- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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The ultimate SEC road trip is back. The best games. The best venues. The best atmospheres. If you could pick your destination every Saturday, where would you go?
This year, we're taking two road trips, both hypothetical of course. Our writers might end up at the same game some weeks, but this should allow us to see more teams and more campuses across the SEC.
Let's check in on what's in store for Week 10.
Road trip 1: Auburn at Texas A&M
LSU-Alabama should be a game with far-reaching implications. Both teams should be in the hunt for the division title, the conference championship and possibly a spot in the College Football Playoff.
So why am I choosing to go to Auburn-Texas A&M instead? Because I’m not so sure this won’t be the better game when the time comes. I’m just not as sold on Alabama and LSU as everyone else this year. I could easily see Auburn and Texas A&M at the top of the division come early November.
Now I know that picking Auburn as an SEC favorite is no shocker. My colleague Mark Schlabach has the Tigers at No. 4 in his early top 25. But Texas A&M? The Aggies are nowhere to be seen. Still, I see potential. If I’m picking a dark horse in the West, I start with them.
Much like Auburn, I expect A&M’s offense to be loaded. They have eight returning starters on that side of the ball, including a good nucleus of Kyle Allen at quarterback, Tra Carson at running back and Speedy Noil, Ricky Seals-Jones and Josh Reynolds at receiver.
And much like Auburn again, I think a change at defensive coordinator could be the difference. John Chavis has the credentials from his time at LSU and he’ll have some good pieces on the defensive line in Myles Garrett and incoming five-star freshman Daylon Mack. That likely won’t lead to a top-five defense this season, of course, but A&M doesn’t need that. Even a minimal improvement could make a significant impact for a team that’s lived and died by the shootout for too long.
If all else fails and neither team's defense shows up, I’ll still get an entertaining game. It might take 5 hours and more than 100 points to decide the winner, but I can live with that. -- Alex Scarborough
Road trip 2: LSU at Alabama
This isn’t the game it used to be, but this road trip hasn’t been to Tuscaloosa yet and would it surprise anyone if Alabama-LSU still played a role in determining the winner of the West? Not me.
Both teams have quarterback concerns. If Jake Coker is not the guy for Alabama, can freshman David Cornwell step up and take the reins? Regardless, it will be a first-year starter under center, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Crimson Tide won national championships in 2009 and 2011 with first-year starters at quarterback.
At LSU, it’s still Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris fighting for the starting job. The hope is that at least one, if not both, have improved over the offseason. However, a game at Alabama will be one of the more difficult tests all season for whoever wins the job.
This could end up being one of those classic, grind-it-out, defensive struggles where one play makes the difference. Remember the 9-6 game in 2011? Or how about T.J. Yeldon's late touchdown that allowed the Tide to escape Death Valley with a 21-17 victory in 2012. Even last year's game had plenty of drama with a late field-goal that forced overtime.
Those are the kind of games you come to expect in this rivalry.
And you can always expect drama with Nick Saban facing his old team, even 11 years after he left LSU, but he’s not the only coach familiar with both sides. LSU’s first-year defensive coordinator Kevin Steele spent the past two seasons on Alabama’s staff. -- Greg Ostendorf
11dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough