Rating the SEC conference football schedules from hardest to easiest

jkendall@thestate.comJune 29, 2013 

The SEC has done its first-year football coaches few favors with the 2013 schedule.

As we analyzed each team’s conference slate, the most glaring feature is how steep the hill is going to be for Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn. Kentucky coach Mark Stoops won’t have it quite as bad, but he doesn’t have an easy fall, either.

Strength of schedule, like a lot of things in life, depends on your point of view, and we have weighted this list accordingly. For instance, it’s going to be tougher for Kentucky to play at Georgia than for LSU. We also will stipulate freely that it’s tougher to be in the SEC West than the SEC East these days, but these rankings are based as much on the possible strength of your schedule.

For instance, I ranked Georgia one spot ahead of Ole Miss because the Bulldogs’ crossover games are against LSU and Auburn (on the road), while the Rebels’ crossover games are Vanderbilt and Missouri. On a week-to-week basis, Ole Miss will have it rougher because it must play Alabama and Texas A&M as part of divisional play.

And finally, we’re not conspiracy theorists, but if you ever hear one say that Alabama is helping the league make out the conference schedule, check out No. 14 on the list for the reason why.

Now on to the list, ranking the SEC schedules from hardest to easiest:

1. ARKANSAS

The Razorbacks could have a pretty good team and start 0-4 in the league. That won’t be an easy confidence hurdle for a first-year coach to clear even if things slack off some in the last half of the season.

Sept. 28Texas A&M

Oct. 5at Florida

Oct. 12South Carolina

Oct. 19at Alabama

Nov. 2Auburn

Nov. 9at Ole Miss

Nov. 23Mississippi State

Nov. 29at LSU

2. TENNESSEE

The Volunteers play the three best teams in their division to start the conference schedule and then play at Alabama. They’ll be so beat up after those games that there won’t be any easy ones from there on out.

Sept. 21at Florida

Oct. 5Georgia

Oct. 19South Carolina

Oct. 26at Alabama

Nov. 2at Missouri

Nov. 9Auburn

Nov. 23Vanderbilt

Nov. 30at Kentucky

3. LSU

The Tigers’ non-conference schedule is borderline embarrassing, but they make up for it in SEC play. With crossover games against Georgia (on the road) and Florida, there are not many breaks. Even winnable games against Mississippi State and Ole Miss are on the road. Not to mention that Nov. 9 trip to Tuscaloosa.

Sept. 21Auburn

Sept. 28at Georgia

Oct. 5at Mississippi State

Oct. 12Florida

Oct. 19at Ole Miss

Nov. 9at Alabama

Nov. 23Texas A&M

Nov. 29Arkansas

4. AUBURN

The good news for the Tigers is they’ve got two winnable games in their first three conference tilts. The bad news is they play at LSU, at Texas A&M, at Arkansas and at Tennessee. They host their final two conference opponents, but those two are Georgia and Alabama.

Sept. 14Mississippi State

Sept. 21at LSU

Oct. 5Ole Miss

Oct. 19at Texas A&M

Nov. 2at Arkansas

Nov. 9at Tennessee

Nov. 16Georgia

Nov. 30Alabama

5. KENTUCKY

The first three games of Mark Stoops’ SEC career will be against Florida, South Carolina (on the road) and Alabama. Welcome to the league.

Sept. 28Florida

Oct. 5at South Carolina

Oct. 12Alabama

Oct. 24at Mississippi State

Nov. 9Missouri

Nov. 16at Vanderbilt

Nov. 23at Georgia

Nov. 30Tennessee

6. FLORIDA

The Gators should start 3-0, but then comes a trip to Baton Rouge to play LSU. If Florida takes care of other business, it could be in position to clinch the SEC East in the final game of the conference slate. That wouldn’t be an easy feat at Williams-Brice.

Sept. 21Tennessee

Sept. 28at Kentucky

Oct. 5Arkansas

Oct. 12at LSU

Oct. 19at Missouri

Nov. 2Georgia (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Nov. 9Vanderbilt

Nov. 16South Carolina

7. GEORGIA

After back-to-back bullet dodges with the schedule, the Bulldogs have caught a tough crossover opponent. The Bulldogs play South Carolina in maybe their most important conference game one week after a tough matchup against Clemson, and then get a visit from LSU.

Sept. 7South Carolina

Sept. 28LSU

Oct. 5 atTennessee

Oct. 12Missouri

Oct. 19at Vanderbilt

Nov. 2Florida (Jacksonville, Fla.)

Nov. 16at Auburn

Nov. 23Kentucky

8. OLE MISS

When you’re the Rebels, every SEC schedule tends to look tough. This one is highlighted by having to play at Alabama, at Auburn and at Mississippi State for the Egg Bowl.

Aug. 29at Vanderbilt

Sept. 28at Alabama

Oct. 5at Auburn

Oct. 12Texas A&M

Oct. 19LSU

Nov. 9Arkansas

Nov. 23Missouri

Nov. 28at Mississippi State

9. VANDERBILT

The Commodores have to travel to South Carolina, Texas A&M, Florida and Tennessee. There are opportunities with home games against Ole Miss, Missouri and Kentucky, but Vandy will have to fight for every win again.

Aug. 29Ole Miss

Sept. 14at South Carolina

Oct. 5Missouri

Oct. 19Georgia

Oct. 26at Texas A&M

Nov. 9at Florida

Nov. 16Kentucky

Nov. 23at Tennessee

10. MISSOURI

The Tigers will try to resurrect their respectability against a schedule that has some opportunities. That stretch of at Georgia, Florida and South Carolina will tell the tale. Missouri could go 0-3 there.

Oct. 5at Vanderbilt

Oct. 12at Georgia

Oct. 19Florida

Oct. 26South Carolina

Nov. 2Tennessee

Nov. 9at Kentucky

Nov. 23at Ole Miss

Nov. 30Texas A&M

11. MISSISSIPPI STATE

This is a big year for coach Dan Mullen. He gets LSU and Alabama at home, which might or might not help. He also has Auburn and Kentucky within the first four weeks, which could help confidence.

Sept. 14at Auburn

Oct. 5LSU

Oct. 24Kentucky

Nov. 2 atSouth Carolina

Nov. 9at Texas A&M

Nov. 16Alabama

Nov. 23at Arkansas

Nov. 28Ole Miss

NO. 12 SOUTH CAROLINA

The Gamecocks won’t mind being toward the bottom of this list. After two years of issues with its schedule, South Carolina has no reason to complain this year. What could be the last trip to Arkansas in a while could be a sneaky dangerous game.

Sept. 7at Georgia

Sept. 14Vanderbilt

Oct. 5Kentucky

Oct. 12at Arkansas

Oct. 19at Tennessee

Oct. 26at Missouri

Nov. 2Mississippi State

Nov. 16Florida

13. TEXAS A&M

The Aggies could have another big year if they can get past Alabama in the first conference game. Playing the game in College Station, Texas, will make things easier on A&M but not much. A late season trip to LSU will be a fun game (for us at least).

Sept. 14Alabama

Sept. 28at Arkansas

Oct. 12at Ole Miss

Oct. 19Auburn

Oct. 26Vanderbilt

Nov. 9Mississippi State

Nov. 23at LSU

Nov. 30Missouri

14. ALABAMA

The Crimson Tide will have to be ready for the first SEC game, but you know Nick Saban will spend all summer making sure his team is. After that, there’s not much trouble until LSU comes to town.

Sept. 14at Texas A&M

Sept. 28Ole Miss

Oct. 12at Kentucky

Oct. 19Arkansas

Oct. 26Tennessee

Nov. 9LSU

Nov. 16at Mississippi State

Nov. 30at Auburn

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