While being a member of the prestigious SEC has its perks, playing in college football's premier conference also comes at a cost in the form of a difficult path. It takes a very special team to successfully navigate the weekly grind of a typical SEC football schedule.
In addition to the strenuous gauntlet of matchups that each team must face within the conference each season, a brave few opt to take it a step further, adding a top-tier non-conference opponent or two to the slate. So, while every SEC schedule can be considered a slugfest in and of itself, some teams within the conference will face more difficult paths than others.
So, which SEC teams have the toughest road in the upcoming season? The answer lies below, as we rank every 2019 SEC schedule in order from most difficult to easiest.
1. South Carolina
Non-Con: Clemson, vs. North Carolina (Charlotte, N.C.), Appalachian State, Charleston Southern
East Home: Florida, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
East Road: Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee
Crossover: Alabama, at Texas A&M
This isn't just the toughest schedule in the SEC for 2019, it is widely regarded as the most difficult slate in the nation. South Carolina opens the season with relative ease against a rebuilding North Carolina squad in Charlotte, followed by the lone cupcake on the schedule in FCS opponent Charleston Southern.
Unfortunately, it's all downhill from there with five of the Gamecocks' next 10 opponents ranked in the top 10 in Athlon Sports' Top 25, including the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the nation. From that group, the Gamecocks get Alabama, Florida and Clemson at home, but must go on the road to face both Georgia and Texas A&M.
They travel to face another potential top-25 foe in Missouri and could have their hands full on the road at Tennessee as well. South Carolina will look to reverse its fortunes against Kentucky at home in late September after losing five consecutive games to the Wildcats. Late-season matchups against Appalachian State and Vanderbilt in Columbia aren't going to be cakewalks either. This schedule is nothing short of a nightmare.
Non-Con: vs. Oregon (Arlington, Texas), Tulane, Kent State, Samford
West Home: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
West Road: LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas
Crossover: Georgia, at Florida
Auburn's 2019 football schedule is difficult in several regards, starting with the season opener in Arlington, Texas, against a top-25 Oregon squad. The Tigers also draw the most challenging crossover slate among SEC West teams with matchups against heavyweights Florida (away) and Georgia from the East.
They must travel to Texas A&M in late September before Mississippi State pays a visit to The Plains on Sept. 28. Auburn will then spend the entire month of October on the road, culminating with a trip to Death Valley to face LSU. And least we not forget, the big regular season-finale against archrival Alabama at home in the Iron Bowl.
3. Texas A&M
Non-Con: at Clemson, UTSA, Texas State, Lamar
West Home: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
West Road: LSU, Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas (Arlington, Texas)
Crossover: at Georgia, South Carolina
Texas A&M faced the most difficult schedule of any team in the SEC last season, and 2019 isn't shaping up to be much easier. Like South Carolina, the Aggies have the misfortune of facing each of the top three teams in Athlon's rankings. Unlike South Carolina, the Aggies play Clemson on the road, where they will look to avenge last season's heartbreaking 28-26 loss to the eventual national champs.
There is some consolation on the 2019 Texas A&M slate with Alabama visiting College Station, along with Auburn and Mississippi State. However, the Aggies will find no solace in back-to-back road games against Georgia and LSU to close out the regular season. Jimbo Fisher and company certainly have their work cut out for them.
Non-Con: at Texas, Utah State, Georgia Southern, Northwestern State
West Home: Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas
West Road: Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
Crossover: Florida, at Vanderbilt
LSU could make a case for having the SEC's toughest non-conference schedule in 2019. The Tigers open the season against a respectable Georgia Southern team that won 10 games last season. The following week, LSU visits Austin for a must-see showdown against Texas with possible College Football Playoff implications on the line. Utah State, coming off an 11-win campaign, visits Baton Rouge in early October.
The SEC slate provides a turbulent path for the Tigers as per usual. They do have the luxury of facing annual cross-conference rival Florida at home this season. Auburn visits Baton Rouge as well. However, the Bayou Bengals are faced with the unenviable task of playing Alabama in Tuscaloosa to go along with a tough road trip to Mississippi State. The regular season concludes in Death Valley against Texas A&M in a rematch of last season's epic 74-72, seven-overtime thriller.
Non-Con: Notre Dame, at Georgia Tech, Arkansas State, Murray State
East Home: Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky
East Road: vs. Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.), Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Crossover: Texas A&M, at Auburn
The Bulldogs open the season in SEC play on the road against Vanderbilt. But the schedule doesn't truly ramp up until week 4 when Notre Dame comes to Athens for a pivotal non-conference matchup. Following a bye, Georgia will then make its way to Knoxville to face Tennessee before returning to Athens for divisional tilts against South Carolina and Kentucky.
The Bulldogs get another bye prior to the big game against the rival Gators in Jacksonville, Florida. The stretch run features a tough matchup at home against Missouri followed by difficult crossover games against Auburn (away) and Texas A&M in back-to-back fashion. Georgia caps off the season on the road with its annual matchup against in-state foe Georgia Tech.
Non-Con: vs. Miami (Orlando, Fla.), Florida State, UT Martin, Towson
East Home: vs. Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.), Tennessee, Vanderbilt
East Road: Missouri, South Carolina, Kentucky
Crossover: at LSU, Auburn
For the second consecutive season, Florida is the only SEC team that has two FCS opponents penciled in on its non-conference schedule. That said, the season opener against Miami in Orlando, along with the annual end-of-season tilt against Florida State help make up for it, even if those matchups aren't quite as lustrous as in years past.
Conference play kicks off with Florida looking to avenge last season's loss to Kentucky on the road in Lexington. Division rival Tennessee comes to The Swamp the following week. But it's the middle of the Gators' schedule that appears to be the most daunting with a key four-game stretch that features Auburn, LSU (away), South Carolina (away), and arch-nemesis Georgia (Jacksonville). A road trip to Missouri in mid-November is worrisome as well.
Non-Con: Colorado State, Western Kentucky, San Jose State, Portland State
West Home: vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas), Auburn, Mississippi State
West Road: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss
Crossover: vs. Missouri (Little Rock, Ark.), at Kentucky
The Razorbacks are one of just two SEC teams that will not face a Power 5 opponent in 2019. Colorado State will provide the most formidable opposition on a lackluster non-conference schedule. However, Arkansas does face a particularly challenging conference slate.
For starters, the Razorbacks' 2019 schedule features just two true home games against SEC opponents all season (Auburn and Mississippi State). Matchups against Texas A&M (Arlington) and Missouri (Little Rock) are recognized as de facto home games despite being played outside of Fayetteville. The real challenge comes in being the only SEC team that will have to face both Alabama and LSU on the road this season.
8. Ole Miss
Non-Con: at Memphis, California, New Mexico State, SE Louisiana
West Home: LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas
West Road: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State
Crossover: Vanderbilt, at Missouri
The Rebels' 2019 non-conference schedule doesn't feature any top-tier opponents. However, the season opener at Memphis makes for a very compelling matchup. A week 4 meeting with California in Oxford offers some intrigue as well.
The SEC slate is far less forgiving. The first conference road test comes in Tuscaloosa against the Crimson Tide. The Rebels also will have to hit the road for tough matchups against Missouri, Auburn and in-state rival Mississippi State. The SEC home schedule provides little relief with games against LSU, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Arkansas. The Rebels are fortunate to avoid both Georgia and Florida in cross-conference action.
Non-Con: BYU, UAB, Georgia State, Chattanooga
East Home: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
East Road: Florida, Missouri, Kentucky
Crossover: at Alabama, Mississippi State
The Vols are one of two SEC teams that will not face a Power 5 opponent in 2019. That being said, a week 2 meeting with Power 5-caliber BYU in Knoxville could be tricky. Tennessee cannot afford to overlook defending C-USA champion UAB on Nov. 2 either.
The Volunteers open conference play against rival Florida in Gainesville, where they have not won since 2003. It doesn't ease up from there with a turbulent month of October that features matchups against Georgia (home), Mississippi State (home), Alabama (away), and South Carolina (home) in consecutive weeks.
A late-season road trip to face Missouri will prove difficult as well. Tennessee should finally be able to get over the hump in the regular-season finale against Vanderbilt, but it's far from guaranteed, considering the Vols have lost three straight and five out of the last seven games to the Commodores.
Non-Con: at Purdue, Northern Illinois, UNLV, East Tennessee State
East Home: Georgia, Missouri, Kentucky
East Road: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee
Crossover: LSU, at Ole Miss
The Commodores waste no time getting right down to business. They will face the most difficult opening stretch of any team in the SEC. Vandy hosts SEC East favorite Georgia in week 1. The Commodores travel to Purdue for an SEC-Big Ten showdown in week 2. After a week off, SEC West powerhouse LSU comes to Nashville.
The slate lightens up considerably over the next few weeks with games against Northern Illinois (home), Ole Miss (away), and UNLV (home). But heats up once again with another tough stretch that features Missouri (home), South Carolina (away), Florida (away), and Kentucky (home). Vanderbilt concludes its season in Knoxville against in-state foe Tennessee.
11. Mississippi State
Non-Con: Kansas State, Southern Miss, vs. Louisiana (New Orleans), Abilene Christian
West Home: Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss
West Road: Texas A&M, Auburn, Arkansas
Crossover: at Tennessee, Kentucky
The Bulldogs have a relatively light load compared to most of their counterparts in the SEC West. A rebuilding Kansas State squad highlights a pedestrian non-conference schedule. They avoid Florida and Georgia from the East, and both Alabama and LSU have to come to Starkville. Ole Miss visits Davis Wade Stadium for the Egg Bowl as well.
The downside consists of road games at Texas A&M, Auburn and Tennessee. The Bulldogs might get a little homesick in the middle of the season as well. There is just one home game (vs. LSU) on the slate between Sept. 21 and Nov. 16
Non-Con: Louisville, Toledo, Eastern Michigan, UT Martin
East Home: Florida, Missouri, Tennessee
East Road: Georgia, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Crossover: at Mississippi State, Arkansas
The Wildcats' 2019 schedule features eight home games and provides a path that isn't terribly difficult by SEC standards. While the season opener in Lexington against Toledo could be interesting, the non-conference slate is forgiving overall with in-state rival Louisville currently in rebuilding mode.
In terms of the SEC, Kentucky opens conference play at home against a Florida team that will be in search of a little payback. There is a four-game stretch that features three road games against Mississippi State, South Carolina and Georgia that will be difficult as well. Home games against Missouri and Tennessee aren't particularly favorable either.
Non-Con: vs. Duke (Atlanta), Southern Miss, New Mexico State, Western Carolina
West Home: LSU, Ole Miss, Arkansas
West Road: Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State
Crossover: at South Carolina, Tennessee
As if the Crimson Tide needed any help, their path to the SEC Championship Game in 2019 couldn't be more promising. The non-conference slate, headlined by the season opener against Duke in Atlanta, is underwhelming, to say the least. There are no consecutive road dates on the schedule either.
Alabama eludes both Georgia and Florida from the SEC East. The Crimson Tide get LSU at home. They have what amounts to a de facto off week against FCS opponent Western Carolina before traveling to Auburn for the Iron Bowl. And they have two weeks to prepare for what should be their biggest test of the regular season on the road at Texas A&M.
Non-Con: West Virginia, at Wyoming, Troy, SE Missouri State
East Home: Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee
East Road: Georgia, Kentucky, Vanderbilt
Crossover: Ole Miss, vs. Arkansas (Little Rock, Ark.)
This is arguably the easiest schedule in the SEC this season. Which means that Missouri couldn't have picked a worse year to face a possible postseason ban. An early-season meeting with West Virginia in Columbia highlights the non-conference schedule. This matchup would have made for must-see TV last season but isn't shaping up to be much of a contest in 2019 with the Mountaineers in rebuild mode.
The Tigers avoid all the heavy hitters from the SEC West with crossover matchups against Ole Miss and Arkansas in 2019. They will have to play three consecutive SEC road games (Vanderbilt, Kentucky and Georgia). However, they do have the luxury of a bye before the Georgia game. Back-to-back games against Georgia and Florida represent the most difficult aspect of Mizzou's schedule.
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.