SEC schedule rankings
No easy road to title in this ultra-tough conference
Posted: Thursday June 21, 2007 1:49PM; Updated: Thursday June 21, 2007 4:27PM
Every year the Southeastern Conference boasts that it's the strongest league in college football, and a look at the schedules explains why. Just try to set up a soft schedule. With so many good teams in the SEC, it just cannot be done.
Take LSU, for instance. The Tigers will play a gauntlet of highly-ranked teams, including Virginia Tech, Florida, Auburn, South Carolina and Arkansas.
Yet a compelling argument could be made that only represents the league's eighth toughest schedule -- largely because it is as friendly as it is fierce.
The Tigers will face the above-mentioned teams in Baton Rouge, and before and after every one of those games is an inferior opponent that's coming off a losing season or was severely beaten by the Tigers in 2006.
Of course, that doesn't guarantee a championship for the Tigers. In the SEC, almost all the teams are in similar predicaments.
1. South Carolina
Behind the ranking: Any schedule that requires trips to Georgia, LSU, Tennessee and Arkansas is formidable. At least the Gamecocks get rival Clemson at home.
Toughest game: South Carolina has won once in 10 trips to Baton Rouge. That victory came in 1994 when LSU finished 4-7. The Tigers will be considerably better this season. South Carolina QB Blake Mitchell will face one of the nation's best pass rushes with LSU defensive end Tyson Jackson and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey coming at him.
Cakewalk: Three teams coming off losing seasons play the Gamecocks, but the easiest victory should be against Division I-AA South Carolina State on Sept. 15.
Trap game: A year ago South Carolina rolled over Vanderbilt 31-13. The Gamecocks might be expecting another blowout victory -- especially considering they figure to be riding a three-game winning streak when the Commodores come to town on Oct. 20. But Vandy has some offensive talent. The Commodores could make the Gamecocks pay if they're looking ahead to Tennessee a week later.
Changes from last season: Adding North Carolina, a BCS conference team, is an upgrade over three of last year's non-conference foes. The good news is the Gamecocks drop Auburn from the West Division. The bad news is they add LSU.
Behind the ranking: The Tigers only play four road games, but they're against Florida, Arkansas, LSU and Georgia. Kansas State and South Florida highlight the non-conference schedule.
Toughest game: Everyone in Baton Rouge is still seething over a non-call on a possible pass interference penalty in the waning moments of Auburn's 7-3 victory over LSU last season. That cost LSU the Western Division championship, and maybe a shot at the national title. Les Miles' crew will be looking for payback.
Cakewalk: Consecutive home games with Mississippi State and New Mexico State should ensure the Tigers will go into their Sept. 29 game against Florida with a full head of steam.
Trap game: Win or lose, Auburn's Oct. 20 game at LSU figures to be emotional and draining. The next week looks like a chance to take it easy with Mississippi visiting the Plains. However, Auburn struggled to beat Mississippi 23-17 a year ago.
Changes from last season: Kansas State and South Florida definitely improve the non-conference schedule, even though Division I-AA Tennessee Tech is also on it. Vanderbilt replaces South Carolina as an inter-division opponent from the East, so that should lighten the load a little. But the road gets tougher. This year's away opponents were a combined 43-11 in 2006. Last year Auburn faced only one winning team on the road.
Behind the ranking: Only three opponents endured losing seasons last year and one of those -- Alabama -- played in a bowl game. The Vols face California and Florida on the road, but Georgia, South Carolina and Arkansas come to Knoxville.
Toughest game: Florida is always a difficult opponent, especially in Gainesville. The Volunteers are 2-6 at Florida since 1991. That game on Sept. 15 will be the Gators' first real test to show they're still a championship-caliber team.
Cakewalk: Louisiana-Lafayette upset Texas A&M early in the 1996 season. Since then, the Ragin' Cajuns are 0-23 against BCS conference teams and have allowed at least 40 points in 16 of those games. Tennessee likely will make it 17 when the Cajuns come to Knoxville on Nov. 3.
Trap game: Admittedly, Tennessee shouldn't lose to Southern Miss. Ever. But Southern Miss returns RB Damion Fletcher and eight starters are back on defense from a 9-5 team in 2006. Also, the Golden Eagles are in Knoxville one week after Tennessee travels to face California and a week before the Vols go to Florida. Don't believe that makes a difference? Don't make me bring up last year's 31-30 escape against Air Force in Week 2.
Changes from last season: Losing LSU is definitely addition by subtraction. More good news -- Mississippi State replaces LSU as a West Division foe. Three new non-conference opponents are on the schedule, but the degree of difficulty remains about the same. This year the Vols travel to Cal, Florida and Alabama.
Behind the ranking: Seven of Florida's opponents this season won bowl games in 2006, and the Gators face three of them on the road and another (Georgia) at a neutral site. The regular-season finale against Florida State always ensures the Gators have a respectable non-conference schedule.
Toughest game: Miscues on kick returns paved the way for Florida to top LSU 23-10 a year ago. The Gators will find an opponent seeking revenge and redemption when they venture into Baton Rouge on Oct. 6.
Cakewalk: The Gators don't figure to be challenged until mid-September. Division I-AA Western Kentucky is playing for a paycheck in the season-opener and then Troy follows. Sun Belt Conference teams do not win in The Swamp. Not even good ones.
Trap game: South Carolina came within a blocked kick of ending Florida's national championship aspirations last year. The Gators go to Columbia this season, and you know South Carolina's coach would love to notch that win more than any other.
Changes from last season: Alabama replaces Ole Miss as an inter-divisional opponent. Perhaps the biggest difference is the Gators travel to Baton Rouge and South Carolina this season.
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