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SEC PReview: Ranking the strength of the schedules

The Southeastern Conference: Holder of the last seven BCS National Titles. A league viewed by its supporters as the best conference in the country and by its detractors as a league that is overhyped by the media.

But we are not here to try and moderate that debate today, though. Today, we are here to look at the schedules that the teams in the league will try to navigate on the way to representing the league in the final BCS title game after this season. Can the SEC win its eighth straight title this season? We’ll find out in just over a month.

In the meantime, let’s rank the schedules from hardest to easiest for the SEC. Keep in mind that in many cases, the margins between rankings are very, very small. This is a subjective exercise based on lots of projections by the author.

 

1) Arkansas – The non-conference schedule features games against two bowl teams from non-automatic qualifying leagues (Louisiana-Lafayette and at Rutgers). The conference schedule features trips to Alabama, Florida, Ole Miss and LSU. Texas A&M and South Carolina come to visit. Welcome to the SEC, Bret Bielema.

2) Florida – the Gators will stay in state for all of their non-conference games, but the games against Miami (FL) and Florida State will be hotly contested matchups. In conference play, Florida misses Alabama and Texas A&M but faces LSU in Death Valley and has to travel to both Columbias (Missouri and South Carolina), although the trip to South Carolina may be more of headache than the trip to Missouri. There is also the annual cage match against Georgia in Jacksonville.

3) Georgia – the Dawgs could have been seconds away from playing for the BCS title last season. If they are going to make it back to the SEC Title game, they will have to run through road games against Clemson to open the season and Georgia Tech to close it. In conference play, Georgia gets South Carolina and LSU at home, faces Florida in the annual neutral site game in Jacksonville, and misses Alabama and Texas A&M.

4) LSU – The Bayou Bengals travel to Cowboys Stadium for an opening season match against TCU. Other non-conference games include MAC East champion Kent State, Furman and UAB. In conference, LSU travels to Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but get Texas A&M, Florida and Alabama at home. LSU skips South Carolina.

5) Kentucky – A neutral site game against in-state foe Western Kentucky (in Nashville) starts the season for the Wildcats. The true rivalry game, though, is against Louisville in Lexington. Miami (OH) and Alabama State round out the non-conference schedule. In conference play, Kentucky gets Florida and Alabama at home, travels to South Carolina and Georgia but misses Texas A&M and LSU.

6) Tennessee – The Volunteers have a new coach and a new direction. Hopefully this once proud program can rise back up towards the top of college football. They do have a tough trip out west to face Oregon, but they have a chance to be competitive in the rest of their non-conference games (Austin Peay, Western Kentucky, South Alabama). In conference play, The Vols host both Georgia and South Carolina, travel to Florida and travel to Alabama. Tennessee closes the season with their rivalry game against Kentucky in Lexington.

7) South Carolina – Okay, so the game against Coastal Carolina is probably a layup. But the Gamecocks have three other non-conference games against solid competition (North Carolina, at Central Florida, Clemson). In conference, they somehow miss Texas A&M, LSU and Alabama and get Florida at home. They do travel to Athens to face Georgia.

8) Alabama – The defending BCS Champions will open the season playing a neutral site game in the Georgia Dome against Virginia Tech. The rest of the non-conference schedule is less than inspiring, with Colorado State, Georgia State and Chattanooga on the slate. In conference, all eyes will be on the September 14 game at Texas A&M. The Tide host LSU at home, and they miss Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.

9) Mississippi State – The Bulldogs have a neutral site game against Oklahoma State in Houston to start the season, and face three other teams in very winnable non-conference play (Alcorn State, Troy, Bowling Green). In league play, LSU and Alabama will come calling. Mississippi State will travel to South Carolina and Texas A&M. They miss Georgia and Florida.

10) Ole Miss – The Rebels created a lot of buzz last season and also during recruiting. Now let’s see if the product on the field can match the perceived talent level. A road game against Texas is the only potential trap in the non-conference schedule (other games: Southeast Missouri State, Idaho and Troy). In conference play, Ole Miss travels to Alabama and Mississippi State, hosts Texas A&M and LSU and skip Georgia and Florida.

11) Missouri – While Texas A&M thrived in their first year in the SEC, injuries on the offensive side of the ball (and a lack of depth to overcome them) contributed to the first losing season for the Tigers since 2004. Mizzou has a chance to bounce back this season, and to do so they will have to get off to a good start. Games against Murray State, Toledo, Arkansas State and at Indiana are games that Mizzou should be competitive in. In conference play, the Tigers will make their first visit ever to Sanford Stadium, host divisional foes Florida and South Carolina for the first time in conference play, and will host former Big 12 opponent Texas A&M for the first time since 2007.

12) Texas A&M – The white-hot spotlight will be on Texas A&M from now until that Alabama game in week two. If the Aggies can beat the Tide once again, then the sky might truly be the limit. The non-conference schedule is gossamer thin, with all four games being played against less than hardy in state foes (Rice, Sam Houston State, SMU, and UTEP). Besides the Alabama game, Texas A&M skips Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, travels to Ole Miss, hosts Mississippi State and finishes the season on the road against a pair of Tiger squads (at LSU, at Mizzou).

13) Auburn – In Gus Malzahn’s first season on The Plains as head coach, he will face his former team, Arkansas State, in week two at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The season opener, also at Jordan-Hare, is against Mike Leach’s Washington State team. Western Carolina and Florida Atlantic round out the non-conference schedule. In conference play, the Tigers travel to LSU and Texas A&M, skip South Carolina and Florida and host Georgia. Oh, and there is that annual matchup against Alabama, which this year is at home.

14) Vanderbilt – The Commodores are trending upward under James Franklin. Their non-conference schedule, though, is a tasty array of cotton candy. The combined 2012 record of their four out of conference opponents (Austin Peay, UMass, UAB and Wake Forest) was 11-36. Granted, they do have to travel to UMass in non-conference play, but it’s still a relatively weak schedule. In conference, Vanderbilt opens with Ole Miss at home, travels to South Carolina, Florida and Texas A&M, and hosts Georgia. Vandy will skip LSU and Alabama.

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