The SEC usually has some of the nation's toughest schedules. With trips to rowdy venues such as Death Valley, Kyle Field and Neyland Stadium, as well as matchups with respectable non-conference opponents, SEC teams have to earn every win.
This year is no exception. The West may be as good as it has ever been, and some familiar teams in the East seem to back on the map. Every team has a tough road, but some are worse than others.
Here is a ranking of the SEC's schedules from most difficult to "easiest."
* - neutral site
Non-Con: Clemson, Arkansas State, UL-Monroe, Alabama A&M
West Home: Texas A&M, LSU, Mississippi State, Arkansas
West Road: Ole Miss, Alabama
Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Georgia
A case could be made for most West teams to be No. 1 on this list, but Auburn stands out for a couple of reasons. First, the Tigers have to start the season against Clemson, arguably the team with the most talent returning in all of college football. That's a tough early matchup. After that, Auburn gets to play at home for a while, but it still has to take on the likes of LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. Then, to finish out the season, Auburn travels to Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama. No team envies those last few weeks.
Non-Con: USC*, Western Kentucky, Kent State, Chattanooga
West Home: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn
West Road: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU
Crossover: Kentucky, at Tennessee
The Crimson Tide have a brutal slate of SEC road games – Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU and Tennessee. The part of the schedule away from home is a bit worse than what Auburn has to face. However, Alabama should be fine with its home games for the most part, and that week one matchup with USC, while difficult, is still more favorable than having to play Clemson.
3. Ole Miss
Non-Con: Florida State*, Wofford, Memphis, Georgia Southern
West Home: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
West Road: Arkansas, LSU, Texas A&M
Crossover: Georgia, at Vanderbilt
Ole Miss opens the season against Florida State, which is basically built like another SEC team. Also in the non-conference, the Rebels will play a still-capable Memphis team they lost to last year. It will be nice to get Alabama at home, but Ole Miss will travel to play Arkansas, LSU and Texas A&M. That isn't quite as bad as Alabama's SEC road schedule. The Rebels have favorable crossover matchups.
Non-Con: Wisconsin*, Jacksonville, Southern Miss, South Alabama
West Home: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama
West Road: Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Crossover: Missouri, at Florida
The Bayou Bengals battle Wisconsin out of conference for the second time in three years, but other than that, there isn't much
to be afraid of outside the SEC. LSU gets Ole Miss and Alabama in Death Valley, which should be a huge relief, but road trips at Auburn, Arkansas, and Texas A&M won't be easy. From the East, LSU takes on Mizzou at home and Florida in The Swamp. That portion of the schedule should be manageable.
Non-Con: Louisiana Tech, at TCU, Texas State, Alcorn State
West Home: Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU
West Road: Texas A&M*, Mississippi State
Crossover: Florida, at Missouri
Well, Arkansas' schedule is tough, but it sets up well. The toughest non-conference matchup is a road trip to TCU, but with the Hogs' early-season struggles last year and the fact that they must replace most of the offense, don't count out Louisiana Tech. Fans should be pumped about marquee home games against Alabama, Ole Miss, Auburn, LSU and Florida. Those are all quality opponents, so it should be a good season for ticket sales in Fayetteville.
6. Mississippi State
Non-Con: South Alabama, at UMass, at BYU, Samford
West Home: Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas
West Road: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss
Crossover: South Carolina, at Kentucky
Although the Bulldogs do travel all the way to Massachusetts and Utah to play non-conference games, that doesn't hide the fact that they didn't schedule anybody decent. Maybe BYU could be tricky. But Mississippi State does get an awful draw in the SEC, having to travel to LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss. Luckily for the Bulldogs, they have winnable crossover games against South Carolina and Kentucky.
Non-Con: North Carolina*, Nicholls State, UL-Lafayette, Georgia Tech
East Home: Tennessee, Vanderbilt
East Road: Missouri, South Carolina, Florida*, Kentucky
Crossover: at Ole Miss, Auburn
Georgia doesn't have to play every team in the West, but make no mistake, this is a rough schedule. The 'Dawgs play Georgia Tech every year, but they should be commended for also scheduling a neutral site game against North Carolina. Georgia has only two true home games against East opponents. Thankfully, one of those is against Tennessee. The Bulldogs also draw a rough crossover schedule with games at Ole Miss and at home against Auburn.
8. Texas A&M
Non-Con: UCLA, Prairie View, New Mexico State, UTSA
West Home: Ole Miss, LSU
West Road: Auburn, Arkansas*, Alabama, Mississippi State
Crossover: at South Carolina, Tennessee
An early-season tilt with UCLA should be challenging, but the rest of the non-conference schedule is a light load. The Aggies are fortunate to get Ole Miss and LSU in College Station, but will have to travel to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama. They get a tough draw having to play Tennessee out of the East, but that game will take place at Kyle Field as well.
Non-Con: UMass, North Texas, Presbyterian, at Florida State
East Home: Kentucky, Missouri
East Road: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia*, South Carolina
Crossover: LSU, at Arkansas
The non-conference slate for Florida is very manageable until November when it takes on the Seminoles in Tallahassee. The Gators don't get a great draw, having to play Tennessee on the road and Georgia in Jacksonville, Fla. Also, they could have quite a bit of trouble with the crossover matchups. LSU comes to Gainesville, but it's a long way from Gainesville to Fayetteville, Ark., and the Gators will be coming off a physical contest against Georgia.
Non-Con: Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Austin Peay, at Louisville
East Home: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia
East Road: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
Crossover: at Alabama, Mississippi State
Kentucky has a respectably difficult test at Louisville late in the year, but like with Florida, it's pretty much rainbows and
butterflies before that. The Wildcats have to go on the road to play Florida and Tennessee, but get Georgia in Lexington. The worst part about the whole deal is that they will have to travel to play Alabama on Oct. 1. Fortunately, they'll get a bye week shortly after that.
11. South Carolina
Non-Con: East Carolina, UMass, Western Carolina, at Clemson
East Home: Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri
East Road: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida
Crossover: at Mississippi State, Texas A&M
Once again, I'm putting quite a bit of stock into a matchup with Clemson. These two teams play every year, but this one will be especially difficult for the Gamecocks. Also, East Carolina certainly won't be a pushover. South Carolina gets the East's two most potent teams, Georgia and Tennessee, at home, but has a challenging road game at Florida. The Gamecocks also have to take on Texas A&M in their usual permanent West matchup.
Non-Con: at West Virginia, Eastern Michigan, Delaware State, Middle Tennessee
East Home: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
East Road: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee
Crossover: at LSU, Arkansas
It's pretty hard to rank these East schedules, and it is certainly up for debate, as is the case with the West. But Missouri's schedule really doesn't look all that bad. The Tigers do have to play Florida, Tennessee, and LSU on the road, and that's rough, but they get Arkansas and Georgia at home. The best opponent Mizzou will play in the non-conference will be West Virginia, a team that was middle of the road in the Big 12 last season.
Non-Con: Appalachian State, Virginia Tech*, Ohio, Tennessee Tech
East Home: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
East Road: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Crossover: at Texas A&M, Alabama
Tennessee's schedule sets up really well. The Vols get to gradually build up to the meat of the schedule. Games against Virginia Tech and Florida won't be easy, but those are both teams Tennessee should beat. The Vols' most difficult stretch comes with back-to-back road games at Georgia and Texas A&M, then Alabama at home. If Tennessee gets through that, it should cruise through November unscathed.
Non-Con: Middle Tennessee, at Georgia Tech, Western Kentucky, Tennessee State
East Home: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee
East Road: Kentucky, Georgia, Missouri
Crossover: at Auburn, Ole Miss
Vanderbilt has the SEC's easiest schedule, but it's really not easy. The Commodores play Georgia Tech out of conference, but should be able to beat the other teams that make up that part of their schedule. They get Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee at home, and travel to Georgia, Missouri and Kentucky. Crossing over against any team from the West is never easy, but Vandy gets the better of its two opponents (Ole Miss) in Nashville.