SEC Football: Ranking the Toughest Non-Conference Schedules for 2011

Ross DurrenceCorrespondent IIAugust 6, 2011

SEC Football: Ranking the Toughest Non-Conference Schedules for 2011

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    There are plenty of questions heading into the 2011 SEC season.

    Who will survive the brutal SEC West?

    Is the SEC East as weak as it looks on paper?

    These questions, and more will be answered by the end of the 2011 campaign, though many teams are playing for much larger goals.

    Saving head coaches, playing for the National Championship, and earning national respect are all on the line both in the SEC season, and in the non-conference arena.

    Let's take a look at the toughest non-conference schedules in the SEC.

12. Tennessee

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    Sept. 3rd vs. Montana
    Sept. 10th vs. Cincinnati
    Oct. 1st vs. Buffalo
    Nov. 5th vs. Middle Tennessee State

    Any time your most difficult non-conference game is at home against Cincinnati, no one would accuse you of playing a tough schedule.

    These four cupcakes should provide the Vols with four easy wins.

    Should.

    They won't, but they should.

11. Mississippi State

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    Sept. 1st @ Memphis
    Sept. 24th vs. Louisiana Tech
    Oct. 8th @ UAB
    Nov. 5th vs. Tennessee-Martin

    No match-ups against BCS opponents.  The only thing that kept Dan Mullen and Mississippi State from the last spot is that two of their games are on the road.

    Memphis and UAB are so bad, however, that it doesn't matter where they're played.

10. South Carolina

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    Sept. 3rd vs. East Carolina (played in Charlotte, NC)
    Sept. 17th vs. Navy
    Nov. 19th vs. Citadel
    Nov. 26th vs. Clemson

    South Carolina has loaded up on local teams, playing half of their non-conference games against teams from the Palmetto State.

    Their first three non-conference games should be easy wins, but their annual showdown against Clemson is always cause for excitement.

9. Kentucky

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    Sept. 1st vs. Western Kentucky (played in Nashville, TN)
    Sept. 10th vs. Central Michigan
    Sept. 17th vs. Louisville
    Oct. 22 vs. Jacksonville State

    Joker Phillips definitely has the Cats moving in the right direction, and a soft non-conference schedule should help his cause.

    The toughest game for the Cats will come against their in-state rival Louisville Cardinals.

    Charlie Strong has done well thus far, and this game will showcase two programs and coaches on the rise.

8. Vanderbilt

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    Sept. 3rd vs. Elon
    Sept. 10th vs. Connecticut
    Oct. 22nd vs. Army
    Nov. 26 @ Wake Forest

    While Elon and Army should be easy wins for the Commodores, Connecticut is a fiesty bunch and first year coach Paul Pasqualoni is looking to continue the Huskies' solid play.

    The biggest challenge for Vandy, though?

    A road date with Wake Forest.

    The Demon Deacons could play spoiler against some teams in 2011.

7. Ole Miss

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    Sept. 3rd vs. BYU
    Sept. 10th vs. Southern Illinois
    Oct. 1st @ Fresno State
    Nov. 12th vs. Louisiana Tech

    Houston Nutt has a lot of holes to fill from the 2010 season.

    Their dates with Southern Illinois and Louisiana Tech should be no trouble for the Rebels, even with their inadequacies.

    A season opener against Brigham Young and a road date with Pat Hill should be interesting, however.

6. Auburn

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    Sept. 3rd vs. Utah State
    Sept. 17th @ Clemson
    Sept. 24th vs. Florida Atlantic
    Nov. 19 vs. Samford

    Auburn didn't exactly schedule any juggernauts for 2011, but their trip to Clemson should be interesting. 

    The Tigers of the ACC aren't going to be great this season, but compared to Auburn's other non-conference opponents, they look like an FSU team from the 90s.

5. Florida

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    Sept. 3rd vs. Florida Atlantic
    Sept. 10th vs. UAB
    Nov. 19th vs. Furman
    Nov. 26th vs. #5 Florida State

    Like other SEC teams, the Gators will play  a handful of softees en route to one, huge game.

    The Florida/Florida State game is always important, and 2011 will be no different.

    There is a lot of hype coming from Tallahassee and Will Muschamp will look to make an instant impact in Gainesville.

    The one thing the Gators have going for them against the Seminoles?  The game is in The Swamp.

4. Arkansas

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    Sept. 3rd vs. Missouri State
    Sept. 10th vs. New Mexico
    Sept. 17th vs. Troy
    Oct. 1st vs. #9 Texas A&M (played in Arlington, TX)

    Arkansas kicks off their 2011 campaign with three easy wins at home, but face a daunting task the fifth week of the year.

    Bobby Petrino & company travel to Arlington, Texas to take on the ninth-ranked Aggies of Texas A&M. 

    There are high expectations coming out of College Station this season, and Arkansas will have to execute in all three phases to stay undefeated.

3. Alabama

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    Sept. 3rd vs. Kent State
    Sept. 10th @ #25 Penn State
    Sept. 17th vs. North Texas
    Nov. 19th vs. Georgia Southern

    Though the Tide have three cupcakes on their schedule, their season starts off with a bang in the second week.

    They will travel north to Happy Valley and take on Joe Paterno and the Nittany Lions.

    Never overlook a road game against Joe Pa.

2. Georgia

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    Sept. 3rd vs. #7 Boise State (played in Atlanta, GA)
    Sept. 17th vs. Coastal Carolina
    Nov. 5th vs New Mexico State
    Nov. 26 @ Georgia Tech

    Like LSU, the Dawgs will face off against a top opponent the first week of the year.  This is not the same Boise State team that Georgia throttled back in 2005.  Georgia's youngsters will have to grow up quickly if they wish to knock off the 7th-ranked Broncos.

    Georgia's schedule gets easier through the middle of the season, facing off against cupcakes Coastal Carolina and New Mexico State, though their final game is always a challenge.

    The game against Georgia Tech is always circled on a Dawg fans calendar.

    Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate.

1. LSU

12 of 12

    Sept. 3 vs. No. 3 Oregon (played in Arlington, Texas)
    Sept. 10 vs. Northwestern State
    Sept. 24 at West Virginia
    Nov. 12 vs. Western Kentucky

    LSU starts off the season with a bang against the third-ranked Oregon Ducks.  This is the biggest matchup of the first week of the year, and is a perfect way to get the football season kicked off.

    In addition to facing off against the Ducks, LSU must travel to Morgantown to take on a talented West Virginia squad.

    Seeing Northwestern State and Western Kentucky on the docket will provide much needed relief for the Bayou Bengals.