SEC Football: Ranking the 2012 West Division Schedules
In college football, the schedule has as much to do with the success of a team as talent and coaching. Where and when a team plays its rivals can play a big part in whether or not that team plays for hardware later in the season.
The SEC West is the toughest neighborhood in college football, and while the SEC may get knocked on the national scene for scheduling some cupcake out-of-conference competition, nobody doubts the week-in, week-out grind that SEC West teams face from divisional foes.
Which teams have schedules that set up well and which teams have a tough road in 2012? SEC lead blogger Barrett Sallee ranks the SEC West schedules (from easiest to toughest) in this slideshow.
7. Mississippi State Bulldogs
Schedule: Jackson State, Auburn, at Troy, South Alabama, Bye, at Kentucky, Tennessee, MTSU, at Alabama, Texas A&M, at LSU, Arkansas, at Ole Miss
Mississippi State isn't being picked to make a lot of noise in the SEC West, but the Bulldogs have a schedule that any team in the conference save for Georgia would take. SEC road games at Alabama and LSU later in the season are going to be tough, but other than those two, the Bulldogs get most of the tough games at home.
If the Bulldogs can top Auburn in Week 2, there's a real possibility (and, perhaps, probability) that they will be 5-0 when they host Tennessee on Oct. 13, and 7-0 when they visit Alabama on Oct. 27.
Talent-wise, the Bulldogs aren't there. But the schedule sets up very well for them to make a push for a mid-tier bowl game if they can get on a roll.
6. Arkansas Razorbacks
Schedule: Jacksonville State, ULM, Alabama, Rutgers, at Texas A&M, at Auburn, Kentucky, Bye, Ole Miss, Tulsa, at South Carolina, at Mississippi State, LSU
The SEC rotation brings both Alabama and LSU to Fayetteville in 2012, and that's a big advantage for the Razorbacks. Alabama will visit in Week 3, and with so many holes to fill on the defense, if there's any time for the Arkansas offense to make waves, it's then.
LSU will travel to Fayetteville to close out the season, which is a departure from the Arkansas tradition of hosting the Tigers in Little Rock rather than on-campus. If The Hogs can get past Alabama, there's a shot that this game will determine the SEC West title.
In between, the Hogs have a tough two-game stretch at Texas A&M and at Auburn in Weeks 5 and 6, respectively, immediately following an out-of-conference test vs. Rutgers and the home game vs. the Crimson Tide.
5. Auburn Tigers
Schedule: Clemson (neutral site), at Mississippi State, ULM, LSU, Bye, Arkansas, at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, New Mexico State, Georgia, Alabama A&M, at Alabama
With the exception of Alabama at the end of the season, most of Auburn's tough SEC games will take place on the Plains. Vanderbilt rotates on from the East, and while James Franklin is doing good things in Nashville, it's still a work-in-progress.
The big problem for Auburn is that its early season schedule could force the 2012 Tigers to sink or swim very early. Gaining momentum is critical for the Tigers, and a win over Clemson in the Georgia Dome would be a good way to do that.
With four of its first five games against Clemson, at Mississippi State, LSU and Arkansas, we will know what kind of team Auburn has early in the season.
4. Alabama Crimson Tide
Schedule: Michigan (neutral site), Western Kentucky, at Arkansas, Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss, Bye, at Missouri, at Tennessee, Mississippi State, at LSU, Texas A&M, Western Carolina, Auburn
Alabama's road schedule is tough, with road games at LSU, Arkansas and Missouri, not to mention the out-of-conference game with Michigan to open the season at Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
It's not so much the teams that Alabama plays that makes its schedule difficult, but rather when they play them.
Michigan and Arkansas both boast very potent offenses that can make undisciplined and inexperienced defenses pay at any given time. If there's a question mark for Alabama this season, it's how head coach Nick Saban will replace defensive tackle Josh Chapman, linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw, cornerbacks Dre Kirkpatrick and DeQuan Menzie and safety Mark Barron.
Alabama should be a fascinating team to watch, especially early in 2012.
3. LSU Tigers
Schedule: North Texas, Washington, Idaho, at Auburn, Towson, at Florida, South Carolina, at Texas A&M, Bye, Alabama, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, at Arkansas
LSU avoids having back-to-back road games, gets a bye week before the home night game vs. Alabama and having Washington as its toughest out-of-conference matchup is certainly better than last year's slate that saw the Tigers play Oregon and at West Virginia.
The schedule does bring two tough cross-division games with the traditional rivalry with Florida on the road and the cross-division game vs. South Carolina at home, and also features a road trip to Fayetteville to play Arkansas to close out the season. It's the first time since 1992 that LSU will play Arkansas in Fayetteville.
If LSU repeats as SEC champs, the Tigers will have earned it.
2. Texas A&M Aggies
Schedule: at Louisiana Tech, Florida, at SMU, South Carolina State, Arkansas, at Ole Miss, Bye, LSU, at Auburn, at Mississippi State, at Alabama, Sam Houston State, Missouri
One of the two newest additions to the SEC didn't catch a break when it comes to scheduling, considering that Texas A&M faces each of the last six winners of the BCS National Championship Game.
Texas A&M gets Florida and Missouri out of the East, which isn't terrible, but following their bye week on Oct. 13, the Aggies host defending SEC champion LSU and then embark on a three-game road trip to Auburn, Mississippi State and Alabama.
With only a cupcake with Sam Houston State before closing out the season against Missouri, there's a real possibility that Texas A&M will go 1-5 down the stretch.
1. Ole Miss Rebels
Schedule: Central Arkansas, UTEP, Texas, at Tulane, at Alabama, Texas A&M, Auburn, Bye, at Arkansas, at Georgia, Vanderbilt, at LSU, Mississippi State
Welcome to the SEC, Hugh Freeze. Now go play the toughest SEC schedule imaginable.
The first-year Rebel head coach must figure out how to withstand road games vs. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU—four of the top five teams in the SEC in 2012. In addition to the treacherous road slate, they also host the Texas Longhorns in an out-of-conference tilt on Sept. 15.
Ole Miss is already in for a rough ride thanks to a serious lack of talent left for Freeze by the Houston Nutt regime, and judgement for Freeze's first year shouldn't be dictated by the win/loss record—because it won't be pretty.