The long awaited 2013 SEC non-conference football schedule rankings are here. Much debate will be had over the best conference in football and whether they need to beef up their schedules or not. As you will see, some are lackluster and some are quite the opposite.
14. Vanderbilt Commodores
Stereotypically, there are a lot of question marks behind the SEC and their non-conference schedules. While some of these schedules aren’t deserving of those question marks, this one is. Easily the best team on Vandy’s slate is the five-win Demon Deacons from last year. That same team lost 55-21 to the Commodores in 2012 as well. Winners of two games in Conference USA last year, UAB looks to be of no challenge either. Traveling to Gillette Stadium to play the Minutemen of UMass should also present no challenge as Tom Brady won’t be on the field this go round.
13. Auburn Tigers
When it comes to schedules, a few things remain constant. First, traveling earns you points when it comes to strength of schedule. Second, just because you have a decent name on the slate doesn’t earn you respect if that team is bad. Washington State is a perfect example of the latter situation. The Cougars lack of performance doesn’t help the Tigers case of playing all their non-conference games in the friendly confines of Jordan-Hare Stadium. Arkansas State might be — scratch that, they are — the best team on this list. The Tigers struggled with the upset minded Sun Belt colleagues of the Red Wolves last year, barely winning in OT 31-28 against ULM. We’ve covered FAU and their dismal football program in previous pieces of this series so there’s not much to dissect there.
12. Alabama Crimson Tide
Obviously the highlight of this schedule is traveling to Atlanta to play the Hokies. Props to Alabama for stepping out to play a good program once again, but that’s not quite enough to put them any better than 12th in these rankings. Colorado State had eight losses last year with one coming to FCS foe North Dakota State. We’ve also covered Georgia State — in their transitional period to FBS football — in the previous pieces in this series. That game as well as the one against Chattanooga should be no contest.
11. Arkansas Razorbacks
Remember the traveling theory we mentioned before? It benefits Arkansas here. Virginia Tech edged out Rutgers last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl in overtime, so the two games appear to be of equal strength. However, Arkansas is traveling to Piscataway to play a very stingy Rutgers defense that also beat the Razorbacks last year. The Ragin’ Cajuns hold merit as a strong mid-major opponent coming off of a nine-win season last year. Southern Miss, winless last year, and Samford should be cake walks for the Razorbacks, though.
10. Missouri Tigers
Cracking the top ten with a schedule anchored by the aforementioned Arkansas State Red Wolves are the Missouri Tigers. ASU is once again the best team on this list as they are coming off of two consecutive ten-win seasons. If this was basketball, the trip to Bloomington and Memorial Stadium would hold a lot of merit. As good as the Hoosiers are on the hardwood they might be just as bad on the gridiron. Rounding out the slate is Toledo, which is coming off of a nine-win season and a bowl appearance, and Murray State.
9. Texas A&M Aggies
Johnny Football and company should be all over this schedule like white on rice, pun intended. Rice was a .500 team last year in the regular season, but did stomp Air Force 33-14 in the Armed Forces Bowl. Texas A&M will continue their Conference USA tour against a three-win UTEP team which should also pose no challenge. SMU adds another .500 team to the slate and June Jones probably won’t have an answer for the Aggies defense. Sam Houston State, a very good FCS team, rounds out the slate.
8. Kentucky Wildcats
Louisville is a common game for Kentucky and the Wildcats are looking to end the Cardinals’ current two-game win streak in the series. That’s the toughest game on the schedule. The combination of Western Kentucky and Miami (OH) aren’t enough to move this schedule higher as those two teams had seven and four wins last year, respectively. We will overlook Alabama State, as they should provide no contest for the Wildcats.
7. Ole Miss Rebels
The 7th through 10th positions in these rankings could have gone in any direction. Ultimately, Ole Miss got credit for not doing either of the negative things we discussed earlier. They scheduled a good powerhouse and they will play them on the road in Austin. That’s the way to climb to the higher spots in schedule rankings. Idaho and Troy are both lackluster opponents, as is Southeast Missouri State of the FCS. However, just Texas alone is more formidable than the combination of some opponents farther down in the rankings.
6. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Stepping out to play a good team in Oklahoma State plus a solid mid-major team from last year in Bowling Green earns the Bulldogs a spot just outside of the top five. The aforementioned Bowling Green game could be a bit of a challenge since it follows a visit from the LSU Tigers. Don’t sleep on the Falcons or they might pull the upset. MSU should cruise in their other two games, Alcorn State and Troy.
5. Tennessee Volunteers
Wow! A trip to Autzen Stadium! That’s a great game! And that’s it. A tour of the Sun Belt and a cupcake in Austin Peay rounds out the non-conference slate for the Vols. That includes a game against South Alabama who is in their first year of full FBS status. Western Kentucky was .500 in conference play last year as well. Nine times out of ten the trip to Eugene would carry this schedule a little farther, but not when your other opponents are that lackluster.
4. LSU Tigers
LSU comes away with the fourth toughest schedule overall and the toughest in the West. The Tigers open in prime time against TCU in Arlington in another kickoff classic featuring an SEC team. I don’t think that game ends up as bad as the blowout that Michigan suffered to Alabama last year, though. The combo of TCU — which was undefeated in non-conference games last year — and the eleven-win Kent State Golden Flashes is tough. UAB and Furman will be easy games for the Tigers though.
3. South Carolina Gamecocks
The top three are littered with two things — SEC-ACC match-ups and the top three SEC East teams. South Carolina holds the three spot with home games against two ACC powers in North Carolina and Clemson. Clemson is coming off of a huge win in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU and, in tow, an 11-win season. North Carolina was an eight-win team a year ago, as well. The lone road game is a trip to Bright House Networks Stadium to take on the UCF Knights. UCF lost in overtime of the C-USA Championship Game last year in their last year in the league. They also throttled Ball State in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl. UCF is not to be messed with and could give USC all they want and more.
2. Florida Gators
If not for longstanding rivalries, the Gators schedule wouldn’t be nearly this high. Unfortunately, this will be the last scheduling of Miami for the foreseeable future. The Gators won the last meeting 26-3 in Gainesville in 2008. They take their one-game win streak to the table when Florida State visits in November, too. Florida struggled a bit in the non-conference last year, almost losing to UL Lafayette if not for a blocked punt in the last minute. The Gators also struggled in 2011 against Furman. Toledo could be that surprise game this year as #MACtion comes to town. All in all, the inclusion of the two in-state rivals — one on the road — and a very solid Toledo team give Florida the second overall spot.
1. Georgia Bulldogs
The Dawgs open the 2013 season with a trip to Clemson to take on the Tigers in prime time in Memorial Stadium, and their other marquee game on the non-conference docket is in Atlanta. Not to overlook North Texas and a good FCS program in Appalachian State — both will be victories — but the combo of Clemson and Georgia Tech is enough to put this schedule over the top. Two powers in the ACC — one heated in-state rivalry, and one prime time visit to Death Valley — add up to the toughest non-conference schedule in the SEC.
Clayton Tinkle is a contributor to FBSchedules.com. Follow him on Twitter @Tink_CFB.