‘Tis the season for watching spring football games, studying up on the incoming class of freshmen and transfers, and memorizing your favorite team’s 2014 schedule. If you’re a fan of a school like Arkansas, you might be a bit nervous about facing the toughest strength of schedule in all of college football right after a 3-8 season. As if the SEC weren’t tough enough, the Razorbacks have out-of-conference matchups versus two bowl teams from 2013: Texas Tech and Northern Illinois.
Conversely, non-conference anxiety shouldn’t be a problem for other SEC teams. From Florida to Alabama to Mississippi State, these five schools should feel downright guilty for their 2014 non-conference schedules. And yes, I fully realize that the SEC is the best conference in the country and that no other schools have to maneuver as difficult a conference gauntlet as the Southeastern Conference.
That still doesn’t excuse teams from scheduling the UT Martin Skyhawks.
The Commodores are coming off yet another impressive nine-win season that saw them playing in an unprecedented third straight bowl contest. With a non-conference slate consisting of Temple, UMass, Charleston Southern, and Old Dominion, it’s hard to imagine Vandy not making a fourth straight bowl trip despite playing in the SEC.
It’s also hard to imagine a softer non-conference schedule in all of college football: Temple won just two games in 2013; UMass had half as many wins and put up a nation’s worst 11.7 points per game; FCS foe Charleston Southern arrives in Nashville before a bye week; and Vandy gets a late-season breather against an Old Dominion team making the transition from FCS to Conference USA. To top it all off, every out-of-conference matchup takes place in Vanderbilt Stadium.
2. Mississippi State
The Mississippi State Bulldogs give the Commodores everything they can handle in challenging for the crown of most shameful SEC 2014 non-conference schedule. The squad opens with a home contest to a Southern Mississippi team that was riding a nation’s worst 23-game losing streak before it finally pulled out a victory in last season’s finale. UAB managed to double the Golden Eagle’s win total with a whopping two W’s.
Ironically, the Bulldogs’ most difficult non-conference game won’t take place versus a Conference USA opponent, but rather the Sun Belt. A road contest on September 13th finds Mississippi State on the road in Mobile, Alabama versus a Jaguars team that went 6-6 in 2013, including three straight wins to end the season.
To complete their non-conference schedule, the Bulldogs scheduled a November scrimmage against UT Martin.
Let’s get the November 29th tilt at the defending national champions out of the way first. Yes, this is a brutal non-conference game. One could argue that along with playing at schools like Alabama, it doesn’t get any tougher than this.
But that doesn’t excuse Florida from opening the season against two of the most historically inept programs in all of college football: the Idaho Vandals and the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Other than the quick blip-on-the-radar 2009 season that saw Idaho win the Humanitarian Bowl, the team has been so awful that the school found itself, along with New Mexico State, without a home in 2013 after the WAC dissolved. Now an official member of the Sun Belt, the Vandals open the season in Gainesville where the awaiting Gators have “challenged” themselves with an opening game versus a 2013 defense that was 126th in college football giving up 46.8 points per game. 124th in defense at 45.2 points per game? Eastern Michigan.
To give Alabama a bit of credit, West Virginia was coming off of 10 wins in 2011 (including a 70-33 Orange Bowl route of Clemson) and seven wins in 2012 when this Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta was scheduled.
The Crimson Tide get no such credit for scheduling home games versus FAU and Southern Mississippi while also making sure to add its historical late-November nap versus an overmatched FCS squad.
In 2013, Bama hosted Colorado State, Georgia State, and Chattanooga. In 2012, Western Kentucky, FAU, and Western Carolina came to Bryant-Denny Stadium. For fans in Tuscaloosa and around the country, it would be a refreshing change to see the Crimson Tide schedule a home game versus a major BCS non-conference opponent.
5. Texas A&M
Quick. Without using Google. Where is Lamar located and what’s the team’s nickname? Did you also know that the school voted to pull the plug on football in the late 80s and that the squad just returned to the gridiron in 2010? This is the Texas A&M Aggies season opener.
The post-Johnny Football era stays in the state of Texas during all of September after a tough opening conference game versus South Carolina. After a home opener against the Cardinals [Author's Note: I used Google to discover Lamar's nickname too], the Aggies remain in-state with games against Rice and SMU. Although the Owls aren’t anywhere near the class of Texas A&M in terms of sheer talent, at least they went to a bowl game last year, which is a lot more than the other teams can claim on this list with the sole exception of Florida’s trip to Tallahassee.