Toughest 2014 SEC Non-Conference Football Schedules

By Kevin Kelley -
Toughest 2014 SEC Non-Conference Football Schedules

Tennessee has a tough non-conference slate in 2014. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

The SEC often gets lambasted for its non-conference scheduling habits. Some teams in the conference deserve that criticism, while others don’t.

Around half of the conference has challenged themselves in 2014. However, teams such as Alabama and Texas A&M find themselves near the bottom of the rankings again this season.

Beginning in 2016, SEC teams will be required to schedule a non-conference game against a team from a Power Five conference. This season, four teams don’t play one – Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt.

1. Tennessee Volunteers
2013 ranking: 5th

Tennessee has the toughest non-conference schedule in the SEC in 2014. Not only do the Volunteers travel to Norman to face likely preseason Top 5 Oklahoma, they also host Utah State and Arkansas State, both good teams capable of pulling off an upset. The Vols close their non-conference slate with their first meeting against Chattanooga since 1969.

2. South Carolina Gamecocks
2013 ranking: 3rd

South Carolina opens the season with East Carolina, a non-conference opponent that has notched several wins over ACC teams the last few years. Furman and South Alabama won’t provide much of a challenge. The biggest game lies at the end of the season at Clemson. However, the Gamecocks have taken four in a row from the Tigers in Death Valley.

3. Georgia Bulldogs
2013 ranking: 1st

Georgia and South Carolina were neck-and-neck for 2nd and 3rd, but the Bulldogs fall here due to playing Clemson at home to open the season while the Gamecocks play in Death Valley. UGA will handle Troy and Charleston Southern easily. In-state rival Georgia Tech awaits in the regular season finale.

4. Missouri Tigers
2013 ranking: 10th

  • 08/30 – South Dakota State
  • 09/06 – at Toledo
  • 09/13 – UCF
  • 09/20 – Indiana

On the surface, Missouri’s 2014 non-conference slate looks easy. But a closer look reveals that its actually in the top half of the rankings. South Dakota State is a good FCS program, while Toledo is a respectable MAC program and the game is at the Glass Bowl. Mizzou then hosts UCF, who finished 12-1 last season with a Fiesta Bowl victory. Missouri closes with a hopeful Indiana squad, although the Tigers beat the Hoosiers 45-28 in Bloomington last season.

5. LSU Tigers
2013 ranking: 4th

LSU has a big season-opener vs. Wisconsin at Reliant Stadium in Houston, but their non-conference difficulty tapers off after that. The Tigers host their other three non-league games at home. SHSU, one of the better FCS programs, will be breaking in a new head coach. ULM slipped back last season, while NMSU continues to flounder at the bottom of the FBS.

6. Arkansas Razorbacks
2013 ranking: 11th

Arkansas, which is rebuilding under Bret Bielema, has what I consider the toughest overall schedule in 2014. Their non-conference slate is anchored by a trip to Texas Tech and a visit from Northern Illinois, perhaps the top program in the MAC. The Hogs should be able to handle Nicholls State and UAB with ease.

7. Kentucky Wildcats
2013 ranking: 8th

Kentucky’s 2014 slate is pretty manageable, save for a trip to in-state rival Louisville to close the season. The Wildcats warm up with UT Martin to kick off the season, and they could be tested by Ohio and ULM.

8. Auburn Tigers
2013 ranking: 13th

Highlighting Auburn’s non-SEC slate is a rare trip to Big 12 country to take on Kansas State. That game, which has already sold out, takes place on a Thursday night. The Tigers host two other respectable teams, San Jose State and Louisiana Tech, and then take a break against Samford before the Iron Bowl.

9. Ole Miss Rebels
2013 ranking: 7th

Ole Miss makes their first appearance in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Boise State, which beat Georgia in the 2011 game. Ole Miss later hosts a good Ragin’ Cajun team that has won three straight bowl games. Memphis and Presbyterian shouldn’t pose much of a challenge.

10. Florida Gators
2013 ranking: 2nd

Florida’s first three non-conference games are just about as weak as they come. Idaho and Eastern Michigan are struggling, while Eastern Kentucky has missed the FCS Playoffs the last two seasons. The only thing that saves Florida’s strength of schedule is their annual rivalry game against Florida State, and this year it’s in Tallahassee. And the ‘Noles will likely be the preseason No. 1 when the rankings come out.

11. Alabama Crimson Tide
2013 ranking: 12th

Alabama kicks off the 2014 season against West Virginia in Atlanta, which will be the third straight year the Crimson Tide have opened with a neutral site game. Bama will cruise against FAU, Southern Miss, and Western Carolina. The Crimson Tide haven’t faced two power-five non-conference opponents in the same season since 2010 when they hosted Penn State and played at Duke.

12. Texas A&M Aggies
2013 ranking: 9th

  • 09/06 – Lamar
  • 09/13 – Rice
  • 09/20 – at SMU
  • 11/01 – ULM

The Aggies have yet to face a power-five team in the non-conference since joining the SEC. That’s partly due to them having to add a fourth non-league game on short notice. This year’s slate is mediocre, with Lamar leading things off. Texas A&M does travel to SMU, but the Mustangs aren’t expected to do much this year. Rice is the reigning C-USA champion, but the Aggies beat them 52-31 last season.

13. Mississippi State Bulldogs
2013 ranking: 6th

Mississippi State often sets up their non-conference schedule for bowl eligibility, and this season is no different. A trip to South Alabama will be the most difficult game on their slate, which really isn’t saying much. The Bulldogs should have no trouble with Southern Miss, UAB, and UT Martin.

14. Vanderbilt Commodores
2013 ranking: 14th

For the second consecutive season, Vanderbilt gets the distinct honor of having the worst non-conference schedule in the SEC. It was, however, a close race with Mississippi State. The Commodores host all of their non-conference games at home. One is FCS, while the other three rank in the bottom of the FBS.

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Categories: NCAA, SEC, Strength of Schedule

11 Comments to Toughest 2014 SEC Non-Conference Football Schedules

  1. Dan said....

    I think you are, more or less, splitting hairs with some of these mid major schools – saying some are respectable and others terrible. There are a few that are a cut above the rest, UCF and Boise State stick out to me. The rest are just – meh. Some will be good one season, then fall apart the next. I think Florida should be much higher just by playing Florida State on the road. Before the season starts, that looks like the toughest game you could design for a team this season.

    June 11, 2014 at 12:37 pm
  2. RB Carrollton said....

    Georgia is the only SEC school scheduled to play 2 schools from the Power 5 conferences (2 ACC schools). No other SEC school plays more than 1 Power 5 conference school. However, some of the AAc and Mt. West schools are certainly tough.

    June 11, 2014 at 1:07 pm
  3. Norm in Norfolk said....

    Old Dominion will beat Vandy. Guaranteed!

    June 11, 2014 at 1:16 pm
    • Josh said....

      They play NC State, too. I think both Old Dominion and Georgia Southern will upset NC State up there. When they come out with toughest non-conference ACC schedules I wonder how the writers here will perceive these two programs.

      June 11, 2014 at 2:13 pm
  4. Dave said....

    Vanderbilt, Mississippi, Ole Miss and Texas A & M must have gone to the Baylor school of scheduling out of conference. How come none of them picked up on Incarnate Word?

    June 11, 2014 at 3:48 pm
  5. JC said....

    Has anyone here looked at Florida Atlantic’s schedule this year? Talk about a rough start to the season. Shame on Alabama picking on poor FAU! Ha! It’s quite disappointing to see that 3 SEC schools don’t play a single true OOC road game, 2 that all OOC games are at home (but to Georgia’s credit their the only SEC team with 2 P5 games), and 3 that don’t even have a single P5 opponent in non-conference play. I’ll tell you what though, it will be interesting to see East Carolina vs South Carolina. The Pirates better be prepared for this match-up, for if not the Gamecocks are going to have a field day but as long as it doesn’t look like the Coastal Carolina game from last season ECU should be fine.

    June 11, 2014 at 7:41 pm
  6. Jinzo said....

    Georgia is 3rd while Auburn is 8th? Bias much? Auburn should be ranked first!

    June 12, 2014 at 10:01 am
  7. GEG said....

    They all should be tied for last

    June 12, 2014 at 2:44 pm
  8. The Guru said....

    I agree Auburn should be higher. Not 1st, but San Jose and La Tech are almost always good. The only laugher is Samford. The only other 2 teams with just 1 easy one are Missouri and Tennessee. Maybe count Georgia since Troy is usually good. I would rank it Tenn #1, Georgia #2, Auburn #3 and Mizz #4.

    June 13, 2014 at 10:10 pm
  9. Brad Munday said....

    I hate the SEC as much as anyone, but are you people delusional??? They obviously OWN the college football world…and not because they are “favored” in any way, but because they are just plain better. It took a full DECADE for any other team from another conference to barely win a NCG?!?!?! Plus, all this BS about them not playing enough OOC schools…yea, sure…I bet the SEC teams would loooooove another chance to shove our faces in the dirt. Like Bama did with West Virginia already, Auburn embarrassed Kanaas St on the road, LSU completely worked Wisconsin on a neutral field, Arkansas beat Texas Tech in Texas, Georgia killed Clemson, and these teams also have to get thru the most serious gauntlet of a college football schedule week in and out, too. Really what more “proof” do you need, Jimbob? You seem to not care that teams like Ohio St. and FSU can play “practice teams” every week and coast into to Big Game. Seriously, wake up and don’t be a sore loser!

    September 30, 2014 at 6:20 am

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