Today, for no reason whatsoever, let’s take a look at how each SEC team’s non-conference schedule stacks up. I’m normally of the mind that if you play one quality non-conference opponent, it’s not the worst thing to line up a few cupcakes for the other three games, especially for a conference that has as many potential landmines as the SEC.
I’ll even give each schedule an arbitrary point system to make things seem more official, with opponents falling into one of four categories. Three points for a top-flight opponent (conference contender/top 25 team), two for a quality opponent (decent BCS school/solid bowl team), one for an average opponent (low-tier BCS/decent non-BCS) and none for cupcake (lower half non-BCS teams/almost all FBS opponents).
- Florida: Miami of Ohio (0), South Florida (2), Appalachian State (1), at Florida State (3) — I debated whether or not to give Appalachian State a point. It is, after all, an FCS school, but it’s a good one. Like top-five good. In the end, I gave it the nod. Florida State, in the post-Bobby Bowden era, could be on the rise again, a popular pick to win the ACC Atlantic Division. And South Florida, despite its coaching change, isn’t a pushover. Very respectable scheduling by the Gators, even if the Seminoles are a guaranteed opponent every year.
- LSU: North Carolina in Atlanta (3), West Virginia (3), McNeese State (0), Louisiana-Monroe (0) — I had some internal debate about this one as well. The Tar Heels are a consensus preseason top-25 team, with a stud defense waiting to be unleashed. (Perhaps I could have given bonus points for teams that play on the road or in neutral sites against quality opponents too. Oh well, LSU can settle for three points here.) The Mountaineers I had somewhere between two and three points. Many preseason magazines have them as the No. 2 team in the Big East and a borderline top-25 team. I gave them the benefit of the doubt. This is a team that’s won 51 games in the last five years.
- South Carolina: Southern Miss (2), Furman (0), Troy (1), at Clemson (3) — The Gamecocks get a built-in 3-pointer thanks to state-rival Clemson, who will make the non-conference rounds in the SEC this year. I initially had Southern Miss as a 1-point team until seeing many magazines think the Golden Eagles could win the Conference USA East. Troy’s not exactly a pushover either, one year removed from running the table in the Sun Belt.
TIER 2 (5 points)
- Vanderbilt: Northwestern (2), at Connecticut (2), Eastern Michigan (0), Wake Forest (1) — No real blockbusters for the Commodores but, except for Eastern Michigan, which was winless last season, three decent matchups. Northwestern has turned itself into a mid-level Big Ten team and Connecticut has won at least eight games the last three seasons. Wake Forest isn’t great, but Jim Grobe usually puts a competitive team on the field. This smart-school schedule isn’t as bad as you would think.
TIER 3 (4 points)
- Alabama: San Jose State (0), Penn State (3), at Duke (1), Georgia State (0) — If you schedule the Nittany Lions, you can usually get a break on the rest of your schedule. Personally, I’m excited to see the teams with the two plainest uniforms in football square off. Duke, despite its reputation, gets a point after winning nine games in the first two years under David Cutcliffe. The San Jose State and Georgia State games could get ugly, though.
- Georgia: Louisiana-Lafayette (0), at Colorado (1), Idaho State (0), Georgia Tech (3) —Another built-in 3-pointer thanks to the state-rival Yellow Jackets, who could contend for the ACC Coastal Division title and are close to being in the top-25 in most preseason magazines. Colorado is a 2-point school stuck in a 1-point rut. This matchup probably looked a lot better when Georgia scheduled it.
TIER 4 (3 points)
- Auburn: Arkansas State (0), Clemson (3), Louisiana-Monroe (0), Tennessee-Chattanooga (0) — Kudos for scheduling Clemson, a matchup between similar programs who seem like they should be playing each other more than the occasional bowl game. Beyond that, there’s not much. Despite occasional competitiveness against top-notch competition (Iowa last year, Texas A&M two years ago), Arkansas State doesn’t appear to have much going for it this season. Monroe and Chattanooga are fodder to fill the schedule.
- Tennessee: Tennessee-Martin (0), Oregon (3), UAB (0), at Memphis (0) — The Ducks are a legitimate contender, one that will start in the top-10 of most polls and might be the favorite to win the Pac-10 (provided the rest of the team does not get arrested this summer). Beyond that, you’re looking at an FCS school and two bottom feeders from the Conference USA.
- Arkansas: Tennessee Tech (0), Louisiana-Monroe (0), vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas (2), UTEP (1) — Playing the Aggies in a neutral site game is a boost to the non-conference schedule. Texas A&M is a distant third in the Big 12 South, although most teams would be when stacking up against Texas and Oklahoma. UTEP doesn’t seem like a 1-point team, having not had a winning season since 2005 but it can put up some points. The Sporting News even projects the Miners to make the Hawaii Bowl.
- Mississippi State: Memphis (0), Alcorn State (0), at Houston (2), UAB (0) — A remarkably similar schedule to Tennessee, although the Bulldogs don’t have a team the caliber of Oregon as a highlight. Houston has Case Keenum and a high-powered offense, but it’s still not in the top-tier of college football. Memphis and UAB we’ve already covered.
TIER 6 (1 point)
- Kentucky: At Louisville (1), Western Kentucky (0), Akron (0), Charleston Southern (0) — Rich Brooks might be gone, but his scheduling legacy lives on. The Cardinals, a border rival, slipped tremendously under Steve Kragthorpe, winning six, five and four games in his final three years. I doubt Charlie Strong turns things around in a year. Athlon ranks Western Kentucky and Akron in the 100s in overall FBS teams and Chuck South is an FCS squad. But hey, whatever it takes to get to the Music City Bowl, right?
- Ole Miss: Jacksonville State (0), at Tulane (0), Fresno State (1), Louisiana-Lafayette (0) — The Rebels had two FCS teams on last year’s schedule, so this isn’t entirely surprising. Fresno seems to get up for big non-conference games, but the Bulldogs are a middle of the pack WAC team this year. I can’t give them more than a point on this one.