Each team in the SEC will play 8 conference games and 4 non-conference games this season. This is the same format as last year. Playing in the SEC is challenging enough, but how have the SEC teams chosen their non-conference opponents? Actually the schedules are pretty similar to past years.
Each SEC school scheduled one (1) FCS opponent. While certainly not attempting to imply any drama, four of the FCS opponents are top 25 teams within that category.
The conference of choice?....The Sun Belt with 10 games followed closely by Conference USA with 8 games. The UL Monroe Warhawks are the team of choice playing three (3) different SEC teams. South Alabama, UAB, Southern Miss, Charleston Southern, UT- Martin and Clemson will play two different SEC teams.
9 SEC teams will play at least one road game versus a non-conference opponent. Three teams will play one (1) game at a neutral site, leaving Georgia and Vanderbilt with all four non-conference games at home.
Florida, Georgia and South Carolina have an annual rivalry game that is part of their non-conference scheduling challenge…..all with ACC opponents….Fla State/ Georgia Tech and Clemson, respectively.
So, who has the toughest non-conference schedule? Here is my list in descending order starting with the toughest to easiest based on the accumulated value of all teams.
1. Missouri (South Dakota State/at Toledo/UCF/Indiana)
2. Tennessee (Utah State/Arkansas State/ at Oklahoma/ Chattanooga)
3. South Carolina (East Carolina/Furman/South Alabama/at Clemson)
4. Georgia (Clemson/Troy/Charleston Southern/ Georgia Tech)
5. Kentucky (UT- Martin/ Ohio/ UL Monroe/at Louisville)
6. Auburn (San Jose State/at Kansas State/La Tech/Samford)
7. LSU (Wisconsin in Houston/ Sam Houston State/UL Monroe/New Mexico State)
8. Arkansas (Nicholls State/at Texas Tech/Northern Illinois/UAB)
9. Ole Miss (Boise State in Atlanta/ UL Lafayette/Memphis/Presbyterian)
10. Texas A&M (Lamar/Rice/at SMU/UL Monroe)
11. Florida (Idaho/Eastern Michigan/Eastern Kentucky/ at Florida State)
12. Alabama (West Virginia in Atlanta/ Florida Atlantic/Southern Miss/Western Carolina)
13. Miss State (Southern Miss/ UAB/ at South Alabama/UT Martin)
14. Vanderbilt (Temple/Massachusetts/Charleston Southern/Old Dominion)
One could argue that Florida may be too low since they could have the toughest single non-conference game at Florida State, but the remaining three games are incredibly weak. Tennessee playing at Oklahoma would be an easy second most difficult game this year.
The easiest non-conference game….there are several to choose from:
· FCS Presbyterian at Ole Miss
· FCS Western Carolina at Alabama
· MAC conference Eastern Michigan at Florida.
Finally just for a comparative measurement, I took Florida State and Ohio State’s non-conference schedules since each school plays 4 games.
Florida State will play Oklahoma State in Arlington, TX/ The Citadel/Notre Dame/ Florida.
Ohio State will play Navy in Baltimore/Virginia Tech/Kent State/ Cincinnati.
If these two teams were in the SEC their strength of schedule versus non-conference teams would fall between Missouri and Tennessee near the top of the list.