SEC East Schedule Outlook
August 13, 2013
By Joe Nelson
Editor’s Note: Joe Nelson was the best guaranteed college football handicapper on VegasInsider.com in 2012. Don’t miss out on his season package this fall. Click to win!
The SEC will look to continue its dominance in the final season of the BCS system. In recent years, the West has had the edge over the East, but there are contenders from the East side this season ready to make a run at the conference title. Here is a look at the schedules ahead for the seven teams in the SEC East.
Florida Gators: Florida played one of the toughest schedules in the nation last season, but ended up 11-1 and in the Sugar Bowl. That game featured an embarrassing loss for the SEC as Louisville beat the Gators soundly. Will Muschamp is in his third season in Gainesville in the post-Urban Meyer era and expectations will remain high after the strong results last season. Florida has one of the toughest schedules in this division again and another season falling short of the East title seems most likely.
West Draw: Arkansas and LSU
Toughest Back-to-Back: The toughest set of games for Florida may be back-to-back road games in October, playing at LSU and then at Missouri. While Missouri is not likely in the same class as LSU, it will be a tough situation in that scheduling spot and the Gators barely won in a 14-7 home win against Missouri last season. A big home game with Arkansas is before the LSU game and that October stretch will dictate how far the Gators can go this season.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: While the finale with Florida State has the potential to be a huge game, in recent years it has not had significant national implications. An early September game at Miami will be the more important game to set the stage for the season as an early loss would be a severe blow to the season goals for the Gators. Florida has not played Miami since 2008 and the Hurricanes will be ready for a big early test.
Georgia Bulldogs: The Bulldogs had a favorable slate in the conference last season, which helped them advance to the SEC championship game, where they nearly took out eventual national champion Alabama. Georgia does have to play LSU this season, something they did not have to do last season, but the Bulldogs should again be a contender in the East. A huge non-conference game to open the season will set the tone for the year and Georgia has most of its big games in the first few weeks of the season as they will either rise towards the top or fall into the pack after the first month.
West Draw: LSU and Auburn
Toughest Back-to-Back: Georgia has an experienced offense and they will need it right off the bat with two of the biggest games of the season in the first two weeks. Opening the year at Clemson will be a huge clash for two title hopefuls and a key SEC vs. ACC matchup. Georgia then opens the SEC season looking to avenge an ugly 35-7 loss from last season as they will host South Carolina in a game that should play a prominent role in deciding the SEC East champion.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: There is no question that the opener at Clemson is the biggest game for Georgia outside of the SEC season and it will be one of the most important games in the national picture in the opening weekend. Georgia has lost its last two prominent season openers, falling to Oklahoma State in 2009 and losing to Boise State in 2011, putting even more emphasis on this game.
Kentucky Wildcats: The hiring of Mark Stoops has brought some Kentucky fans to the football field with some renewed excitement for the program following an ugly 2-10 season. Kentucky has not been to a bowl game the last two seasons and that will be a tough task this season as one of the two teams in this division that has to play Alabama. A very tough set of home games is waiting for Kentucky and while a slight improvement is possible for the Wildcats it will likely be another losing season with this slate in a transition season.
West Draw: Alabama and Mississippi State
Toughest Back-to-Back: The SEC season will open with a bang for Kentucky facing Florida, South Carolina, and Alabama in three consecutive weeks. Kentucky will be a sizable underdog in all three games and it could take a physical and mental toll on a young team and a new coaching staff, especially after a far from easy non-conference set to open the season.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The home game with Louisville will get extra attention this season in a big rivalry game and with the Cardinals likely to open the season highly ranked and projected as a possible undefeated team. While Louisville has won the last two meetings, it has been a relatively close game and generally an even series over the years.
Missouri Tigers: While Texas A&M had instant success in the move to the SEC, Missouri had worse fortune, snapping a run of seven straight winning seasons in a 5-7 campaign. Missouri had four losses by 19 points or more as they were not able to compete with the top tier teams in the conference. With winnable games in the non-conference schedule and avoiding Alabama and LSU, the prospects could improve for the Tigers this season although the home slate in conference play is very difficult and several wins may need to come on the road if Missouri is to get back in the bowl picture.
West Draw: Mississippi and Texas A&M
Toughest Back-to-Back: Missouri is going to have to play Georgia and Florida in back-to-back weeks in mid-October with the game in Athens as a second straight road game following up the SEC opener and then the home date with Florida a week before homecoming. For Missouri to get into the postseason, they will likely need at least one significant upset win and they will have to be able to stay focused through a very tough start to the conference season.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: One thing Missouri has going for it this year that points to possible improvement is a non-conference slate that could be swept. Toledo and Indiana are certainly going to provide a solid test, but those are games Missouri can win. The game at Indiana will be a big one with the elevated expectations for the Hoosiers and the rare SEC vs. Big 10 matchup that is rarely seen outside of the bowl season. A tricky game at home against Arkansas State in a possible letdown spot will be waiting after that game as well.
South Carolina Gamecocks: In a 6-0 start last season, South Carolina could have made a case as the best team in the nation, and they rose up to #3 in the polls after blowing out Georgia. The Gamecocks will be in the mix again this season and they are able to drop LSU from the schedule, which should help the cause as that was one of two losses last season. South Carolina will open and close the season with prominent non-conference games with quality ACC teams, but this is a relatively favorable SEC draw outside of the early trip to Georgia and three consecutive road games in the middle of the season.
West Draw: Arkansas and Mississippi State
Toughest Back-to-Back: The opening two games of the season could be the biggest of the year for South Carolina and potentially the most difficult. North Carolina is a formidable ACC foe to open with in primetime Thursday night to kick off the season and one of the biggest games of the SEC East season will be in Week 2 as South Carolina plays at Georgia, taking a three-game winning streak in that series into the game. South Carolina will play four road games in five weeks in a challenging stretch in the middle of the season, but none of that will carry much relevance unless the Gamecocks take care of the first two games of the season.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The opener with North Carolina will potentially be more important, but the finale with Clemson is the biggest game with South Carolina taking each of the last four meetings to match its longest win streak in the history of the rivalry. A lot could be at stake in the national picture for both teams and even if not, it is a fierce rivalry that will always warrant attention.
Tennessee Volunteers: A once regular powerhouse, Tennessee has not won more than seven games since 2007 and now has its fourth head coach in five years. The scheduling draw forces the Volunteers to play Alabama this season, but two of the three games against the projected top three in the East will be at home. Three of the four non-conference games should result in wins which will be critical for a team that has won just five games each of the last two seasons and rising into the bowl picture is a possibility with this slate, though advancing much higher than 6-6 since seems unlikely in this transition season with new coach Butch Jones.
West Draw: Alabama and Auburn
Toughest Back-to-Back: Two pairs of games can make a strong case for this distinction with a brutal road duo at Oregon and then at Florida early in the season, likely making the best case given the taxing travel. Playing South Carolina at home and then at Alabama the next week will certainly be a taxing stretch as well, but Tennessee does at least have a bye week before that set, something they may need with the Georgia game preceding it in a tough overall schedule.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: Playing in Eugene in a big national game in mid-September will be a big thrill for the players and a chance to shine on the national stage against an elite program. Tennessee should be 2-0 entering that game and it will be a great opportunity to at least gain some credibility back for the program before heading into the SEC season.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Bowl bids in 208 and 2011 were a nice story for Vanderbilt, but last season, the Commodores took success to a new level with a 9-4 season, including a bowl win over NC State. The schedule should actually be easier outside of the conference this season but a very tough set of SEC road games is ahead. The draw from the West is difficult although it does not include Alabama or LSU. Another bowl season is possible for Vanderbilt, but a step-back in record seems likely as this team won several close games last season in conference play with three wins by four points or less.
West Draw: Mississippi and Texas A&M
Toughest Back-to-Back: While there are bye weeks on both sides of it, the late October set with a home game against Georgia and a road game at Texas A&M will be very difficult. While Vanderbilt had a great season last year, they lost by 45 against Georgia last season and there still seems to be a big gap between the top tier teams. A win in either game would be a huge season-making event for Vanderbilt.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: Vanderbilt has one of the weakest non-conference schedules in the conference with only the finale with Wake Forest presenting a major conference threat. That may be a critical game for a team that could be on the edge of bowl eligibility if they are not able to match the close game success of last season.
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