Rating SEC non-conference schedules, from hardest to easiest

jkendall@thestate.comJune 19, 2013 

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Bruce Ellington and the Gamecocks host rival and out-of-conference foe Clemson in 2013.

C. ALUKA BERRY — caberry@thestate.com

While coaches and administrators debate the future of the league’s non-conference schedules, whether stronger opponents will be needed to boost strength of schedule under the upcoming College Football Playoff, we decided to take a look at what is right in front us: the 2013 non-conference schedules.

Here are the four teams each school will play outside the SEC this season and how we think that slate ranks.

Some interesting items to note: Kentucky, LSU, Auburn and Texas A&M don’t leave their home fields for non-league play. Arkansas and Texas A&M are front loaded with four straight non-conference opponents before finishing the year with eight straight SEC games.

1. Georgia

At Clemson; North Texas; Appalachian State; At Georgia Tech

The Bulldogs are at the top of the list not only because they play two BCS-conference foes but also because they play both of them on the road. But neither the Tigers nor the Yellow Jackets has had much luck lately against Georgia.

2. Florida

Toledo; At Miami; Georgia Southern; Florida State

The Gators have the most impressive sounding out-of-conference slate with a road game against Miami and a regular season finale against FSU.But Miami has taken a couple steps back.

3. South Carolina

North Carolina; At UCF; Coastal Carolina; Clemson

The Gamecocks are the only school in the SEC other than Georgia and Florida with two major conference opponents on the out-of-league schedule. The good news is both the games are at home.

4. Alabama

Virginia Tech (Georgia Dome); Colorado State; Georgia State; Chattanooga

The Crimson Tide has two games that look good on the schedule in the Hokies and Rams, but this was a bit of savvy scheduling as neither of those teams is near its prime. Alabama will be a double-digit favorite in each game.

5. Tennessee

Austin Peay; Western Kentucky; At Oregon; South Alabama

There was a time that Tennessee vs. Oregon would have been a marquee national game. Now, it looks like it could be embarrassing for first-year coach Butch Jones.

6. Ole Miss

Southeast Missouri; At Texas; Idaho; Troy

It’s probably a good thing for Ole Miss that the Texas game is scheduled to be shown only on the Longhorn Network, which is long on hype but short on viewers. Texas whipped the Rebels 66-31 last year in Oxford, and the Longhorns look to be better this year.

7. Mississippi State

Oklahoma State (at Houston); Alcorn State; Troy; Bowling Green

Credit to the Bulldogs for taking on a really good Oklahoma State game. A loss would warm up Dan Mullen’s seat right off the bat. Nothing else on this schedule looks daunting.

8. Kentucky

Western Kentucky; Miami (OH); Louisville; Alabama State

The in-state rivalry against Louisville has taken an ugly turn for the Wildcats, and it doesn’t figure to get any better in Mark Stoops’ first year. Stoops needs to make sure Petrino and the Hilltoppers, who are not rebuilding, don’t make him 0-2 in the Bluegrass State this year.

9. Arkansas

Louisiana Lafayette; Samford (at Little Rock); Southern Miss; At Rutgers

First-year coach Bret Bielema must have loved inheriting this slate. A trip to Rutgers won’t be easy, but it also shouldn’t result in a loss. The problem will come when these games are done as Arkansas closes the regular season with eight SEC games in a row.

10. Missouri

Murray State; Toledo; At Indiana; Arkansas State

The only reason the Tigers get any credit for this schedule is they are playing at a Big Ten team, but this isn’t basketball.However, a trip to Bloomington to play the Hoosiers is not daunting unless you’re playing basketball.

11. Vanderbilt

Austin Peay; At UMass; UAB; Wake Forest

Coach James Franklin says he is looking to schedule wins in his out-of-conference schedule. He deserves credit for honesty, and the Wake Forest-Vanderbilt game seems to make sense. The only question we have is: When is the last time an SEC football team played at UMass?

12. LSU

TCU; UAB; Kent State; Furman

C’mon Les Miles. The Tigers are one of the SEC’s big boys. They should test themselves more out of the league.

13. Auburn

Washington State; Arkansas State; Western Carolina; Florida Atlantic

First-year defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson will have headaches against Mike Leach and Washington State. Other than that, this is a very kind schedule.

14. Texas A&M

Rice; Sam Houston State; SMU; UTEP

Like LSU, Texas A&M should be a little ashamed of itself on this one.

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