Year in and year out, the SEC provides more than its fair share of college football's toughest matchups. And it takes a very special team to successfully navigate the weekly grind of a typical SEC football schedule. While every SEC slate is a slugfest in its own right, not every schedule is created equally. Some teams within the conference will face more difficult paths than others in 2018.
This begs the question, which SEC teams have the toughest road in the upcoming season? The answer lies below, as we rank every 2018 SEC schedule in order from most difficult to easiest.
1. Texas A&M
Non-Con: Northwestern State, Clemson, Louisiana-Monroe, UAB
West Home: Arkansas (in Arlington, Texas), Ole Miss, LSU
West Road: Alabama, Mississippi State, Auburn
Crossover: Kentucky, at South Carolina
Jimbo Fisher's transition to the SEC won't allow him to escape the wrath of ACC foe Clemson. And Fisher's Aggies travel to Tuscaloosa to face the defending national champion Crimson Tide just two weeks after the Clemson game. Crossover matchups include a home game against a Kentucky team that has been bowl eligible in each of the last two seasons, followed by a road trip to face SEC East dark horse South Carolina. Texas A&M then stays on the road with difficult matchups at Mississippi State and Auburn before closing out the season at home against LSU. It doesn't get much more challenging than that.
Non-Con: Miami (in Arlington, Texas), Southeastern Louisiana, Louisiana Tech, Rice
West Home: Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Alabama
West Road: Auburn, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Crossover: at Florida, Georgia
Ed Orgeron's Tigers kick off their 2018 campaign in Arlington against a potential top-five Miami team. Two weeks later, they travel to The Plains for a big SEC West showdown with Auburn. The middle of the schedule doesn't get any easier with cross-divisional games against Florida (away) and defending SEC champion Georgia (home) in back-to-back fashion. The two matchups that follow could be even tougher with Mississippi State and Alabama visiting Baton Rouge. The Tigers wrap up the regular season at hostile Kyle Field against Texas A&M. It's a brutal slate to say the least.
Non-Con: Washington (in Atlanta), Alabama State, Southern Miss, Liberty
West Home: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M
West Road: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Alabama
Crossover: Tennessee, at Georgia
The Tigers open the 2018 season in Atlanta against a top-15 Washington team. Auburn is just 1-6 all-time against ranked opponents in season openers away from Jordan-Hare Stadium - the lone win coming in 1957. The Tigers will be fortunate to spend the next four weeks at home, highlighted by a Week 3 matchup against LSU. An early October meeting with Mississippi State in Starkville will be challenging. But road matchups down the stretch against Georgia and Alabama take this schedule to another level in terms of difficulty. Auburn is the only SEC team that will face both of last year's national championship participants on the road in 2018.
Non-Con: West Virginia (in Charlotte, N.C.), East Tennessee State, UTEP, Charlotte
East Home: Florida, Kentucky, Missouri
East Road: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Crossover: at Auburn, Alabama
First-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt will be put to the test early in the non-conference season opener against a potent West Virginia squad in Charlotte. Pruitt's Volunteers get cupcakes the following two weeks (ETSU and UTEP) before kicking off conference play with maybe the toughest five-game stretch in all of college football for 2018. A gauntlet that begins in Knoxville against rival Florida and concludes with South Carolina on the road. Sandwiched in between is the ultimate SEC trifecta of Georgia (away), Auburn (away) and Alabama (home). The schedule becomes much more manageable after that, but the Vols may not have much left in the tank by that point.
5. Mississippi State
Non-Con: Stephen F. Austin, at Kansas State, Louisiana, Louisiana Tech
West Home: Auburn, Texas A&M, Arkansas
West Road: LSU, Alabama, Ole Miss
Crossover: at Kentucky, Florida
The Bulldogs will play their first true road game against a non-conference Power 5 opponent in 10 years when they travel to Kansas State in Week 2. First-year head coach Joe Moorhead will be further tested in big-time road matchups against Alabama and LSU. Divisional home games against Auburn and Texas A&M will be difficult as well. As for crossover matchups, Mississippi State will travel to Lexington to face Kentucky before returning home for the most intriguing game on the schedule, as Dan Mullen makes his return to Starkville as head coach of the Florida Gators.
Non-Con: UT Martin, Wyoming, at Purdue, Memphis
East Home: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
East Road: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee
Crossover: at Alabama, Arkansas
Missouri's non-conference schedule isn't too treacherous, but it does feature at least two solid opponents in 2018. The most prominent non-SEC matchup pits the Tigers against Purdue on the road, where they will look to avenge last year's 35-3 loss to the Boilermakers. The slate becomes very unforgiving following the trip to Purdue. Barry Odom's Tigers face Georgia (home), South Carolina (away) and Alabama (away) in consecutive fashion. Things ease up down the stretch. That said, Mizzou will have to go on the road for games against Florida and Tennessee before closing out the season with the traditional crossover matchup against Arkansas in Columbia.
7. Ole Miss
Non-Con: Texas Tech (in Houston), Southern Illinois, Kent State, Louisiana-Monroe
West Home: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
West Road: LSU, Arkansas, Texas A&M
Crossover: South Carolina, at Vanderbilt
The Rebels' season opener against Texas Tech in Houston is no cake walk and could prove to be one of the more exciting contests to kick off the 2018 campaign. Ole Miss will host Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State, all of which will be extremely difficult matchups even at home. And the Rebels still have to travel to two of the toughest environments in all of college football for games against LSU and Texas A&M. A cross-divisional matchup at home against South Carolina could be problematic as well. While the traditional crossover game against Vanderbilt isn't too scary.
Non-Con: Charleston Southern, Colorado State, Idaho, at Florida State
East Home: Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina
East Road: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Georgia (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
Crossover: at Mississippi State, LSU
Florida is the only SEC team that has two FCS opponents penciled in for its non-conference schedule in 2018. But the Gators' annual end-of-season rivalry matchup at Florida State helps make up for it. All three of Florida's SEC East home opponents in 2018 (Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina) appeared in bowl games last season and have the potential to be even better this season. The rivalry game against Georgia in Jacksonville looks to be the toughest contest on the schedule. While Dan Mullen's return to Starkville in late September to face Mississippi State will be the most compelling matchup. Traditional crossover foe LSU visits The Swamp the following week, in what will be another difficult matchup for the Gators.
Non-Con: Eastern Illinois, at Colorado State, North Texas, Tulsa
West Home: Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU
West Road: Auburn, Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas), Mississippi State
Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Missouri
Arkansas is the only team in the SEC that does not feature a Power 5 opponent on its 2018 non-conference schedule. The Razorbacks are fortunate to get Vanderbilt at home in their non-traditional crossover matchup as well. And even though it may be of little consolation, they also have the luxury of facing both Alabama and LSU in Fayetteville. The Hogs will not be afforded that same luxury in difficult road tests against Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri, along with a not-so-neutral matchup against Texas A&M in Arlington.
10. South Carolina
Non-Con: Coastal Carolina, Marshall, Chattanooga, at Clemson
East Home: Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee
East Road: Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Florida
Crossover: Texas A&M, at Ole Miss
South Carolina wraps up the regular season in Death Valley against in-state rival Clemson, providing Will Muschamp's Gamecocks with the toughest non-conference road matchup in the SEC for 2018. They also face a big early-season test against another rival, when Georgia visits Columbia in Week 2 for a game that could ultimately go a long way in deciding the SEC East. The remaining games on the Gamecocks' 2018 schedule appear to be reasonably manageable. They host Missouri, Tennessee and Texas A&M; and catch a huge break by avoiding Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State from the West. Road trips to Gainesville and Lexington could be tricky, but both are winnable.
Non-Con: Central Michigan, Murray State, Middle Tennessee, at Louisville
East Home: South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Georgia
East Road: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
Crossover: Mississippi State, at Texas A&M
The Wildcats' non-conference slate is fairly underwhelming, even with a road matchup against in-state rival Louisville. They are fortunate to get SEC East foes Georgia and South Carolina at home. Although that probably won't be enough to help the Wildcats get into the win column in either case. The SEC East road schedule appears slightly less daunting at first glance. However, the 'Cats have college football's longest active losing streak against Florida (31 in a row), and they haven't beaten Tennessee in Knoxville since 1984. Chances are Mark Stoops' squad will be underdogs in Columbia against Mizzou as well. The annual crossover matchup against Mississippi State could be tougher than usual this season. And it's never easy going on the road to face Texas A&M.
Non-Con: Louisville (in Orlando, Fla.), Arkansas State, Louisiana, The Citadel
West Home: Texas A&M, Mississippi State, Auburn
West Road: Ole Miss, Arkansas, LSU
Crossover: Missouri, at Tennessee
The season kicks off in Orlando against Louisville in a matchup that would have been a lot more fun to watch if Lamar Jackson had hung around for another season. The Crimson Tide travel to Oxford two weeks later, where the Rebels have given Nick Saban fits in recent years. Although, those days appear to be over. Alabama gets off fairly light with cross-divisional matchups against Missouri (home) and Tennessee (away). The stretch run will be the most difficult part of the schedule with games against LSU (away) and Mississippi State (home). The Tide close out the season in Tuscaloosa against arch-rival Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
Non-Con: Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass, Georgia Tech
East Home: Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Florida (in Jacksonville, Fla.)
East Road: South Carolina, Missouri, Kentucky
Crossover: at LSU, Auburn
Georgia takes a big step backward with its non-conference slate in 2018. The only Power 5 opposition comes in the form of annual in-state rival Georgia Tech, and the Bulldogs are one of just two SEC teams that never have to leave the comfort of their home stadium for a non-conference game this season. The Dawgs get to host divisional games against Tennessee and Vanderbilt as well. The SEC East road matchups should prove to be slightly more difficult, particularly an early-season matchup against rival South Carolina in Columbia. The annual rivalry game in Jacksonville against Florida is intriguing, given the Dan Mullen factor. While Georgia's most difficult tests in 2018 will come in crossover matchups against LSU (away) and Auburn (home).
Non-Con: Middle Tennessee, Nevada, at Notre Dame, Tennessee State
East Home: South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee
East Road: Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri
Crossover: at Arkansas, Ole Miss
Vanderbilt deserves a lot of credit for scheduling Notre Dame in South Bend. The Commodores also have the tall task of traveling to Athens to face the defending SEC champion Georgia Bulldogs. But they will play South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee in Nashville in 2018. And Vanderbilt, by far, has the weakest crossover schedule in the SEC East this season.
-- Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.