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2017 Non-Conference Strength of Schedule: CBS Ranks the SEC

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Who plays the tougher non-conference schedule?

NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Tennessee vs Nebraska Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

In an interesting post from CBS, each conference was ranked top to bottom in terms of how tough their non-conference schedule is for the 2017 season. There are a couple of different schools of thought on non-conference games and that’s pretty clear when you look through each school’s schedule.

When you play in the top conference in the land, multiple big time non-conference games aren’t all that necessary. They look good to the playoff committee, but you run the risk of hurting your playoff chances with a loss — while others might be taking the cupcake route and getting easy wins.

The Florida Gators are a program that will go for the quality non-conference wins in 2017. Of course the Gators play Florida State at the end of each year, but they’ll open their season with the Michigan Wolverines this time around. Because of that, they checked in at number one for the SEC. Hats off to them, but that’s a really tough season staring them in the face.

Georgia is in a similar spot, playing Georgia Tech every year. But they’ll bite off a little more this season as they head to South Bend to take on the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Bulldogs checked in at number two.

Continuing with the annual non-conference rivalry trend at the top of this list, South Carolina’s annual meeting with Clemson — paired with their opener against N.C State places them third.

Alabama’s marquee matchup with Florida State was enough to land them at number four, despite virtually nothing else of note on the non-conference schedule.

Tennessee lands all the way down at number eleven. Their game against Indiana State was named one of the “most shameful” of the 2017 season by Athlon Sports. UMass is expected to be one of the worst teams in the FBS, but Southern Miss is a rising mid-major.

Obviously, Tennessee’s stiffest non-conference test will be Georgia Tech to open the season. The Yellow Jackets are a tough team to play for just about anyone. They may not be ranked, but that flexbone option look is going to Tennessee fits — as it does to every team.

This game lacks the sizzle of a ranked matchup, with Georgia Tech checking in outside of the top 25. That’s the main reason you see Tennessee ranked so low here. But if Tennessee — or any team — takes care of business in the conference and escapes SEC play relatively unscathed, they’ll be in the playoff.

You can view the complete rankings from CBS here.