SEC West Schedule Outlook
August 18, 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 with four straight SEC and national championships coming from this division. Here is a look at the schedules ahead for the seven teams in the SEC West.
Alabama Crimson Tide: Looking for a fourth national championship in five years, Alabama returns as the favorite in this division, though they have failed to win this division two of the last three years. Two of the biggest games of the season will be the first two games with a big non-conference game with Virginia Tech and then the SEC opener and a huge revenge game at Texas A&M. LSU will be visiting Tuscaloosa this year and Alabama has a very favorable draw from the East division. This is certainly a schedule conducive to another great season for the Crimson Tide.
East Draw: Kentucky and Tennessee
Toughest Back-to-Back: The schedule lines up well and while the first two games are both huge games, there is a bye week in between. Alabama has lost a conference home game in each of the last three seasons and the homestand with Arkansas and Tennessee visiting in late October might be a spot to catch the Crimson Tide as they will be looking ahead to the big showdown with LSU. While it would be a huge upset for Alabama to lose one of those games, they may come in as a hefty favorite with a less than full focus and effort and one of the underdogs might at least provide a scare for the Tide.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The opening game with Virginia Tech in Atlanta will be a big national stage for both teams. Last season, Alabama passed an early test with Michigan in a similar setting and the Hokies will pose a threat despite being a sizable underdog and it will be statement opportunity for the Crimson Tide to start convincingly on top of the polls.
Arkansas Razorbacks: After a thoroughly disappointing 4-8 season, Arkansas made a splash with the hiring of Bret Bielema away from Wisconsin. It will be a challenging schedule in the first year with a very difficult East draw and a gauntlet of consecutive big games in the middle of the season. The games with both Alabama and LSU are on the road as Arkansas will face one of the toughest schedules in the nation. The non-conference schedule can present some opportunities for wins and there is returning talent on this team, so an upset or two and an improvement in record is very likely although a big jump with this slate seems to be a long shot.
East Draw: Florida and South Carolina
Toughest Back-to-Back: Playing South Carolina for homecoming and then visiting Alabama the next week will be the toughest two-game stretch and those games could be made even more difficult depending on the results of the previous games, playing at Rutgers, hosting Texas A&M, and then playing at Florida for one of the toughest run of big games any team in the nation will face.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: While a Rutgers/Arkansas game won’t move the national needle too significantly, it will be a big test for both teams. Rutgers won at Arkansas last season in what seemed like a big upset at the time and the Knights were a nine-win team last season. That will be the first road game of the season for Arkansas and Bielema did not have a great deal of road success in his time at Wisconsin.
Auburn Tigers: After a devastating 3-9 season, just two years removed from a perfect championship season, Auburn released head coach Gene Chizik and brought back Guz Malzahn after his one year run at Arkansas State. Auburn went 0-8 in SEC play last season, so there is a lot of room for improvement, but the first season schedule will be difficult. Two fairly tough non-conference games will kick off the season, though both are at home and a difficult East draw that includes Georgia is also waiting along with four very difficult SEC road games.
East Draw: Tennessee and Georgia
Toughest Back-to-Back: Playing on the road in back-to-back weeks at Arkansas and at Tennessee should be the most critical stretch of the season for Auburn. The Tigers do not look ready to compete with LSU and Alabama, but they could move up in the standings if they can win one of those tricky road games. A home game with Georgia will also follow up that set of back-to-back road games.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The opener against Washington State will be a big tone setting game for Malzahn and the new look at Auburn. Washington State appears to be a program on the rise and it will be a huge game for both teams for the opening weekend and the winner could get a great start towards a possible bowl season run.
LSU Tigers: LSU has produced a double-digit win season in six of the last eight years, but last season proved a bit disappointing with two conference losses and a defeat in its bowl game. Unlike many SEC teams, LSU routinely takes on a difficult non-conference game each year and that will continue this season with a huge opening game. LSU also will be facing a very tough conference schedule with two of the top teams drawn from the East division as well as having to play Alabama on the road. The talent is there for another big year but there are some big hurdles to clear.
East Draw: Georgia and Florida
Toughest Back-to-Back: The final two games of the season are both at home, but facing Texas A&M and Arkansas in back-to-back weeks to close the season could be a great challenge. The Alabama game and then a bye week will precede the final duo of games and the result of that clash could be season changing, making focus a bit difficult for two upset-minded foes late in the year.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: LSU will play TCU to open the season at Cowboys Stadium and close to home for the Horned Frogs in a huge Big XII vs. SEC showdown. LSU will be a solid favorite, but TCU has certainly been a great program in recent years and it should be huge game for both teams to start the season.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Given the lack of success in the previous decade, Dan Mullen has done a solid job to stabilize Mississippi State into a competent and competitive program. Bulldogs fans may be frustrated with the failure to take down one of the top teams, but with bowl trips in three of the last four years, it has been a solid run, even with an ugly bowl loss last season. The schedule is daunting this season and a step-back season seems likely after winning eight games last year. Patience may be wearing thin even though the program is in much better shape than it was a few years ago.
East Draw: Kentucky and South Carolina
Toughest Back-to-Back: Mississippi State will kick off November with two difficult road games, playing at South Carolina and then at Texas A&M in back-to-back weeks. The home date with Alabama will follow up that road trip as November will likely be a rough month for the Bulldogs.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: The SEC will be an underdog to open the season as Mississippi State plays Oklahoma State in Houston in a Big XII vs. SEC clash. It will be a big opportunity for the Bulldogs to hold up well against a highly ranked team that many project to win the Big XII.
Mississippi Rebels: In just his second year in Oxford, Coach Freeze is coming off a big recruiting season and after a solid 7-6 debut to follow up a 2-10 season, the Rebels appear to be heading upward. This is an experienced team and the schedule while difficult, is more favorable than most of the counterparts in this division. Ole Miss will play Texas A&M and LSU at home and the East draw is favorable, missing the likely top three teams on the other side. A big non-conference game at Texas is also lurking and expectations may also play a bigger role this season for the Rebels.
East Draw: Vanderbilt and Missouri
Toughest Back-to-Back: Two big SEC West games will come early in the season playing at Alabama and at Auburn in back-to-back weeks. Mississippi will play four of the first five games on the road with those two being the final two in that difficult stretch and Mississippi will need to find a way to survive a very challenging first month.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: Last season, Texas crushed Mississippi, 66-31 even in a down year for the Longhorns and this season, the Rebels will play in Austin. Proving that Ole Miss is ready to compete with the top tier schools in the nation will be a big step for this program and a win would bring great credibility to the program.
Texas A&M Aggies: The size of the cloud left by the off-field situation surrounding Johnny Manziel is yet to be determined, but many signs are pointing downward for the Aggies after a stunning 11-2 season last year, taking the SEC by storm. Everyone will be ready for the Aggies this season, but Texas A&M does have a relatively favorable schedule this season getting Alabama at home, a favorable East draw, and no real tests in non-conference play. It should be another strong season for Texas A&M if the distractions do not consume the program.
East Draw: Vanderbilt and Missouri
Toughest Back-to-Back: While the season will revolve around the Alabama game, facing two tricky road games in the final two weeks of the season could play a bigger role in where Texas A&M lands for the postseason. To close November, Texas A&M will be at LSU and then at Missouri and repeating a 5-0 record on the road last year will not be easy for the Aggies.
Biggest Non-Conference Game: While there is not a lot of heft on the non-conference slate, the game with SMU will follow up the Alabama game and could be a challenging letdown spot. SMU lost 48-3 last season in the matchup, but will be ready for a better showing and the coaches have experience against one another.
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