Ranking the Out-of-Conference Schedules: The SEC

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Ranking the Out-of-Conference Schedules: The SEC
(Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

The rest of the SEC must hate Georgia for them look like cowards.

Georgia is the only team in the conference to play a top level OOC schedule, worthy credit and appreciation. The rest of the conference makes excuses as to why it is too hard to play good OOC teams, but not Georgia. 

The SEC has been challenged by the Big 10 this year to see which conference can have the very weakest OOC schedule. It is a very close battle, but at least more than one team tries to play a real OOC schedule. Only Georgia has a really good OOC schedule. After that, it is mostly garbage city.

The SEC should continue to be called the best conference in America, though last year the conference was rather down. Expect almost every team in the conference to be better, so Vandy will not get another bowl bid.

 

1. Georgia

at Oklahoma State, Arizona State, Tennessee Tech (FCS), at Georgia Tech

Georgia is coming off a “down” season, with only another 10 wins. Mark Richt may not have a single BCS title, but he always has one of the best teams in the SEC.

This year he has to replace some of the best players in college football, No. 1 overall NFL draft pick QB Matthew Stafford and No. 12 overall NFL draft pick RB Knowshon Moreno. 

Even after losing those two great players, Richt feels that this may actually be better than previous years. With lots of skill at QB, RB, and WR; and a veteran O-line, look out. The defense underperformed last year, but should be much improved.

It will be hard for the Bulldogs to get 10 wins this year, given one of the absolutely hardest schedules in the nation. Two road games against BCS teams should be especially challenging.

However, Richt’s boys are road warriors, winning 30 of the last 34 contests at their opponents’ home stadiums. 

If Georgia can get through this season 11-1 and win the SEC championship game, look for them in the BCS championship game in Pasadena. If they can do that, they more than deserve it.

Georgia starts the season with one of the season’s very best OOC games, going to Stillwater. The Cowboys are looking for the Big 12 South title. While Gundy’s boys have not played much defense, Oklahoma State's super-powered offense is absolutely amazing. 

Senior QB Zac Robinson runs OSU’s spread attack with precision. This game will help serve as a measuring stick between the SEC and Big 12 in the battle for top conference.

Last year, Georgia's trip to Arizona State (10-3 in 2007) looked like it would be a huge challenge. Georgia had not travelled out West for a OOC game in decades. The hype disappeared for this game after MWC bottom-dweller UNLV had one of the biggest upsets of the year the week before. 

This year, expectations are way down and the offense (horrible last year) is still looking weak. However, the Sun Devils have the second-best defense in the Pac-10. Even so, look for a good Bulldog win here.

One of the very few easy games at all on the Bulldogs’ schedule comes after the annual struggle with the Gators. This layup will be well deserved by this time. The Golden Eagles will come up with fools’ gold here.

Last year, Tennessee Tech won only three games in FCS play and was blown out by two FBS schools, neither of which was as good as Georgia’s third string.

The season-ending battle with in-state rival Georgia Tech will be especially challenging this year.  The Yellow Jackets under Paul Johnson have brought back the Triple-Option and used it to upset the Bulldogs last year.

The Bulldogs allowed 409 yards rushing in last year’s game, as much as Georgia had allowed in its first seven games!

Georgia Tech could be challenging for a BCS bid in 2009, so this game could be a knock-game for BCS contention. I am definitely looking forward to this year’s contest.

 

2. Auburn

Louisiana Tech, West Virginia, Ball State, Furman (FCS)

Auburn had a bad year last year—no other way to say it. Tommy Tuberville was run out of town, which some Auburn fans actually celebrated. Worst of all, 'Bama went undefeated in the regular season. 

Good news: it cannot get much worse. The Tigers will be better. Gene Chizik may have failed at Iowa State, even within the weak Big 12 North, but maybe he can improve Auburn just enough to be competitive. Not likely this year, though. 

Maybe the season can be saved with a win at the Iron Bowl….

Question marks abound. Will the offense be able to score? Can Auburn stop the run? Can Chizik win games as a head coach?

Now this schedule is not good, except as compared to the rest of SEC. Four home games make this a relatively nice and easy schedule, but with three potential upsets.

Louisiana Tech is a solid and team and in the “pretty good” section of the non-BCS world. Why the Bulldogs play in the WAC and not CUSA is a bit odd. Even so, LaTech plays solid, old school football, just like you would expect—being coached by Georgia legend Vince Dooley’s son, Derek. 

LaTech can run the ball and defend against the run. Its biggest weakness is an inability to stop high-powered passing game, which is why LaTech was blown out last year by Kansas and Boise State.

Its own passing game has not been a strength, but with QB Ross Jenkins taking over the job, the team went 6-2 last year. An upset here would not be too out of the realm of possibility.

West Virginia may be the best team in the Big East. It may be the middle, or near the bottom. Hard to tell with the Big East. As Bill Stewart enters his second season at the helm, he must find a way to win without the amazing Pat White. 

This may be too big of a hurdle. The defense should be the strength of this team and will be solid. The offensive will have problems with the new O-line and a new starting QB. While West Virginia could win this game, I am just putting a huge question mark here.

When Auburn scheduled this game, I doubt that it was expected that Ball State would have an undefeated regular season last year. With its coach and QB gone, question marks abound for this MAC school.

Will veteran coach Stan Parrish (with an absolutely horrible record as a head coach at Kansas State and others schools twenty years ago) be able to keep what Brady Hoke and Nate Davis did to transform the program?  

The running game will be solid, but the defensive is being changed. Look for this as Auburn’s first sure-fire OOC win.

I am actually shocked that Auburn did not just go the easy route and book three Sun Belt schools (like Nebraska) and one FCS for its OOC schedule. The Furman Paladins are a decent FCS school and only lost last year by 17 to Virginia Tech. No real chance of an upset here.

3. South Carolina

at N.C. State, Florida Atlantic, South Carolina State (FCS), Clemson

Steve Spurrier has always been his own man, doing this his own way. He made Florida into the superpower it is today. He then failed with Redskins, before coming back to the SEC. 

South Carolina has not been overly successful under the Ole Ball Coach, but it is really hard to do so in the SEC East, with some of the very best teams in college football.

The amazing thing about Spurrier’s tenure in South Carolina is the weak passing game. South Carolina plays tough defense, but cannot seen to be able to pass the ball sufficiently. 

The real question is how much longer Spurrier (or the Gamecocks) will put up with these average seasons. The Gamecocks have started out great the last two years, only to fade badly.

A lot of “experts” have picked North Carolina State to be a breakout team in the ACC. Coach Tom O’Brien has the Wolfpack heading in the right direction, but this is really a pretty average ACC squad, which means an average SEC team like South Carolina should win again like last year. 

The Wolfpack have an improving defense and a lot of upside in QB Russell Wilson, who is very good at avoiding interceptions.

Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schellenberger knows football. He made Miami (Fla) football into the power it was for 20 seasons after he left. He has built FAU up the right way, and this Sun Belt team now has back-to-back bowl wins. Not bad for an old guy.

FAU is now on its way in college football, including building a new and modern stadium. QB Rusty Smith is quite the gunslinger, and the Owls can always get into a shoot-out. 

FAU, like many lower-end schools, has no real defense, and is missing most of its starters from last year’s average squad. They may be able to put some points up, but not in Columbia.

South Carolina State can play football. This FCS school won its conference and lost to Appy State in the FCS playoffs. The only other losses were to Clemson and Central Florida. The Bulldogs can compete, just not with FBS talent.

Rival Clemson had a big fall last year. The question is whether it can come back and do the same this year. Expecting a top 10 season and a BCS bowl, the season died quickly when 'Bama smacked the Tigers down in the season opener. 

For this year, the defense should be improved and the offense may still stink. Head coach Dabo Swinney starts his first full season with a chance to improve. Clemson has won six of the last season games in this series.

 

4. Alabama

Virginia Tech (at Atlanta), Florida International, North Texas, Chattanooga (FCS)

Few Tide fans really expected the extreme excellence that was 'Bama’s regular season last year. It started off with a great win over Clemson and continued through the season ending smack-down of Auburn.  

The question remains: was this really all just a product of the SEC having a really down year?

Alabama only faced two teams in its regular season with seven wins or more against FBS schools, not exactly a murderers’ row for sure. Not like OU, who faced seven with seven or more FBS wins during the regular season, and five with nine or more FBS wins.

'Bama brings back one of the nation’s best rushing defenses this year, but Florida and Utah exposed its problems against passing teams. Greg McElroy takes over as QB and Tide fans think he will be awesome.

To compensate with an improved SEC this year, 'Bama has a top-level neutral site game, plus three cupcakes. This OOC schedule would be near the bottom of the ACC, but is one of the better SEC OOC schedules.

The season opens with one of the very best contests at Atlanta, as the Virginia Tech Hokies face the Tide for this neutral site battle. Va Tech is coming off its ACC-title, Orange Bowl winning season. Beamer ball looks to be back. 

Frank Beamer’s team has a great defense and great special teams play. Unfortunately, they had one of the worst offenses in FBS last year. If the Hokies can move the ball, this team could contend for a national title.

A true first class game to start the season, 'Bama fans can hope it will be a repeat of last year’s opener. With two great defenses, look for this one to be a low-scoring affair.

Playing two Sun Belt teams is par for the course for most SEC squads. Florida International was one of the most improved teams in college footballlikely just behind 'Bama. 

FIU’s second-year coach Mario Cristobal transformed this perennial loser into a competitive lower tier FBS school in one year. Though the school cut the cheerleaders, the Miami-based school’s few fans will have a lot to cheer about.

North Texas used to be one of the top Sun Belt schools, playing with a tough and mean defense every year. Now, under Todd Dodge, former high school coach of Southlake Carroll, Chase Daniel, and Greg McElroy among many others, North Texas has tried to use his version of the spread with which Dodge won Texas 5A championships. 

In two years, his team has won a mere three games. The Mean Green were least competitive from 2002 to 2004. Bama will blow them out, as UNT has one of the absolutely worst defenses in FBS.

Late in the season, it is nice to have an easy game. This year, Bama 'brings in FCS cupcake Chattanooga a week before the Iron Bowl. Nice chance to work out any issues, before the Tide rolls all over Auburn.

5. Tennessee

Western Kentucky, UCLA, Ohio, Memphis                                            

Will the real Tennessee Volunteers show up this year? Last year’s disaster began with what looked to be a respectable loss to UCLA, at least until BYU destroyed the Bruins 59-0. The loss late in the season to MWC bottom dweller Wyoming really showed the utter futility of the Tennessee program.

But hey, even a bad season allows for a chance at rebirth. Now, with Lane Kiffin and company trying to shake up the SEC, watch out. Tennessee will be better, just because they cannot be any worse. 

This year’s OOC schedule should help, even if none of the teams are FCS schools.

Western Kentucky is finally in FBS and a member of the Sun Belt. The Hilltoppers have laid the foundation for a solid future during this transition period. The players go out annually door-to-door to sell season tickets. WKU is a nice program that may get a win or two, but not against Tennessee.

Last year UCLA began its season with a hard-fought win over Tennessee. The loss by the Volunteers was an early indication about how bad the season would go.

The Bruins also seriously underachieved. Coach Rick Neuheisel, whose successful but scandal ridden experiences at Colorado and Washington left both schools still struggling to come back, came to UCLA last year promising to challenge USC.

This year Slick Rick has a good chance for a winning record. 

New QB Kevin Prince, a redshirt freshman, has had a year of tutoring under offensive guru Norm Chow. UCLA is very vulnerable against the run (torched by Oregon for 323 yards on the ground) but decent against the pass (only BYU was able to throw on UCLA last year).

With the Gators coming up the next week, Tennessee better make sure they are not looking ahead here.

Frank Solich won a lot of games while at Nebraska, but oversaw a very slight decline in the program and got the boot (perhaps prematurely). Now in his fourth season at Ohio, he has built up a pretty decent MAC program, with wins over Illinois and Pitt, as well as a bowl game appearances. 

The Bobcats had a down season last year, but only lost in the Horseshoe by 12 (as a 34-point dog). This game is perfect for the Volunteers to recover from a near-certain defeat by the Gators the week before. An upset here would be highly unlikely to say the least, but a close game could happen.

Memphis looks to contend this year for the Conference USA Eastern Division crown. Having won two bowls in five of the past six seasons, Memphis can win, just not much against the Big Six, having last beaten a BCS squad in 2004 when the Tigers defeated Ole Miss. 

With a sixth-year QB, reasonably good play-makers, an improving defense (from 100th in 2007 to 57th in 2008), and a high-powered offense, Memphis will be a dangerous opponent. Coming off a run of tough SEC opponents, this game will help Tennessee get ready for its battle at Ole Miss the following week.

 

6. Mississippi State

Jackson State (FCS), Georgia Tech, Houston, at Middle Tennessee State

The Bulldogs failed to improve during Sylvester Croom’s five-year tenure at the helm. Croom had one good year (2007) and four bad ones.

New head coach Dan Mullen comes from Florida, where he served as offensive coordinator. The offense, one of worst in the country last year, should improve. The defense has been steady.

Jackson State is a warm-up game for the Bulldogs. This SWAC team has gone to the SWAC championship game the last two years. Jackson State has not played a FBS school since 2002.

Georgia Tech will bring its Triple Option attack to Starkville. Head coach Paul Johnson looks to make waves in the ACC and the nation. The Bulldogs will struggle to keep up with the Yellow Jackets.

Houston brings in one of the best Conference USA teams. Head coach Kevin Sumlin took over what Art Briles started. Sumlin, who previously worked as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, took the Houston offensive to sky-high levels last year, averaging 41 points and 563 yards per game, second only to Tulsa. 

QB Case Keenum, who had 5,020 yards passing last year and 51 TDs (seven rushing) returns with almost all his skill players. While the Cougars do not play defense, look for a possible upset here.

Going on the road to face a Sun Belt team is rather rare among Big Six teams. Going to Middle Tennessee State is dangerous. For the fourth year in a row, the Blue Raiders bring in a Big Six team.

Last year they upset Maryland. The year before, MTSU barely lost to Virginia. MTSU has brought in Auburn reject Tony Franklin as its new offensive coordinator. Look for the Blue Raiders to put up massive stats over the next couple years, especially against Sun Belt opponents.

The Bulldogs may face a challenge here, but are more likely to avoid the Terps’ fate.

 

7. Vanderbilt

Western Carolina (FCS), at Rice, at Army, Georgia Tech

Last year, Vandy went to a bowl game for the first time since 1982. A lot of hype surrounded the Commodores, little of it deserved. Vandy finished 117th out of 119 in total offense! Vandy lost to Duke, Mississippi State, and Tennessee! Vandy gained in many ways from the SEC’s down season last year.

Vandy has one hope. Most of the defense returns and this is the heart of the team. Florida was the only squad to score more than 24 points on Vandy last year, a stat that is somewhat suspect due to how many bad offenses Vandy played against. 

The offense may improve a little, but Vandy will be a bottom level SEC team this year.  Good thing the OOC schedule is rather weak, with only Georgia Tech as a worthy opponent.

Western Carolina is a bad FCS school. It will serve as a warm-up before going down to the Bayou and getting beat up by an improved LSU squad.

Besides being a top-notch university, Rice has one of the smallest undergraduate populations in FBS, with Ivy League admission requirements. Last year, its potent attack resulted in a 10-win season and a bowl win, but a loss at Vandy.

Most of the skill players are gone, but Rice will still put up points. The small, undersized defense was bad by almost any standards, but just good enough to stop average offenses, and is much improved from 2007. Looking ahead to hosting Ole Miss the next week may lead to an upset on the road here.

Army has failed to achieve much success, unlike Navy and Air Force. First-year coach Rich Ellerson hopes to bring the success he had at FCS'Cal Poly to the Black Knights. Army should be better this year, but Vandy should enjoy this nice trip, before getting back home to host Georgia.

The Yellow Jackets head to Nashville for a Halloween trick-or-treat. Vandy should be in the middle of its annual late-season collapse by this time. Preparing for the Triple Option should be difficult, especially with the road trip to face Tebow and company the next week. Georgia Tech, which should be one of the top ACC teams, will likely prove too much for the Commodores.

8. Florida

Charleston Southern (FCS), Troy, Florida International, Florida State

I am very glad not to be a Gator fan, as I would be absolute embarrassed to support a team this afraid of playing a real OOC schedule. Florida has not left SEC territory to an OOC game since 1981!

Florida needs to schedule up. Georgia can do it, but then again Mark Richt is not a coward. OU can do it. Florida State can do it. USC does it every year. But not Florida.

Last year Florida only played two regular season games against teams that beat seven FBS schools in the regular season (Georgia and Mississippi), and lost one of those games.

Rather than playing one of the strongest schedules in the country, it was, in fact, one of the weakest among top programs. In comparison, OU played seven of 12 regular season games against teams that won at least seven games against FBS schools.

But, who cares? The BCS will continue reward Florida in spite of taking the easy path. Until teams are actually forced to schedule up, none of this matters.

Charleston Southern should not be playing Florida. It is an absolute joke.

Troy is the class of the Sun Belt conference. It plays solid football, and had LSU done late before blowing the game. Troy returns eight starters on offense and much of its quality defense. Even so, Troy will play its heart out here and still lose by at least 25.

Florida International was one of the great stories of last year. The much-improved squad can play—with the little boys, that is. Of course, FIU can fight, too, as we remember from the brawl with Miami a few years ago. Look for the Gators by 50 or so.

Bobby Bowden has coached a lot games against Florida. Until recently, he had a winning record. Florida State has not won against Florida since 2003. While Florida always schedules down, FSU always schedules up, and this year has one of the top OOC schedules in the country. 

While the Seminoles may not win the game this year, FSU may make it a little more of a challenge.

 

9. LSU

at Washington, Louisiana-Lafayette, Tulane, Louisiana Tech

LSU had a rare average season last year, a mere season after its BCS national title. Do not expect it to continue. 

LSU started the change last season with the beat down of Georgia Tech in their bowl matchup. LSU will be back and ready to challenge once more. Since Florida under Urban Meyer has always lost one game to a SEC West foe, look for LSU to do the honors this year.

Washington has fallen on hard times. At one time, the Huskies were a top dog in the Pac-10, contending for the conference title every year. Now, following one the worst seasons ever, former USC offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian has come to repair the damage. 

Sarkisian, whose senior season as BYU QB featured a 14-1 season with a loss to the Huskies, is already getting the program in the right direction.  

With QB Jake Locker (the West Coast version of Tebow) the Huskies may have a chance to actually win some games. UW has had one of the absolutely hardest schedules in the country for many years. LSU is bringing the band to Seattle, so look for the Tigers to dance all over the rebuilding Huskies.

It is nice for LSU to share the wealth with local teams. Louisiana-Lafayette will appreciate the money as LSU beats them down. Good thing it is only a short drive for the Cajun fans.

Tulane has not been good for a while. Former UCLA coach Bob Toledo is now in his third year. The Green Waves will be starting a lot of underclassmen, so do not look for much of a challenge here. This game will help the Tigers get ready for Alabama the next week, in another exciting chapter of the Saban-Miles challenge.

Louisiana Tech is looking to reach the big time. This WAC team, much improved under Derek Dooley, should be even more competitive this year. Playing solid offense and defense, the Bulldogs could challenge LSU. 

But look for this late season match-up to be closer than at first glance, as LSU gets ready to go on the road to Ole Miss.



10. Kentucky

Miami (Ohio) at Cincinnati, Louisville, Louisiana-Monroe, Eastern Kentucky (FCS)

Can I say anything nice about the worst program in the SEC?  How about "they get a lot of money that they had no part in obtaining"? Wildcat fans will argue that they have a 14-game OOC winning streak and three straight bowl game wins.

So what? They play one of the worst OOC schedules in the country and never travel more than one state away for a bowl game. I have nothing but contempt for scheduling like this.

Miami (Ohio) is one of the worst MAC schools. They play no defense. Not much different from an FCS game.

A few years ago, the rivalry game with Louisville would have looked pretty good. But Louisville has been so down since Bobby Petrino left that this is not much different than playing Indiana, Syracuse, or Duke.

Louisiana-Monroe had the Hogs on the ropes last year when friendly SEC officiating took the game away. Head coach Charlie Weatherbie has made some changes, bringing in the 3-3-5 and going to a no-huddle. So, expect the Warhawks to lose this game, but do not be surprised if they recover.

Couldn’t Kentucky have at least played new FBS member Western Kentucky, instead of lowly Eastern Kentucky? I have nothing more to say about this game.

11. Arkansas

Missouri State (FCS) at Little Rock, Texas A&M (@ Arlington), Eastern Michigan, Troy

This SEC bottom-dweller sent Houston Nutt on his way for what?—Wow that worked out well. Second year coach Bobby Petrino took a winning program and made it into a loser last year. The O-line allowed 46 sacks.

A 6’7” former Michigan QB looks to take over at the helm this year, with a wide array of wide receivers. 

Hog fans hope to go bowling this year. With three cupcakes on the OOC schedule, plus Troy, that should not be too hard. Going bowling will most likely require beating Troy, which will not be that easy.

Missouri State is another bad FCS school. Located just on the other side of the Ozarks from the Hogs, the game is in Little Rock…..  

Texas A&M has fallen very far. A stronger contender in the early days of the Big 12, it now is below Baylor in the extremely tough Big 12 South, and just around Kansas St and Iowa St in the conference.

This game, at Jerry World, will allow two bad teams to enjoy amenities second to none in this palace of football. 

While A&M could improve, most people in Texas look for them to remain on the bottom for a while.

Eastern Michigan contended with Michigan for the title of worst team in the state that year. EMU won in a squeaker. New coach Ron English should help things a little bit, but this will be a wipe out.

In Arkansas’ OOC game of the year, Sun Belt titan Troy will come in late in the season and try to wreck the Hogs’ bowl hopes. Given how Troy had LSU beat until the late collapse last year, I don’t know if the Troy win would actually be an upset.


12. Mississippi

at Memphis, Southeastern Louisiana (FCS), UAB, Northern Arizona (FCS)

One of the top teams in the SEC should not be playing the Little Sisters of the Poor for its OOC schedule. Sure, this schedule was largely set when Ole Miss was garbage, but still—not being to find any worthy opponent? Shameful!

Given the money coming into SEC teams, the Rebels should have just offered a big check and bought a game with a BCS team. The hype from many so-called experts regarding this team is amazing.

Now Houston Nutt can coach with the best of them. QB Jevan Snead is awesome, though he needs to throw less INTs. The easy schedule means nine wins minimum this year, but really—an OOC with two FCS schools and no Big Six schools!

Memphis can throw the ball, has gone bowling a bunch, and may contend for a Conference USA division crown. Of course, all that means nothing as the Rebels will come in and steamroll the Tigers, though a nice shoot-out is a possibility. This game could go way over the number.

SE Louisiana and Northern Arizona are typical FCS schools, and do not deserve real discussion. 

UAB is a Conference USA also-ran. It looks to improve under third-year coach Neil Callaway. QB Joe Webb is a two-way threat, throwing for 2,367 and running for 1,021 last year. The defense got much better as the season went on.

But really, all this is for the Blazers is a chance to get a check and be blown out.

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