With signing day in the books, spring practice is just around the corner for all 125 FBS teams. And it’s never too early to start thinking about the upcoming season and some of the key games on the schedule. Alabama is widely considered the preseason favorite for 2013 and will be helped by a favorable schedule. The Crimson Tide has to take on Texas A&M in College Station but hosts LSU and misses Georgia, Florida and South Carolina in crossover play.
The SEC West should be one of the most competitive divisions in college football next season, as all seven teams have a legitimate chance to get bowl eligible. Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M could each rank as a top-10 team this preseason, while Ole Miss is a program on the rise after reeling in a top recruiting class. Arkansas and Auburn have new coaches that should get the program pointed in the right direction, while Mississippi State has made solid progress under Dan Mullen.
With spring practice getting ready to start across the nation, Athlon takes a look at the schedules for each of the SEC West teams and examines some of the interesting storylines, scheduling tidbits and trends to watch.
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SEC West Football 2013 Schedule Analysis
Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (Atlanta)
Sept. 7 Bye Week
Sept. 14 at Texas A&M
Sept. 21 Colorado State
Sept. 28 Ole Miss
Oct. 5 Georgia State
Oct. 12 at Kentucky
Oct. 19 Arkansas
Oct. 26 Tennessee
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 LSU
Nov. 16 at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 Chattanooga
Nov. 30 at Auburn
* For the third time in six seasons, the Crimson Tide will open the year for a neutral site game in Atlanta. And this will be the second time Alabama takes on Virginia Tech in this setting. In 2009, the Crimson Tide defeated the Hokies 34-24. Alabama also knocked off Clemson 34-10 in the Georgia Dome in 2008.
* Alabama’s bye weeks come before arguably its biggest games of 2013. The Crimson Tide has an off date on Sept. 7, one week before traveling to Texas A&M. And Alabama’s second bye is on Nov. 2, a week before playing LSU on Nov. 9.
* Despite being scheduled for Week 3, expect the Sept. 14 showdown between Texas A&M and Alabama to play a key role in deciding the SEC West title. The Crimson Tide’s only loss in 2012 came against the Aggies and this will be Alabama’s first trip to College Station since 1988.
* Former Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain brings Colorado State to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 21. McElwain went 4-8 in his debut season in Fort Collins last year.
* In a bit of odd scheduling, Alabama plays four games in October and each team has a new coach for 2013: Georgia State (Trent Miles), Kentucky (Mark Stoops), Arkansas (Bret Bielema) and Tennessee (Butch Jones).
* Can Alabama break a recent streak in the series versus LSU on Nov. 9? The road team has won the last two regular season meetings in this annual SEC West matchup.
* Alabama faces one of the easiest crossover schedules in the West Division. The Crimson Tide misses on playing Georgia, South Carolina and Florida during the regular season and will play at Kentucky and host Tennessee – arguably the bottom two teams in the SEC East.
* Can the Crimson Tide continue their dominance against rival Auburn? In their last two meetings, Alabama has outscored the Tigers 91-14.
Aug. 31 Louisiana-Lafayette
Sept. 7 Samford
Sept. 14 Southern Miss
Sept. 21 at Rutgers
Sept. 28 Texas A&M
Oct. 5 at Florida
Oct. 12 South Carolina
Oct. 19 at Alabama
Oct. 26 Bye Week
Nov. 2 Auburn
Nov. 9 at Ole Miss
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Mississippi State
Nov. 30 at LSU
* Bret Bielema’s tenure in Fayetteville opens against a dangerous Louisiana-Lafayette team. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 18-8 over the last two years and return quarterback Terrance Broadway (3,616 total yards in 2012), along with running back Alonzo Harris.
* Arkansas will make its first trip to Rutgers in 2013. The Scarlet Knights defeated the Razorbacks 35-26 in Fayetteville last season.
* Arkansas and Texas A&M have played in each of the last four seasons but this will be their first meeting in Fayetteville since 1990. The Razorbacks own a 3-1 edge in the last four matchups against the Aggies.
* The Razorbacks face one of the toughest road schedules in the SEC, making trips to Florida, Alabama, Ole Miss and LSU. The Crimson Tide is heavily favored to win the SEC title in 2013, while the Gators and Tigers could each begin the year in the preseason top 10.
* Speaking of tough schedules…Arkansas might have one of the toughest four-game road stretches in college football next season. The Razorbacks play Texas A&M on Sept. 28, make a road trip to Gainesville on Oct. 5, then return home to play South Carolina, before finishing at Alabama on Oct. 19. Needless to say, Arkansas’ bye week on Oct. 26 will be a deserved break for the coaches and players.
* The SEC West should be college football’s toughest division in 2013 and if Arkansas wants to escape the cellar, it needs to take advantage of a schedule that features home swing games against Auburn and Mississippi State.
Aug. 31 Washington State
Sept. 7 Arkansas State
Sept. 14 Mississippi State
Sept. 21 at LSU
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 Ole Miss
Oct. 12 Western Carolina
Oct. 19 at Texas A&M
Oct. 26 FAU
Nov. 2 at Arkansas
Nov. 9 at Tennessee
Nov. 16 Georgia
Nov. 23 Bye Week
Nov. 30 Alabama
* Frequent flyer miles? Washington State will be traveling just over 2,500 miles to play Auburn in the season opener. This isn’t the first time these two teams have met, as the Tigers defeated the Cougars 40-14 in 2006.
* Let’s go ahead and officially title the Sept. 7 matchup between Arkansas State and Auburn the Gus Malzahn Bowl. Malzahn led the Red Wolves to a 9-3 regular season mark and a Sun Belt title last season and left for Auburn before Arkansas State’s bowl game against Kent State.
* For a team that is hoping to erase a horrible 2012 season, starting with three home games and a bye week in September isn’t a bad way to open. Of course, Auburn has a date at LSU on Sept. 21, which should be a good measuring stick to see how far the program has improved since the end of last year.
* Bowl game? If Auburn wants to get back to a bowl, winning home games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss are a must. The Tigers should be able to sweep its non-conference schedule, which means two victories in SEC play will be required to get to six wins.
* It’s not out of the question the defining moment of Auburn’s season could rest from Oct. 19-Nov. 16. The Tigers have three SEC road games during that stretch and host likely SEC East favorite Georgia. Auburn has lost six out of its last seven matchups to the Bulldogs, including a 45-7 defeat in 2011 and a 38-0 whipping last year.
* Auburn’s Oct. 19 trip to Texas A&M will be the first meeting between these schools in College Station. The Tigers are 0-3 against the Aggies but these two teams have played only once since 1987.
* With Gus Malzahn taking over at Auburn, can the Tigers find a way to narrow the gap against Alabama? In their last two meetings, Auburn was defeated by a combined score of 91-14 and has lost four out of its last five meetings against the Crimson Tide.
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Aug. 31 TCU (Arlington)
Sept. 7 UAB
Sept. 14 Kent State
Sept. 21 Auburn
Sept. 28 at Georgia
Oct. 5 at Mississippi State
Oct. 12 Florida
Oct. 19 at Ole Miss
Oct. 26 Furman
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 at Alabama
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 Texas A&M
Nov. 30 Arkansas
* LSU opens 2013 with one of college football’s marquee non-conference games. The Tigers will meet TCU – likely one of the top three teams in the Big 12 next season – for a matchup in Cowboys Stadium. These two teams have met eight times, with LSU owning a 5-2-1 series edge. However, the last matchup between TCU and LSU occurred in 1968.
* After the huge test against TCU in Arlington, LSU returns to Baton Rouge for home games against UAB, Kent State and Auburn. The three-game homestand will be the longest of the year for LSU, as the Tigers don’t have back-to-back home contests the rest of the year.
* The Sept. 28 matchup against Georgia will be a good barometer test for both teams. LSU lost a handful of key players to the NFL, while Georgia returns only three starters on defense. Both teams have SEC title aspirations and while an early loss won’t derail those hopes, it would put whichever squad loses in an early hole. Interestingly enough, three out of the last six meetings between the Bulldogs and Tigers have occurred in the SEC title game.
* Upset? LSU travels to Oxford on Oct. 19 to face a fast-improving Ole Miss team. The Rebels nearly defeated the Tigers in Baton Rouge last year but have lost the last three meetings in this series. LSU has dominated this series since 2002, and this game is a chance for the Rebels to make a statement in the middle of SEC play.
* LSU drew one of the toughest crossover schedules in the SEC for 2013. The Tigers have to play at Georgia on Sept. 28 and host Florida on Oct. 12. And there’s also a brutal stretch in November, which features Alabama (followed with a bye week), then Texas A&M and Arkansas.
* The Nov. 23 meeting for LSU and Texas A&M will be the first meeting in Baton Rouge between these two teams since 1994.
* Can the Tigers keep the road magic going in the Alabama-LSU series? Excluding the BCS title game matchup in 2012, the last two games have been won by the road team.
* The Nov. 30 date for the regular season finale between LSU and Arkansas is the latest meeting between these two teams since the Razorbacks joined the SEC in 1991.
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Aug. 31 Oklahoma State (Houston)
Sept. 7 Alcorn State
Sept. 14 at Auburn
Sept. 21 Troy
Sept. 28 Bye Week
Oct. 5 LSU
Oct. 12 Bowling Green
Oct. 19 Bye Week
Oct. 26 Kentucky
Nov. 2 at South Carolina
Nov. 9 at Texas A&M
Nov. 16 Alabama
Nov. 23 at Arkansas (Little Rock)
Nov. 30 Ole Miss
* The Bulldogs open 2013 with a tough neutral site game in Houston against Oklahoma State. Mississippi State hasn’t had a matchup against a Big 12 team (West Virginia was a Big East member when these two teams played in 2006-07) in a regular season game since 1999. The Cowboys are considered one of the favorites to win the Big 12 title in 2013, so this will easily be the Bulldogs’ toughest opener under Dan Mullen.
* One of the first observations when examining Mississippi State’s schedule is the split between the first and second half of the season. The Bulldogs will play three bowl teams in their first seven games but face four in their last five matchups.
* In keeping with the difficult close to the season theme, the Bulldogs will play three out of their final five games on the road.
* Could one of the biggest games of the season be against Auburn on Sept. 14? Considering the Bulldogs closed out 2012 by losing five out of their last six games, it’s important to start SEC play with a victory. The Tigers should be improved but finished winless in conference games last year.
* The Nov. 2 road date against South Carolina will be only the third meeting against the Gamecocks since 2007. Mississippi State has lost six consecutive games to South Carolina, including a 14-12 matchup in Starkville during the 2011 season.
* Trap game? Although Mississippi State will likely be favored to beat Arkansas on Nov. 23, it’s a crucial swing game that comes at a bad time. After the Bulldogs play at Texas A&M and host Alabama, they have to head to Little Rock to play the Razorbacks – which is one week before hosting rival Ole Miss.
* Expect plenty of intrigue around the Egg Bowl this season. After winning three consecutive games against Ole Miss from 2009-2011, Mississippi State was soundly defeated 41-24 in Oxford last year. A victory against the Rebels would give the Bulldogs some momentum, especially on the recruiting trail after Ole Miss brought in one of the nation’s top classes.
Aug. 31 at Vanderbilt
Sept. 7 SEMO
Sept. 14 at Texas
Sept. 21 Bye Week
Sept. 28 at Alabama
Oct. 5 at Auburn
Oct. 12 Texas A&M
Oct. 19 LSU
Oct. 26 Idaho
Nov. 2 Bye Week
Nov. 9 Arkansas
Nov. 16 Troy
Nov. 23 Missouri
Nov. 30 at Mississippi State
* The Ole Miss-Vanderbilt opener might not register as one of the top early-season games, but this matchup has plenty of intrigue. Both programs feature rising stars at head coach, while Vanderbilt and Ole Miss have been making a lot of noise on the recruiting trail recently. The Commodores narrowly edged the Rebels in Oxford last year and another close game should be expected in 2013.
* After a tough opener at Vanderbilt, the Rebels catch a breather against SEMO. The matchup against the FCS opponent comes at a good time for Ole Miss, especially with a road trip to Texas in Week 3, followed by a date at Alabama on Sept. 28.
* While the Rebels have four road games in their first five games, they won’t have to leave the state for the rest of the year until the postseason. The final road game for Ole Miss will be at rival Mississippi State on Nov. 30.
* Could Ole Miss push for a finish among the top three in the SEC West next year? It’s possible, especially with a schedule that features home games against LSU, Texas A&M and Arkansas. If the Rebels can upset the Tigers and Aggies, they will be in good shape to easily exceed last season’s three SEC victories.
* After dealing with a grueling start to the year, the second half of the schedule is very manageable. Ole Miss plays only one bowl team in its final five games and hosts two SEC teams that will likely struggle to have a winning record (Arkansas and Missouri).
Aug. 31 Rice
Sept. 7 Sam Houston State
Sept. 14 Alabama
Sept. 21 SMU
Sept. 28 at Arkansas
Oct. 5 Bye Week
Oct. 12 Ole Miss
Oct. 19 Auburn
Oct. 26 Vanderbilt
Nov. 2 UTEP
Nov. 9 Mississippi State
Nov. 16 Bye Week
Nov. 23 at LSU
Nov. 30 at Missouri
* The Aggies open 2013 with four consecutive home games, including a huge Sept. 14 showdown against Alabama. Considering both teams are expected to be among the top-five teams in the nation next season, the early clash will play a huge role in shaping the SEC West and national title picture
* Texas A&M’s trip to Fayetteville on Sept. 28 will be its first since 1990. The Aggies and Razorbacks have played in each of the last four seasons but three of those matchups were neutral site games. Texas A&M blasted Arkansas 58-10 last season, but the Razorbacks have won three out of the last four in this series.
* All four of Texas A&M’s non-conference games are against teams located in Texas. The Aggies host Rice and Sam Houston State in the first two weeks of the season, take on SMU on Sept. 21 and UTEP on Nov. 2. None of the four opponents should be an upset threat to Texas A&M.
* In a scheduling quirk, Texas A&M will play at Ole Miss for the second consecutive year.
* For a team that has national title aspirations, Texas A&M drew one of the most favorable crossover schedules in the SEC. The Aggies won’t play Georgia, South Carolina and Florida during the regular season and host Vanderbilt (likely to be picked No. 4 in the East).
* For the first time since 2008, Texas A&M will finish the season with back-to-back road games. The Aggies play at LSU on Nov. 23 and at Missouri on Nov. 30.
* Speaking of Texas A&M’s late-season matchup with LSU, the Aggies will be making their first trip to Baton Rouge since 1994. LSU has won the last two games in this series, including a 41-24 victory in the Cotton Bowl in 2011. However, Texas A&M won five consecutive games from 1991-95.
* Texas A&M closes out its regular season at Missouri, where it has not won since 1999. The Aggies are 1-3 in their last four matchups against the Tigers and have lost the last two meetings in Columbia.
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