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Ranking the SEC's Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2016

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The SEC sometimes gets criticized for its non-conference scheduling. It certainly doesn't help when the SEC's powerhouses schedule cupcakes in November. But over the past few seasons, the SEC has done a better job of scheduling major opponents outside the conference.

Related: Ranking the SEC's Toughest College Football Schedules in 2016

Coming into the 2016 season, there are a lot of highly anticipated matchups involving SEC teams. Alabama plays USC. Ole Miss plays Florida State. LSU plays Wisconsin. And of course, Tennessee plays Virginia Tech in a game that will probably break college football's all-time attendance record.  

Here is a ranking of the SEC's non-conference schedules from the most difficult to easiest.

1. Ole Miss

Sept. 5 vs. Florida State (Orlando, Fla.)

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Sept. 10 vs. Wofford

Oct. 1 vs. Memphis

Nov. 5 vs. Georgia Southern

In one of college football's most anticipated out-of-conference matchups, Ole Miss takes on Florida State in week one. This will provide a great measuring stick for both teams, as both have realistic College Football Playoff aspirations. It will be fun watching two elite defenses on the field. It is a neutral site game, but it will be played in the state of Florida. The Rebels won't have any problems with Wofford or Georgia Southern, but they do take on Memphis again on Oct. 1. Memphis beat Ole Miss 37-24 last year.

2. South Carolina

Sept. 17 vs. East Carolina

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Oct. 22 vs. UMass

Nov. 19 vs. Western Carolina

Nov. 26 at Clemson

The Gamecocks' only home game in the month of September is against East Carolina. South Carolina beat the Pirates 33-23 in 2014, but this Gamecocks squad has a lot of rebuilding to do. That game won't be easy for South Carolina. Next on the schedule is UMass, a team that will have played two SEC teams prior to that matchup. Western Carolina should be manageable. Then, of course, is the rivalry week game at Clemson. By that point in the season, the Tigers might have quite a bit riding on a win.

3. Auburn

Sept. 3 vs. Clemson

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Sept. 10 vs. Arkansas State

Oct. 1 vs. ULM

Nov. 19 vs. Alabama A&M

Of all the SEC teams, Auburn has the toughest season-opening assignment. Auburn will take on Clemson, which not only is built like an SEC team in the trenches, but returns arguably the nation's best quarterback, Deshaun Watson. Clemson is ranked No. 1 in the country in several preseason polls. Auburn does have the advantage of playing that game in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers' other non-conference matchups against Arkansas State, ULM and Alabama A&M will all be played at home.

4. Alabama

Sept. 3 vs. USC (Arlington, Texas)

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Sept. 10 vs. Western Kentucky

Sept. 24 vs. Kent State

Nov. 19 vs. Chattanooga

Alabama's out-of-conference slate starts with a neutral site game against USC. The Trojans are projected to be a top-15 team coming into the season. USC's talented offense could cause problems for a rebuilding Alabama defense. The Crimson Tide also take on Western Kentucky, which returns multiple starters from a team that finished 12-2 last season. Kent State and Chattanooga likely won't provide much of a challenge for the Tide.

5. Georgia

Sept. 3 vs. North Carolina (Atlanta)

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Sept. 10 vs. Nicholls State

Nov. 19 vs. UL Lafayette

Nov. 26 vs. Georgia Tech

With two ACC opponents on the slate, Georgia plays a pretty respectable schedule outside the SEC. The 'Dawgs open the season in Atlanta against North Carolina. The Tar Heels were a tough out in 2015 and look to be a top-20 team coming into this season. Georgia should cruise by Nicholls State, but UL Lafayette shouldn't be overlooked. The Ragin' Cajuns finally fell off a bit last year after four straight nine-win seasons. Georgia finishes the regular season at home against in-state foe, Georgia Tech.

6. Arkansas

Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana Tech

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Sept. 10 at TCU

Sept. 17 vs. Texas State

Oct. 1 vs. Alcorn State

The Razorbacks open the 2016 season with Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs went 9-4 a year ago and pummeled Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl. A week later, the Hogs will travel to Fort Worth to take on TCU. With most of Arkansas' offensive production gone to the NFL, it will be interesting to see if the early-season Hogs can keep pace on the road against TCU. Home games against Texas State and Alcorn State should be manageable.

7. LSU

Sept. 3 vs. Wisconsin (Green Bay, Wis.)

Sept. 10 vs. Jacksonville

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Oct. 15 vs. Southern Miss

Nov. 19 vs. South Alabama

Two years ago, LSU and Wisconsin had a dog fight in Houston, in which LSU prevailed narrowly. This time, the Tigers will have to travel up north to take on the Badgers. It is a neutral site game at Lambeau Field, but essentially it will be a home game for Wisconsin. The Badgers will be a stout test. After that, it should be smooth sailing for LSU against Jacksonville, Southern Miss and South Alabama. None of those teams are equipped to stop Leonard Fournette.

8. Florida

Sept. 3 vs. UMass

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Sept. 17 vs. North Texas

Nov. 19 vs. Presbyterian

Nov. 26 at Florida State

The Gators don't have much to be afraid of until November. UMass finished with a 3-9 record last season, while North Texas went 1-11 and Presbyterian went 2-9. Florida's relatively weak non-conference schedule is enhanced only by the usual rivalry week matchup against Florida State in Tallahassee. The Seminoles return a boatload of talent and appear to be a top-10 team. Florida has lost five of its last six games against FSU.

9. Texas A&M

Sept. 3 vs. UCLA

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Sept. 10 vs. Prairie View

Oct. 29 vs. New Mexico State

Nov. 19 vs. UTSA

The best part about A&M's opener with UCLA will be watching the Aggies' offense, which will have a new quarterback, against UCLA's punishing defense, which returns nine starters. The game is at Kyle Field, which is a huge advantage for the Aggies. Finally, we get to see a marquee matchup between the SEC and Pac-12. The rest of A&M's non-conference schedule consists of home games against Prairie View, New Mexico State and UTSA. Hit the snooze button.

10. Missouri

Sept. 3 at West Virginia

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Sept. 10 vs. Eastern Michigan

Sept. 24 vs. Delaware State

Oct. 22 vs. Middle Tennessee

Traveling to Morgantown is not something that very many teams look forward to. West Virginia is usually tough to beat at home, so that opener will be crucial for Mizzou. The Mountaineers won five of their last six games in 2015. Mizzou will be heavily favored against Eastern Michigan and Delaware State, but the Oct. 22 game against Middle Tennessee could be a little more entertaining. The Blue Raiders made it to a bowl game last season.

11. Tennessee

Sept. 3 vs. Appalachian State

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Sept. 10 vs. Virginia Tech (Bristol, Tenn.)

Sept. 17 vs. Ohio

Nov. 5 vs. Tennessee Tech

With high expectations coming into 2016, Tennessee opens with Appalachian State. The Volunteers will easily be double-digit favorites in that one. A week later is the Battle at Bristol spectacle against Virginia Tech. Tennessee also will be favored in that game, but the Hokies will be ready to play. The atmosphere should be exhilarating. The Vols close out the non-conference portion of the schedule with Ohio and Tennessee Tech. Not too bad.

12. Kentucky

Sept. 3 vs. Southern Miss

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Sept. 17 vs. New Mexico State

Nov. 19 vs. Austin Peay

Nov. 26 at Louisville

Southern Miss has a few weapons that could be tricky for Kentucky in week one, but the Wildcats will be favored. New Mexico State and Austin Peay aren't very enticing non-conference opponents. As is the case with Florida, Kentucky should have a pretty easy road until the last week of the season. The annual matchup with Louisville is on the road this year and the Cardinals return 17 starters. Louisville will likely be a preseason top-25 team.

13. Vanderbilt

Sept. 10 vs. Middle Tennessee

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Sept. 17 at Georgia Tech

Sept. 24 vs. Western Kentucky

Oct. 22 vs. Tennessee State

From first glance, Vanderbilt's non-conference schedule looks pretty easy. However, Middle Tennessee nearly beat the Commodores last year and Western Kentucky actually did get the job done in week one. Vanderbilt fans probably aren't thrilled to see those two teams on the schedule. This season, the Commodores also have a difficult road test in week three at Georgia Tech. In late October, Tennessee Tech should provide Vanderbilt some relief.

14. Mississippi State

Sept. 3 vs. South Alabama

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Sept. 24 at UMass

Oct. 14 at BYU
Oct. 29 vs. Samford

Interestingly, Mississippi State is going on the road twice in the non-conference. However, the catch is that the Bulldogs aren't playing any major non-conference teams. They should fare well against South Alabama and Samford at home. On Sept. 24, State travels to UMass, but the Minutemen aren't expected to be world-beaters. BYU has a solid program and could give the Bulldogs a tough game, especially in Provo, but this schedule leaves plenty to be desired.

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.