SEC football will be here before you know it and Mike Huguenin of Gridiron Now gives us a peek at the hardest and easiest schedules of the 2016 season.
A team’s schedule obviously plays a role in its won-loss record. Heck, who wouldn’t rather play Florida International, Eastern Michigan and South Alabama than Florida, Michigan and Alabama?
At the same time, it can be dangerous to think of games as “tough” or “easy” three months out. What can look to be an easy game in May can end up being tough in October or November. For instance, Missouri was coming off back-to-back SEC East titles when the 2015 season kicked off, and games against Mizzou were viewed as potentially difficult ones. But the Tigers ended up being an easy opponent. Conversely, not much was expected of Florida last season and few SEC teams truly feared the Gators entering the season. Instead, Florida ended up being a tough opponent, winning 10 games and the SEC East title.
That brings us to today’s exercise in which we attempt to gauge the toughest and easiest home and road schedules in the SEC. Chances are, some of the games we view as tough and some we view as easy instead will end up being the opposite. But we forge ahead anyway.
THE SEC’S TOUGHEST HOME SCHEDULE: ARKANSAS
The skinny: Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had to grimace the first time he saw his 2016 home schedule – Alabama (October 8), Ole Miss (October 15), Florida (November 5) and LSU (November 12). That each set is a back-to-back makes it even more daunting.
Also considered: Texas A&M has just three league home games (the Aggies play Arkansas in Arlington, Texas), but each is a biggie – Tennessee (October 8), Ole Miss (November 5) and LSU (November 24, Thanksgiving night).
THE SEC’S TOUGHEST ROAD SCHEDULE: ALABAMA
The skinny: If the Tide repeat as SEC champs, it certainly will have earned it. Alabama has monster road games against Ole Miss (September 17), Tennessee (October 15) and LSU (November 5), as well as a tricky October 8 trip to Arkansas. The first three are against teams that likely will open the season in the top 15
Also considered: There are a lot of tough road schedules in the SEC. The others that were considered had three distinctly difficult games but also one that seems eminently winnable – Auburn (Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State and Ole Miss), Kentucky (Alabama, Florida, Missouri and Tennessee), Mississippi State (Alabama, Kentucky, LSU and Ole Miss) and Missouri (Florida, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee).
THE SEC’S EASIEST HOME SCHEDULE: KENTUCKY
The skinny: The Wildcats have it relatively easy. Yes, there is tough league home game against Georgia (November 5). The other three: South Carolina (September 24), Vanderbilt (October 8) and Mississippi State (October 22).
Also considered: Florida could’ve gotten the nod; the Gators have three league home games that should be considered gimmes – Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina. But there’s also a visit from LSU.
THE SEC’S EASIEST ROAD SCHEDULE: ARKANSAS
The skinny: The school with the toughest home schedule also has the easiest road schedule. First off, the Hogs have just three league road games – at Auburn (October 22), at Mississippi State (November 19) and at Missouri (Nov. 26). The Hogs also have a neutral-site game with Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, but that hardly can be considered a true road environment.
Also considered: Three SEC East teams were in the discussion – Georgia, South Carolina and Vanderbilt. But each has four league road games, including one against a team likely to be in the preseason top 25. Georgia has Kentucky, Missouri and South Carolina – but also Ole Miss. South Carolina has Kentucky, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt – but also Florida. And Vandy has Auburn, Kentucky and Missouri – but also Georgia.