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Which SEC East Team Has The Easiest Games vs SEC West Opponents?

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Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

Trick question, the answer is no one.

There have been a few cases of a team winning their division thanks in part to being in the right place at the right time in the cross-division rotation in the SEC.  Most notably, Mississippi State was Tennessee's opponent in Atlanta in 1998 by way of missing the Vols, Gators, and Dawgs from the SEC East.  And we've spent plenty of time over the last few years lamenting Tennessee's freakish ability to catch SEC West teams at just the right/wrong time:  LSU and Arkansas in 2011, Auburn in 2013, Ole Miss in mid-October last year.

But while there are some pronounced advantages for SEC West teams against a weaker SEC East this year (led by Ole Miss, who gets rebuilding Florida and Vanderbilt), it's impossible to argue for any team in the SEC East getting an easy draw against the SEC West this year.  Six of the seven teams in the division are projected by Phil Steele to start the season ranked, and the seventh, Texas A&M, is essentially also receiving votes.  No one from the East will get away clean, and every time an East team beats a West team it will be noteworthy.

However, there is a difference between hard and harder.  We looked at both the match-ups and their placement on the schedule, and ranked each East team's pair of opponents as follows, "easiest" to hardest:

1. Missouri:  vs Mississippi State 11/5, at Arkansas 11/27

Your mileage will vary here, depending on your opinion of Mississippi State & Arkansas compared to the two opponents for the next team on our list.  But I give the nod to Missouri for the easiest path because of where the games fall on the schedule.  The Tigers get Mississippi State after a bye week, and Arkansas is the season finale, the only East/West crossover of the final week. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on how things are going for both teams.  If the Tigers need the win to get to Atlanta, it certainly won't be free.  But if Mizzou is already out of the race, the date with Arkansas just won't weigh as much.  We'll see.

2. South Carolina:  vs LSU 10/10, at Texas A&M 10/31

Carolina gets A&M after a bye week, but the LSU game comes a week after the Gamecocks are at Missouri.  Again, if you want to switch South Carolina and Missouri here, I can see the argument.

3. Vanderbilt:  at Ole Miss 9/26, vs Texas A&M 11/21

The Rebels are sandwiched between a pair of winnable games early with Austin Peay & MTSU.  Ole Miss is Vandy's annual rival, which was as good as you could ask for the Commodores until very recently.  I don't think Vandy is going to make a run for Atlanta, but they at least avoid the state of Alabama this year in their quest for six wins.

4. Kentucky:  vs Auburn 10/15, at Mississippi State 10/24

Like Vanderbilt, Kentucky was able to take advantage of an annual rivalry with a Magnolia State foe until very recently.  Kentucky's schedule is strange this year, playing South Carolina, Florida, and Missouri all in September.  So if things are going to take off for Mark Stoops in year three, it will probably already have happened before they run into their West foes.  The Auburn game is a Thursday night affair, giving them an extra couple of days to prepare for Mississippi State the following weekend.

5. Florida:  vs Ole Miss 10/3, at LSU 10/17

These two are included in a potentially brutal four game stretch early in Jim McElwain's tenure:  Tennessee, Ole Miss, at Missouri, at LSU.  Florida, like Tennessee, is always going to have a tough go with this because they play LSU every year.

6. Tennessee:  vs Arkansas 10/3, at Alabama 10/24

Odd numbered years mean Tuscaloosa; regardless of location the annual date with Alabama will keep Tennessee at or near the top of this list for the foreseeable future.  Big bonus for Tennessee this year:  the Vols get their first bye week before the Crimson Tide since 2010.   However, the Arkansas date is in what might be the trickiest spot on the schedule, between Florida and Georgia in a trap game special (for both teams:  Arkansas plays Texas A&M in JerryWorld and at Alabama on either side of Knoxville).  There are a couple other SEC West teams who might be more difficult challenges than Arkansas, but the Vols do once again catch a team trending up from the West.  It's another unfortunate break, and how can anyone have it any worse than...

7. Georgia:  vs Alabama 10/3, at Auburn 11/14

...okay then.