2012 SEC Schedule Analysis

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Who are the big scheduling winners and losers in the SEC for 2012?

<p> Who are the big scheduling winners and losers in the SEC for 2012?</p>

-by Braden Gall (follow at @BradenGall)

Athlon Sports predicted the Georgia Bulldogs would win the East in 2011, and we got absolutely hammered by South Carolina fans. We understood why. We were out on a limb. The Gamecocks were the reigning Eastern Division champs with the best running back in the nation and a stellar defensive line returning.

However, one major aspect of our Dawgs-to-Atlanta prediction was the schedule. Now, South Carolina didn’t have to play Alabama or LSU either in 2011, but Georgia didn’t have to make that trip to Fayetteville to play Arkansas. South Carolina did – and got housed, in effect, giving the SEC East to Mark Richt and Georgia in the process.

I don’t think much will change in 2012. The SEC released its first 14-team schedule in history this morning. With Missouri and Texas A&M adding more intrigue to what is already the most powerful conference in football, the announcement made for some anxious moments.

So what conclusions can we draw about the potential outcome of the 2012 season? Since the SEC will be going for its seventh straight BCS national championship, the schedules that were released today just might have a small impact on the national landscape next fall:

Related: Very Early 2012 Athlon Sports Top 25

Beasts of the…West?

As I mentioned, South Carolina and Georgia were the picks in the East in 2011 because neither had to face Alabama or LSU. With those two teams still likely atop the West once again in 2012 — and Arkansas an easy pick to be the top challenger to those two — who has the good fortune to miss all three? Georgia misses all three (again) with Auburn (Nov. 10) and Ole Miss (Nov. 3) as its crossover games. Ole Miss should be picked last, and Auburn is replacing both coordinators after a poor showing this season and should be picked no higher than fourth in the West. It will be hard to take the first-team All-SEC quarterback and his defending SEC East champion Bulldogs off the top slot in the 2012 preseason.

Vanderbilt also misses all three of the Western powers. The Dores, too, get Ole Miss (Nov. 10) and Auburn (Oct. 20) in the crossover contests, and that is why Athlon Sports preseason magazine could pick Vandy ahead of Tennessee in the East for the first time since 1976.

Can The Razorbacks Unseat the Champs?

Entering 2012, Alabama and LSU will have claimed three of the last five BCS National Championships. And the two national powers combined to defeat Arkansas by an average of 24 points in 2011. So can Tyler Wilson and Bobby Petrino wedge their way into the SEC West title race? Certainly, they will be the clear challenger to the Tigers and Tide — especially with Knile Davis returning from injury. But most importantly, the schedule sends both LSU and Alabama on the road to face Arkansas. The Hogs also get lowly Kentucky and South Carolina in their crossover games. All of their four road games are winnable considering how the Hogs played the last time they visited the Gamecocks: at Texas A&M (Sept. 29), Auburn (Oct. 6), South Carolina (Nov. 10) and Mississippi State (Nov. 17).

Where Hogs fans will be watching some of these games, however, is still yet to be determined. The LSU game has been played in Little Rock in the past, and the site of the season finale has yet to be deteremined. Arkansas will play five games in Fayetteville and two in Little Rock. Either way, the schedule sets up for 2012 to be the year Arkansas finally challenges the balance of power in the West.

South Carolina Will Not Win the East

The good news is that the Gamecocks get key divisional swing games against Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee at home. However, their  crossover opponents are possibly the toughest in the entire conference: At LSU (Oct. 3) and Arkansas at home (Nov. 10). Additionally, trips to Florida and Vanderbilt won’t be easy either. With this schedule the Gamecocks cannot be considered the favorite to win the East in 2012. A trip to Kentucky (Oct. 29) is the only guaranteed win on the ’12 Gamecock schedule — though don't forget that South Carolina lost to UK in its last trip to Lexington.

Welcome to the SEC, Texas A&M

Texas A&M averaged 39.3 points in conference play in 2011 with big wins over Iowa State, Texas Tech, Kansas and Baylor. They scored 50 in a loss to Kansas State and 31 in an overtime loss to Missouri. Anyone think Kevin Sumlin is excited about having to face Florida and Arkansas to start SEC play? Or how about three consecutive road games on three consecutive weekends against Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama with a home test against LSU as the appetizer to the road trip? This is probably the toughest SEC schedule of any of the 14 teams. Best of luck, Aggies.

Missouri’s Split Stats

The Tigers, much like the Aggies, didn’t get any favors either. But at least Mike Slive gave Truman the Tiger a chance to be competitive. At least, early on. Four of the first five SEC games in Mizzou history will be played at home, with a visit to South Carolina (Sept. 22) the only road test before November. In fact, Gary Pinkel was given a great opportunity to make an early statement and swing the balance of power in the East with division favorite Georgia coming to Missouri to start the SEC Era in Columbia. You can bet that atmosphere will be electric.

However, the Tigers’ maiden voyage through SEC play will finish with three of the toughest venues in all of college football: At Florida (Nov. 3), at Tennessee (Nov. 10) and at Texas A&M (Nov. 24). None should be picked to challenge for the league title, but all three have massive home-field advantages — unlike most stadiums the Tigers are accustomed to in the Big 12. Dealing with 100,000-seat atmospheres after slugging it out in the SEC for the first time could prove extremely difficult.

Alabama Gets No Road Favors

If you are trying to pick out the subtle difference between LSU and Alabama — and who to pick to win the West next year — look no further than the road games for the Tide. The road slate for Alabama is brutal. The SEC opener at Arkansas (Sept. 15) will seriously test a revamped Nick Saban defense. Trips to Missouri (Oct. 13) and Tennessee (Oct. 20) will also feature two of the better quarterbacks in the SEC. And then there is that little visit to the Bayou and LSU late in the year (Nov. 3). Alabama’s totally reworked defense (which is still loaded with elite talent) and a Trent Richardson-less offense will have to defeat three of the top five teams in the league on the road if it expects a return trip to the BCS title game. The only comfort is a relatively easy slate of home action. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Auburn all visit the Capstone and all will be picked fourth or worse in the West.

Colonel Reb Is Crying

How about this for a road slate in 2012 for Ole Miss: At Alabama (Sept. 29), at Arkansas (Oct. 27), at Georgia (Nov. 3) and at LSU (Nov. 17). In case you missed it, those are likely to be the best four teams in the conference in 2012. Well, at least they have never lost a party in The Grove.

Ranking the SEC Schedules (from easiest to toughest):

1. Georgia Bulldogs
Face Ole Miss and Auburn in crossover and play only three true road games in weaker East.

2. Vanderbilt Commodores
Face Ole Miss and Auburn in crossover with Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee at home.

3. Mississippi State Bulldogs
LSU and Bama are losses anyway and both on the road, but five of other six are winnable games.

4. Arkansas Razorbacks
Plays managable road slate; gets Bama and LSU at home and Kentucky in crossover.

5. Missouri Tigers
Four of first five are at home with winnable road trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M.

6. Tennessee Volunteers
No LSU or Arkansas in crossover helps with Florida and Mizzou at home.

7. Alabama Crimson Tide
Brutal road slate – at LSU, Arkansas and Missouri — with a much easier home schedule.

8. Kentucky Wildcats
At Hogs and Mississippi State at home in crossover. Trips to Mizzou, Florida and Tennessee.

9. Florida Gators
At Texas A&M and LSU at home is tough crossover. But only three true road games

10. Auburn Tigers
Toughest games at home and trip to Bama. Winnable road games at Ole Miss, Vandy and Mississippi State.

11. South Carolina Gamecocks
LSU (road) and Arkansas (home) in crossover, with trips to Florida and Vandy in division.

12. LSU Tigers
Florida (road) and South Carolina (home) is a tough crossover. Visits A&M, Auburn and Arkansas as well.

13. Ole Miss Rebels
Hmmm: At Bama, at Arkansas, at Georgia, at LSU?

14. Texas A&M Aggies
Will play five of the top seven teams in the league — and Auburn, Mississippi State.

2012 SEC Conference Schedules:

ALABAMA
Sept. 15: at Arkansas
Sept. 29: OLE MISS
Oct. 13: at Missouri
Oct. 20: at Tennessee
Oct. 27: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 3: at LSU
Nov. 10: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 24: AUBURN

ARKANSAS
Sept. 15: ALABAMA
Sept. 29: vs. Texas A&M
Oct. 6: at Auburn
Oct. 13: KENTUCKY
Oct. 27: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Mississippi State
Nov. 24: LSU

AUBURN
Sept. 8: at Mississippi State
Sept. 22: LSU
Oct. 6: ARKANSAS
Oct. 13: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: GEORGIA
Nov. 24: at Alabama

FLORIDA
Sept. 8: at Texas A&M
Sept. 15: at Tennessee
Sept. 22: KENTUCKY
Oct. 6: LSU
Oct. 13: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 20: SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 27: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 3: MISSOURI

GEORGIA
Sept. 8: at Missouri
Sept. 22: VANDERBILT
Sept. 29: TENNESSEE
Oct. 6: at South Carolina
Oct. 20: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: vs. Florida (Jacksonville)
Nov. 3: OLE MISS
Nov. 10: at Auburn

KENTUCKY
Sept. 22: at Florida
Sept. 29: SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 6: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Oct. 13: at Arkansas
Oct. 20: GEORGIA
Oct. 27: at Missouri
Nov. 3: VANDERBILT
Nov. 24: at Tennessee

LSU
Sept. 22: at Auburn
Oct. 6: at Florida
Oct. 13: SOUTH CAROLINA
Oct. 20: at Texas A&M
Nov. 3: ALABAMA
Nov. 10: MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 17: OLE MISS
Nov. 24: at Arkansas

OLE MISS
Sept. 29: at Alabama
Oct. 6: TEXAS A&M
Oct. 13: AUBURN
Oct. 27: at Arkansas
Nov. 3: at Georgia
Nov. 10: VANDERBILT
Nov. 17: at LSU
Nov. 24: MISSISSIPPI STATE

MISSISSIPPI STATE
Sept. 8: AUBURN
Oct. 6: at Kentucky
Oct. 13: TENNESSEE
Oct. 27: at Alabama
Nov. 3: TEXAS A&M
Nov. 10: at LSU
Nov. 17: ARKANSAS
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss

MISSOURI
Sept. 8: GEORGIA
Sept. 22: at South Carolina
Oct. 6: VANDERBILT
Oct. 13: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: KENTUCKY
Nov. 3: at Florida
Nov. 10: at Tennessee
Nov. 24: at Texas A&M

SOUTH CAROLINA
Aug. 30: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 22: MISSOURI
Sept. 29: at Kentucky
Oct. 6: GEORGIA
Oct. 13: at LSU
Oct. 20: at Florida
Oct. 27: TENNESSEE
Nov. 10: ARKANSAS

TENNESSEE
Sept. 15: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: at Georgia
Oct. 13: at Mississippi State
Oct. 20: ALABAMA
Oct. 27: at South Carolina
Nov. 10: MISSOURI
Nov. 17: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 24: KENTUCKY

TEXAS A&M
Sept. 8: FLORIDA
Sept. 29: vs. Arkansas
Oct. 6: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: LSU
Oct. 27: at Auburn
Nov. 3: at Mississippi State
Nov. 10: at Alabama
Nov. 24: MISSOURI

VANDERBILT
Aug. 30: SOUTH CAROLINA
Sept. 22: at Georgia
Oct. 6: at Missouri
Oct. 13: FLORIDA
Oct. 20: AUBURN
Nov. 3: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Ole Miss
Nov. 17: TENNESSEE

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