a year ago. Quarterback Rusty Smith has thrown 56 touchdown passes the past two seasons, and the Owls get tight end Jason Harmon back after he was hurt all of last season.

Ohio at Tennessee, Sept. 26: Who knows where Tennessee will be emotionally coming off the much anticipated trip to Florida. The Vols will return to Knoxville to find an Ohio team that should be one of the most-improved clubs in the country after going 4-8 a year ago. The Bobcats lost a bunch of close games last season and played Ohio State into the fourth quarter before losing. They have two talented quarterbacks and throw the ball all over the park. If their defense steps up with some added experience and they take care of the ball better than they did a year ago in most games, this could be a tough one for the Vols.

Mississippi State at Middle Tennessee, Oct. 17: This is what head coaches refer to as an athletic director's game, because no SEC head coach in his right mind would agree to play a Sun Belt Conference team on the road. It's the ultimate everything-to-lose, nothing-to-gain situation. Rewind to last season. The Bulldogs played at Louisiana Tech to open the season, lost the game and never recovered.

Troy at Arkansas, Nov. 14: With the way Troy scores points and moves the ball in rapid-fire fashion, who wants to play the Trojans at any point in the season? But Arkansas will be playing its ninth straight game in as many weeks, which includes trips to Alabama, Florida and Ole Miss. Troy will again be the class of the Sun Belt Conference after winning eight games a year ago and coming within an eyelash of upsetting LSU in Tiger Stadium. The Trojans should also be better on defense this season.