2014 SEC Football Schedule: Breaking Down the Winners and Losers
After months of anticipation, the SEC released its 2014 football schedule on Wednesday. The 2014 docket features the same format as in years past, with each team playing the other six teams in its division, one permanent cross-division opponent and one rotating opponent from the other division.
South Carolina and Texas A&M will begin their new permanent cross-division rivalry on the first Thursday of the season with Columbia, and Alabama's cross-division slate tightens up a bit with a visit from the Florida Gators on Sept. 20.
Talk about kicking things off with a bang in the opening month of the season.
Florida draws Alabama and LSU out of the west, which is no cake walk. But the schedule is light leading up to the trip to Tuscaloosa. The Gators also host LSU and South Carolina, but all three of those games are spread out a bit.
Who are the winners and losers of the 2014 SEC schedule? Our picks are in this slideshow.
Winner: Texas A&M Aggies
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Texas A&M's third season in the SEC will start off with a bang.
The Aggies will travel to South Carolina on Aug. 28—the first Thursday of the season—to take on the South Carolina Gamecocks in the first meeting as conference foes between the two permanent cross-division rivals.
The road is treacherous. The Aggies play at Alabama and at Auburn—a team that should be much improved heading into 2014. But one of Texas A&M's home games will be Sept. 27 versus Arkansas on the big stage at AT&T Stadium in the recruiting hotbed of the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.
The Aggies will also close the season at home versus LSU on Thanksgiving night, which will not only provide a big-game atmosphere to close the season, but provide another big stage for the Aggies as the primary college game.
Exposure? Texas A&M's schedule gets the program on massive stages early and often.
Loser: Auburn Tigers
Headaches associated with expansion forced the SEC to mix things up for Auburn in 2013, sending Georgia to the Plains on back-to-back seasons. That's nice for the Tigers this season, as they'll host Georgia and Alabama in November.
In 2014, things will get hairy.
Auburn will play at Ole Miss on Nov. 1, host Texas A&M on Nov. 8, visit Georgia on Nov. 15 and play at Alabama on Nov. 29. Auburn better make some waves early in the season, because Samford on Nov. 22 may be the only gimme on that slate. Toss in a crossover visit from South Carolina to close out the month of October, and the back end of Auburn's 2014 schedule is brutal.
The front end isn't very forgiving either.
The Tigers will host Arkansas in Week 1. It will be the first time they've opened with a conference game since beating Ole Miss 46-13 in 1995. The'll also travel to the Little Apple and take on Kansas State on Sept. 20.
Winner: LSU Tigers
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LSU head coach Les Miles has been the SEC's most vocal opponent to the permanent cross-division rivalries. His opposition fell on deaf ears during spring meetings earlier this year, as LSU's rivalry game with Florida will live on for at least a couple of more years.
How did the SEC respond? By making Kentucky the rotating cross-division opponent for Tigers in 2014.
That's a rather nice concession.
LSU gets a bye week before hosting Alabama on Nov. 8, another bye week before that Thanksgiving night tilt at Texas A&M and gets to open the year in the fertile recruiting ground of Houston against a very good Wisconsin team. The Tigers will have more than a week to prepare for three of their four biggest games.
Loser: Georgia Bulldogs
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Georgia was the beneficiary of some forgiving scheduling in 2011 and '12, and it looks like they're paying for it.
The Bulldogs have a brutal September this season, and in 2014, they open with a home game versus Clemson, travel to South Carolina in Week 3 and finish the season's first month with a visit from what should be an improved Tennessee Volunteers team.
That doesn't give head coach Mark Richt a lot of time to get a new quarterback prepared for a title run.
Georgia's schedule is incredibly front- and back-loaded. The Bulldogs will spend an entire month on the road, playing at Missouri on Oct. 11 and at Arkansas on Oct. 18. They have a bye week before the neutral-site game in Jacksonville versus Florida on Nov. 1 and travel to Kentucky Nov. 8. They'll go more than a month without playing a single game between the hedges.
Granted, other than Florida, those road tilts aren't exactly daunting. But that much travel is no fun.
Silver lining, though: The Bulldogs will avoid a regular season matchup with Alabama for the sixth straight season.
Winner: SEC Network
The SEC Network will launch one year from Wednesday, and its first game will be a doozy.
That Texas A&M vs. South Carolina tilt on Aug. 28—the first Thursday of the season? Yeah, that's going to be on the new cable network, according to ESPN's Keri Potts.
SEC commissioner Mike Slive is such a boss.
The network was announced with AT&T U-Verse as its only carrier, and now the powers-that-be will have a full year to sell it to other carriers with the knowledge that the biggest game in Week 1 will not only be on the network, but be on the network with minimal opposition.
Great for the fans? Maybe not. Thursday night games are tough for out-of-towners, and there's no guarantee that this game will be available on your carrier. But from a business perspective, this is a home run for the SEC.
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The realignment bonanza has forced some traditions out the door, and the SEC isn't immune.
Tennessee will open conference play with an opponent other than Florida for the first time since 2001. That game was moved back to Oct. 4 in Knoxville, and the Vols will open the SEC slate at Georgia on Sept. 27. That 2001 matchup was moved to the end of the season following the attacks on September 11, 2001, so this shakeup is the first time the Vols haven't been scheduled to play the Gators in September since 1991.
The Battle for the Golden Boot was affected as well. Arkansas' traditional end-of-the-season matchup with LSU was moved up to Nov. 15 in Fayetteville now that the Tigers will close the season with Texas A&M.
Not really, but the Arkansas/LSU game is typically one of the craziest games of the season, and it will be a shame not to see it on the season's final week.
Winner: Arkansas Razorbacks
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Arkansas fans are likely outraged that the LSU game got moved out of its traditional spot at the end of the season, but it's not all bad.
The Razorbacks get a bye week prior to the Battle for the Golden Boot—which just so happens to be a home game for the Hogs. In addition to hosting LSU, Arkansas gets Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss at home.
Getting your toughest opponents in your building is a good thing.
The Hogs will close out the season with new permanent cross-divisional rival Missouri in Columbia, which may not sound like much now. But if you can't play the border rival to the south to close the season, you might as well play the one to the north.