LSU faces one of the nation's most brutal gauntlets this fall
As they say in the SEC, "It just means more." That is especially true in terms of scheduling, because in order for an SEC team to reach the College Football Playoff, it can't take a week off. Just about every team in the SEC is capable of beating a fellow conference foe on Saturday. We saw, for example, the cannibalization in 2016 when every SEC team besides Alabama ended up with at least four losses.
Death Valley, Kyle Field, "The Swamp" and Neyland Stadium consistently create some of college football's most brutal environments, and this year should be no exception. Throw in some pivotal non-conference games against Power Five opponents and you've got quite a few rough schedules, albeit some rougher than others.
Here is a ranking of the SEC's schedules from most difficult to "easiest."
Non-Con: BYU (in Houston), Chattanooga, Syracuse, Troy
West Home: Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M
West Road: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama
Crossover: at Florida, at Tennessee
For LSU, it’s not just who the Tigers play, but when they have to play them — and that makes this arguably college football’s most difficult schedule in 2017. There aren’t any overly-challenging games against non-conference opponents outside of a neutral site game vs. BYU in which LSU should be favored. But the way the schedule sets up is the brutal part. The Tigers’ last seven games of the season: at Florida, Auburn, at Ole Miss, at Alabama, Arkansas, at Tennessee, Texas A&M. That’s the definition of difficult.
Non-Con: Michigan (in Arlington, Texas), Northern Colorado, UAB, Florida State
East Home: Tennessee, Vanderbilt
East Road: Kentucky, Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.), Missouri, South Carolina
Crossover: LSU, Texas A&M
The Gators will play two of the nation’s best teams in the non-conference portion of their schedule, as they open the regular season with Michigan and close it with Florida State. No SEC team can boast a tougher out-of-conference schedule. Additionally, Florida has just two true SEC East home games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt. The Gators will be away from home for the other four, with the Georgia game being in Jacksonville, Fla., as always. Florida draws a reasonably difficult SEC West slate with home games against LSU and Texas A&M.
3. South Carolina
Non-Con: NC State (in Charlotte, N.C.), Louisiana Tech, Wofford, Clemson
East Home: Kentucky, Vanderbilt, Florida
East Road: Missouri, Tennessee, Georgia
Crossover: at Texas A&M, Arkansas
Last season this list was heavily weighted with SEC West teams at the top, but two things are clear this season. The first is that the SEC East has earned more respect after its teams started knocking off West foes late last season. The second is that East teams have begun scheduling more difficult opponents outside of the SEC. South Carolina must face two ACC opponents in NC State and traditional rival Clemson during the non-conference part of the schedule. The Gamecocks get Florida at home but will have to go on the road to take on Tennessee and Georgia. A crossover game at Kyle Field will be about as tough as it gets against the SEC West.
Non-Con: Georgia Southern, at Clemson, Mercer, UL-Monroe
West Home: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama
West Road: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Crossover: at Missouri, Georgia
While the non-conference slate isn’t too overwhelming overall, Auburn will have to go to Death Valley in Week 2 to take on defending national champion Clemson. That should pretty much count for two games. The Tigers also have a four-game stretch in late September and early October which will see them battle both Mississippi schools at home and then take back-to-back road trips to Baton Rouge and Fayetteville. The good news for Auburn is that it gets potential division favorites Alabama and Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Non-Con: at Middle Tennessee, Alabama A&M, Kansas State, Western Kentucky
East Home: Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri
East Road: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee
Crossover: Alabama, at Ole Miss
As is the case with LSU, it’s more about when Vanderbilt has to play its opponents than it is who the Commodores play. How about this for a five-game stretch early in the season: Kansas State, Alabama, at Florida, Georgia, at Ole Miss. That’s a rough slate before even having a bye week. If Vanderbilt can at least survive that difficult stretch and win a game or two, the back half of the schedule should be a little bit more manageable.
6. Mississippi State
Non-Con: Charleston Southern, at Louisiana Tech, BYU, UMass
West Home: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss
West Road: Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas
Crossover: at Georgia, Kentucky
Mississippi State has two separate tough stretches on its 2017 football schedule. In September the Bulldogs have to play LSU at home, then at Georgia and Auburn all in consecutive weeks. Luckily, they’ll have a bye week after that and back-to-back home games against beatable opponents before beginning another difficult stretch. In four of its final five games, Mississippi State takes on Texas A&M and Arkansas on the road and battles Alabama and Ole Miss at home.
Non-Con: Appalachian State, at Notre Dame, Samford, at Georgia Tech
East Home: Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky
East Road: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Crossover: Mississippi State, at Auburn
Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs have one of the toughest non-conference schedules among the SEC teams. They’ll be away from Athens in games against Notre Dame and in-state rival Georgia Tech, plus they have an underrated opening opponent in Appalachian State. (Just ask Michigan and Tennessee fans how tough the Mountaineers can be.) Winning the division won’t be easy, as the 'Dawgs must travel to Neyland Stadium and Jacksonville, Fla., for their annual neutral site game against the Gators. A crossover game at Auburn adds even more difficulty to an already tough schedule.
8. Texas A&M
Non-Con: at UCLA, Nicholls State, UL Lafayette, New Mexico
West Home: Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn
West Road: Arkansas (in Arlington, Texas), Ole Miss, LSU
Crossover: South Carolina, at Florida
Outside of a season-opening trip to Los Angeles, Texas A&M pretty much has it made with the non-conference portion of its schedule. The Aggies have a challenging crossover game in “The Swamp,” but also get South Carolina at home. Against the division, Texas A&M is fortunate to host both Alabama and Auburn, which may be the two top teams in the SEC West coming into the season. The Aggies have an annual neutral site game against Arkansas in which they have never lost since joining the SEC, but the Aggies also must travel to LSU to finish the season. A&M is 0-for-5 against the Bayou Bengals since joining the conference.
Non-Con: Florida State (in Atlanta), Fresno State, Colorado State, Mercer
West Home: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU
West Road: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn
Crossover: at Vanderbilt, Tennessee
The season opener against Florida State in Atlanta will be the highlight of Alabama’s non-conference slate. Other than that, the Crimson Tide are unlikely to be challenged outside the SEC. Nick Saban’s team will be vying for a fourth straight SEC title with home games against LSU and Ole Miss, which really have been the only SEC teams to challenge the Tide recently. Road games at Texas A&M and Auburn won’t be easy, but Saban’s teams usually handle them pretty well. Alabama draws Vanderbilt in Nashville from the SEC East and gets the Volunteers at home in the annual Third Saturday in October.
10. Ole Miss
Non-Con: South Alabama, UT Martin, at California, UL Lafayette
West Home: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M
West Road: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Kentucky
Ole Miss’ schedule is relatively easy in comparison to the one it faced last season. That’s probably a good thing with all the drama currently surrounding Oxford. The Rebels’ marquee non-conference game is a trip to the left coast to take on Cal in Berkeley. Ole Miss must go on the road to play Alabama and Auburn this season, but home games against SEC West foes Arkansas and Texas A&M should provide the Rebels with an opportunity to score a couple of key wins. Ole Miss’ biggest break comes in its crossover games, as the Rebels get to avoid the SEC East’s big three in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee.
Non-Con: Florida A&M (in Little Rock, Ark.), TCU, New Mexico State, Coastal Carolina
West Home: Auburn, Mississippi State
West Road: Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas), Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU
Crossover: at South Carolina, Missouri
Arkansas probably will not be challenged in the non-conference part of the schedule unless TCU is able to play well on the road in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks should easily take care of business against their other non-SEC opponents. The trouble for Arkansas is that it only gets two true home games against SEC West teams, but that’s often the case because of the neutral site game against Texas A&M. Trips to Alabama and LSU will be rough. However, the Hogs likely will be favored in games against South Carolina and Missouri from the SEC East.
Non-Con: Georgia Tech (in Atlanta), Indiana State, UMass, Southern Miss
East Home: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
East Road: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
Crossover: at Alabama, LSU
Tennessee’s schedule is somewhat difficult, but it’s more spaced out than the terrifying four-game stretch the Volunteers faced last year. Tennessee opens up the 2017 slate against Georgia Tech, and while that is a neutral site game, it is also in the Yellow Jackets’ backyard. The Vols play Georgia, which may be the SEC East favorite, at home. Tennessee also gets two teams it lost to last season — Vanderbilt and South Carolina — in Neyland Stadium. Road rivalry games at Florida and Alabama will be difficult to overcome, and a November home game against LSU also should be a significant test.
Non-Con: Missouri State, Purdue, Idaho, at UConn
East Home: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee
East Road: Kentucky, Georgia, Vanderbilt
Crossover: Auburn, at Arkansas
There’s just not much to look at in terms of Mizzou’s non-conference slate. Purdue and UConn could potentially give the Tigers a game, but neither is expected to be very good. Missouri hosts Florida and Tennessee in divisional play. Other than a road game at Georgia, things shouldn’t be too bad for the Tigers away from home. Mizzou will host Auburn from the SEC West before traveling to face Arkansas in the final week of the regular season.
Non-Con: at Southern Miss, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, Louisville
East Home: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
East Road: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia
Crossover: at Mississippi State, Ole Miss
Kentucky easily has the SEC’s most fortunate schedule. The Wildcats’ toughest non-conference game is against Louisville. The Cardinals return Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, but they also lost to the 'Cats last season. Kentucky gets both Florida and Tennessee in Lexington. The only truly challenging road game is at Georgia. And the best part? Kentucky draws Mississippi State and Ole Miss from the SEC West. The schedule couldn’t get much easier for the Wildcats.
— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host on Sports Radio 1180 WVLZ in Knoxville, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.