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Ranking The SEC Teams’ Schedules By Difficulty

alabama head coach nick saban at the sec championship game

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 01: Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide reacts after defeating the Georgia Bulldogs 35-28 in the 2018 SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on December 1, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

The SEC is an absolute grind. The West has long been considered the toughest division in college football, and the East may be back on the up-swing with teams like Florida and Tennessee showing signs of life recently. Add in the league's penchant for scheduling big-time non-conference opponents early, and the vast majority of these teams refuse to take it easy.

A few months ago, we ranked the easiestand most difficult schedules in all of college football. Only one SEC team made our 'easy' list, while a third of the most difficult list was made up by SEC programs. The preseason edition of ESPN's Football Power Indexstrength of schedule rankings is incredibly bullish on the entire SEC, with eight of the conference's teams in the top 20.

Which team has the hardest schedule of them all, and who is taking it (relatively) easy? Here is our ranking of the 14 SEC teams' schedules by difficulty.

Next: No. 14 ??? >>>

14. Vanderbilt

The Commodores are the only team to break our overall easiest schedule list, and honestly, that's probably a good thing for the fledgling program. Vandy showed a bit more punch in year two under Derek Mason, but still finished 4-8. Can the team turn the corner and make a bowl with this slate?

Sept. 1 – South Carolina
Sept. 10 – Middle Tennessee 
Sept. 17 – at Georgia Tech
Sept. 24 – at Western Kentucky
Oct. 1 – Florida
Oct. 8 – at Kentucky
Oct. 15 – at Georgia
Oct. 22 – Tennessee State
Nov. 5 – at Auburn
Nov. 12 – at Missouri
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 26 – Tennessee

Again, no SEC schedule is a cake walk, but there are some wins to be had here. Middle Tennessee and Tennessee State are beatable, Georgia Tech was way down in 2015, and while Western Kentucky has an incredibly explosive offense, Vanderbilt held it to 14 points in a loss last season. South Carolina is in rebuild mode with Will Muschamp at the helm, and Kentucky and Missouri both have question marks. Hosting Ole Miss is tough, and a trip to Auburn is probably out of Vandy's depth as well, but realistically, there isn't an SEC West opponent the 'Dores would have a great chance against, unless Mississippi State totally goes into the tank in a post-Dak Prescott world. This is about as easy as an SEC schedule will get.

Next: No. 13 ??? >>>

13. Missouri

Another team that can use some wins will have one of the more manageable schedules in the SEC. In year one under new head coach Barry Odom, the former defensive coordinator under retired Gary Pinkel, here's what Mizzou faces.

Sept. 3 – at West Virginia
Sept. 10 – Eastern Michigan
Sept. 17 – Georgia
Sept. 24 – Delaware State
Oct. 1 – at LSU
Oct. 15 – at Florida
Oct. 22 – Middle Tennessee 
Oct. 29 – Kentucky
Nov. 5 – at South Carolina
Nov. 12 – Vanderbilt
Nov. 19 – at Tennessee
Nov. 26 – Arkansas

Missouri did a nice job to get some wins on the schedule here. Eastern Michigan is so bad, a large percentage of the school's population has openly questioned whether Division I football is worth the hassle. Delaware State is an FCS program, and while Middle Tennessee is decent, the Tigers will have a talent advantage there. West Virginia is the only prominent non-conference opponent, but it is hard to know what the Mountaineers will be from year to year. LSU and Arkansas are tricky crossover opponents, but Mizzou does get Bret Bielema's team at home. The stretch of games between October 22 and November 5 is prime time to pick up some wins and clinch bowl eligibility.

Next: No. 12 ??? >>>

12. Tennessee

The Tennessee Volunteers are the favorite to win the SEC East heading into the 2016 college football season and their schedule plays well to that tune. The Vols don't have much to worry about in regards to non-conference play, as they'll face a transitioning Virginia Tech team in week 2 and follow that up with a cakewalk against Ohio.

Sept. 3 - Appalachian State
Sept. 10 - Virginia Tech (neutral)
Sept. 17 - Ohio 
Sept. 24 - Florida
Oct. 1 - at Georgia
Oct. 8 - at Texas A&M
Oct. 15 - Alabama
Oct. 29 - at South Carolina
Nov. 5 - Tennessee Tech
Nov. 12 - Kentucky
Nov. 19 - Missouri
Nov. 26 - at Vanderbilt

Getting Florida and Alabama at home will be huge for the Volunteers, but back-to-back road games against Georgia and Texas A&M could prove to be difficult. Either way, if you're a Tennessee fan, things are looking up in Knoxville this season.

Next: No. 11 ??? >>>

11. Florida

Florida worked its way to a division title last season, but it appears the Gators will have a little more competition this time around. Luckily, their schedule is a blessing in disguise. Other than the annual non-conference meeting with Florida State to wrap up the regular season - a game that can make or break a campaign - UF won't face much of a slate outside the SEC. 

Sept. 3 - UMass
Sept. 10 - Kentucky
Sept. 17 - North Texas
Sept. 23 - at Tennessee
Oct. 1 - at Vanderbilt
Oct. 8 - LSU 
Oct. 15 - Missouri
Oct. 29 - Georgia 
Nov. 5 - at Arkansas
Nov. 12 - South Carolina
Nov. 19 - Presbyterian
Nov. 26 - Florida State

Despite not having one of the more difficult schedules in the SEC, the Gators still have their work cut out for them. Road games against Tennessee and FSU are going to be tough. Add that to games against LSU and Arkansas and you have yourself an uphill climb.

Next: No. 10 ??? >>>

10. South Carolina

South Carolina does not have the most difficult schedule in the SEC, and that's a good thing as the Gamecocks embark on their first season under head coach Will Muschamp. The annual non-conference matchup against Clemson to end the regular season is always a tough one, but that's it in terms of non-conference play. 

Sept. 1 - at Vanderbilt
Sept. 10 - at Mississippi State
Sept. 17 - East Carolina
Sept. 24 - at Kentucky
Oct. 1 - Texas A&M
Oct. 8 - Georgia 
Oct. 22 - UMass
Oct. 29 - Tennessee
Nov. 5 - MIssouri
Nov. 12 - at Florida
Nov. 19 - Western Carolina
Nov. 26 - Clemson

Opening the season with three of the first four games on the road is not ideal, but the Gamecocks will be able to settle in nicely after that, playing their next five games at home including showdowns against Texas A&M, Georgia and Tennessee. The road game against Florida will prove to be difficult. And then, of course, it's all about Clemson.

Next: No. 9 ??? >>>

9. Kentucky

The Wildcats are hoping to take another step in the SEC this season and the schedule is somewhat manageable for Mark Stoops' squad. 

There's a fairly easy non-conference slate and only two or three really tough in-conference games. 

Sept. 3 - Southern Miss 
Sept. 10 - at Florida
Sept. 17 - New Mexico State
Sept. 24 - South Carolina
Oct. 1 - at Alabama
Oct. 8 - Vanderbilt
Oct. 22 - Mississippi State
Oct. 29 - Missouri
Nov. 5 - Georgia
Nov. 12 - Tennessee
Nov. 19 - Austin Peay
Nov. 26 - Louisville

You have to think there are at least five probable wins here - Southern Miss, NMSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, Austin Peay - and another three that are close - Mississippi State, Missouri, Georgia (what will the Bulldogs look like in Year 1?).

Stoops' team could get to eight-plus wins this season. 

Next: No. 8 ??? >>>

8. Mississippi State

The Bulldogs begin the Dak Prescott-less era in Starkville, Miss. this fall. 

They've got a decent schedule to work with. 

Sept. 3 - South Alabama
Sept. 10 - South Carolina
Sept. 17 - at LSU
Sept. 24 - at UMass
Oct. 8 - Auburn
Oct. 14 - at BYU
Oct. 22 - at Kentucky
Oct. 29 - Samford
Nov. 5 - Texas A&M
Nov. 12 - at Alabama
Nov. 19 - Arkansas
Nov. 26 - at Ole Miss

All four non-conference games are winnable, though it's a bit unusual to have two of them on the road. The in-conference slate poses a number of difficult road tests, including at Alabama, at LSU and at Ole Miss. 

Next: No. 7 ??? >>>

7. Georgia

How many wins will Year 1 of the Kirby Smart era in Athens, Ga. produce? 

The Bulldogs could be attempting to go through this schedule with a true freshman quarterback in Jacob Eason, who impressed this spring. 

Sept. 3 - North Carolina (in Atlanta)
Sept. 10 - Nicholls State
Sept. 17 - at Missouri
Sept. 24 - at Ole Miss
Oct. 1 - Tennessee
Oct. 8 - at South Carolina
Oct. 15 - Vanderbilt
Oct. 29 - Florida
Nov. 5 - at Kentucky 
Nov. 12 - Auburn
Nov. 19 - UL Lafayette
Nov. 26 - Georgia Tech

Every game is obviously important, but getting a season-opening win at a neutral site against a Top 25 North Carolina team would be huge for Smart and Co. Win that and it's possible the Bulldogs could be 4-0 heading into a massive SEC East showdown against Tennessee in Athens, Ga. 

Can this team contend for a division crown? The schedule sets up for a possible run. 

Next: No. 6 ??? >>>

6. Texas A&M

The Aggies face stiff competition year in and year out in the SEC West, and 2016 is no exception. Texas A&M plays in the toughest division in college football, and as such, they routinely face the best the sport has to offer - playing Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Arkansas annually. But the Aggies will have to survive more than just their round robin of division opponents to have a great season this year.

Sept. 3 – UCLA
Sept. 10 – Prairie View A&M
Sept. 17 – @Auburn
Sept. 24 – Arkansas
Oct. 1 – @South Carolina
Oct. 8 – Tennessee
Oct. 22 – @Alabama
Oct. 29 – New Mexico
Nov. 5 – @Mississippi State
Nov. 12 – Ole Miss
Nov. 19 – UTSA
Nov. 24 – LSU

Texas A&M's two crossover opponents are South Carolina, which is a bit down, and Tennessee, which is predicted to win the SEC East. Throw in a difficult non-conference game against UCLA and you've got one of the more difficult SEC slates.

Kevin Sumlin has done a nice job at Texas A&M, but he'll need a solid 2016 campaign to get people talking again. It's going to be tough given the schedule.

Next: No. 5 ??? >>>

5. Arkansas

One of these years, Arkansas is going to put it all together and challenge for the SEC West crown. In 2016, it's going to be very hard to accomplish, given the team's ridiculously hard schedule.

Arkansas opens with Louisiana Tech, but then heads to Fort Worth to take on perennial contender TCU in week two. If the Razorbacks can survive the Horned Frogs, they should have no trouble putting together an undefeated non-conference record. But then there's the SEC portion of the schedule.

Sept. 3 – Louisiana Tech
Sept. 10 – @TCU
Sept. 17 – Texas Tech
Sept. 24 – @Texas A&M
Oct. 1 – Alcorn State (neutral)
Oct. 8 – Alabama
Oct. 15 – Ole Miss
Oct. 22 – @Auburn
Nov. 5 – Florida
Nov. 12 – LSU
Nov. 19 – @Mississippi State
Nov. 26 – @Missouri

Arkansas also plays in the SEC West, meaning they get Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Ole Miss every year. They'll also get Florida, which won the SEC East last year, in 2016. Bret Bielema's teams have finished strong in his tenure at Arkansas, but to take the next step, they're going to have to start strong too.

Next: No. 4 ??? >>>

4. Alabama

We thought Alabama had the hardest schedule in the country last year before the season started, and the Crimson Tide still rolled to an SEC title and a national championship. So sure, Alabama's 2016 slate is loaded again - but don't be surprised if they make quick work of it.

Alabama opens up with Pac-12 power USC at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas before heading home to catch its breath against Western Kentucky. The team also has Kent State and Chattanooga in the non-conference. A 4-0 record is likely.

Sept. 3 – USC (neutral)
Sept. 10 – Western Kentucky 
Sept. 17 – @Ole Miss
Sept. 24 – Kent State
Oct. 1 – Kentucky 
Oct. 8 – @Arkansas
Oct. 15 – @Tennessee 
Oct. 22 – Texas A&M
Nov. 5 – @LSU
Nov. 12 – Mississippi State
Nov. 19 – Chattanooga 
Nov. 26 – Auburn

Alabama plays its usual SEC West opponents and permanent crossover Tennessee - which is the favorite to win the SEC East in 2016. They also get Kentucky in what should be a lopsided affair.

Many believe that it'll be LSU's year in the SEC West. The Tide and the Tigers meet on November 5 in Baton Rouge.

Next: No. 3 ??? >>>

3. LSU

With so much talent returning from a team that went 9-3 and won a bowl game, it's easy to see why LSU is regarded as a national title contender. In order to achieve that goal, they are going to have to expertly navigate a challenging regular season schedule.

Sept. 3 – Wisconsin (neutral)
Sept. 10 –Jacksonville State 
Sept. 17 – Mississippi State
Sept. 24 – @Auburn
Oct. 1 – Missouri
Oct. 8 – @Florida
Oct. 15 – Southern Miss
Oct. 22 – Ole Miss
Nov. 5 – Alabama
Nov. 12 – @Arkansas
Nov. 19 – South Alabama
Nov. 24 – @Texas A&M

LSU will be favored in the opener against Wisconsin, but that's not a true neutral site game, considering it is at Lambeau Field in Green Bay. After that, the home schedule is relatively easy until Ole Miss comes to town on Oct. 22, but there's road games at Auburn and Florida to worry about as well.

All eyes will be on the Nov. 5 showdown between the Tigers and Alabama, particularly if both teams have CFP hopes. South Alabama will be a welcome gimme game in a hellish final month.

Next: No. 2 ??? >>>

2. Ole Miss

Ole Miss went 10-3 and captured the Sugar Bowl in 2015, but there will be no time for Hugh Freeze's team to rest on its laurels this fall.

You would be hard-pressed to find a team with a tougher first month of games than the Rebels, and the schedule as a whole is a bear. 

Sept. 5 – Florida State (neutral)
Sept. 10 – Wofford
Sept. 17 – Alabama
Sept. 24 – Georgia
Oct. 1 – Memphis
Oct. 15 – @Arkansas
Oct. 22 – @LSU
Oct. 29 – Auburn
Nov. 5 – Georgia Southern
Nov. 12 – @Texas A&M
Nov. 19 – @Vanderbilt
Nov. 26 – Mississippi State

Just check out those first four weeks. Sure, there is a cupcake thrown in against Wofford, but the other three games are against two national title contenders (Florida State and Alabama) and a perennially strong Georgia program. At least Ole Miss gets 'Bama and UGA at home and plays Florida State at a "neutral" site in Orlando. 

From there, things don't get much easier. Even the two home non-conference games are against relatively strong Group of Five opponents. Back-to-back trips to Arkansas and LSU in the middle of the season? That's no fun for anyone. At least the two "easier" SEC road games come in November, against A&M and Vanderbilt.

Amazingly, Ole Miss doesn't even have the hardest schedule in the conference. No, that honor goes to...

Next: No. 1 ??? >>>

1. Auburn

Considering 2015 began with College Football Playoff hopes and expectations, a 7-6 record and victory in the Birmingham Bowl is quite disappointing for Auburn and its fans. 

The Tigers have what it takes to improve on that record in 2016, but it won't be easy. Not only does AU have the toughest schedule in the SEC, it has one of the toughest in the entire country. 

Sept. 3 – Clemson
Sept. 10 – Arkansas State
Sept. 17 – Texas A&M
Sept. 24 – LSU
Oct. 1 – Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 8 – @Mississippi State
Oct. 22 – Arkansas
Oct. 29 – @Ole Miss
Nov. 5 – Vanderbilt
Nov. 12 – @Georgia
Nov. 19 – Alabama A&M
Nov. 26 – @Alabama 

On a positive note, at least Auburn gets its first five games at home. The negative? It opens up with national runner-up Clemson and also must play SEC West rivals Texas A&M and LSU in the first month. 

Things don't get much easier in October as the heart of conference play arrives. Lastly, there is a final month with cupcakes (Vanderbilt and Alabama A&M) interspersed with rugged road tests (at Georgia and Alabama). 

For a coach who might be on thinning ice, Gus Malzahn sure doesn't catch any breaks on his schedule this fall. 

Next: Ranking The Big Ten Teams’ Schedules By Difficulty >>>