Grading college football teams’ schedules is always a bit of a subjective art. After all, it would be foolish to expect Kansas to schedule the same teams as Alabama. A team expecting to be in the College Football Playoff picture has to schedule better than a team that can’t even expect to make a bowl game. Also, I try to take into account when the game was scheduled as much as possible.
The SEC, like the ACC, provides a bit of an additional challenge. Each team in the conference plays one fewer conference game, which means that every SEC team always faces one fewer Power 5 opponent than teams from the Big 12, Big Ten, and Pac-12. If I wanted to be entirely fair, I would expect every SEC team to play two Power 5 opponents. However, I know they don’t do that and I don’t want to unfairly give every SEC team a bad grade either.
As a compromise, I’m basically only going to judge SEC schools relative to each other. However, in order to give a schedule a really good grade overall, it has to be one that can match up well against even a Pac-12, Big Ten, or Big 12 out-of-conference schedule.
Just to review my format, I will grade each non-conference game that each team plays, with an explanation for that grade. Then I will grade the entirety of the non-conference schedule overall.
SEC East Non-Conference Schedule Grades
Sept. 2, vs Michigan (in Arlington, TX)
The Gators are leaving the state of Florida for a regular-season non-conference game for the first time since 1991. They could be playing Idaho for all I care. The fact that their trip outside the Sunshine State is against a likely Top 15 team and dark horse Playoff contender is just gravy.
Sept. 9, Northern Colorado
Why the Gators would play an FCS team from Colorado I’ll never understand.
Nov. 18, UAB
The Blazers are an FBS team, but the program is restarting after a short hiatus. It would take a miracle for them to be competitive this year against Conference-USA competition, let alone Florida.
Nov. 25, Florida State
This is the highest-profile annual non-conference rivalry. You’ll never hear me complain about it.
The Gators play two top-notch FBS teams in nonconference play. This is a great nonconference schedule, though I’d prefer if one of the two other games wasn’t a true cupcake.
Sept. 2, Appalachian State
The Mountaineers taught us a decade ago that they are a dangerous team to schedule. A year ago, they almost upset Tennessee to open the season. Georgia should be on alert, but this is a good opening game for any team to play.
Sept. 9, @Notre Dame
The Irish might have been down last year, but this is a top-notch opponent for any Power 5 team to play, especially on the road. Full credit for this game.
Sept. 16, Samford
It’s an FCS game, but at least Georgia gets some credit for playing this game in September, and not in November like so many of its SEC peers do.
Nov. 25, @Georgia Tech
Another regional rivalry, but this one is often under-appreciated. Paul Johnson has the Yellow Jackets as consistent competitors, and this rivalry’s national prestige is growing. I can’t wait to see it.
The Bulldogs play two potentially very good Power 5 teams on the road, along with a top Group of 5 program. I can’t ask for anything more from any team, even an SEC one with only eight conference games. If Georgia is on the Playoff bubble come December, this schedule should earn it serious consideration.
Sept. 2, @Southern Miss
The Wildcats are taking a glorified recruiting trip to Mississippi, but this is against a potentially very good Conference-USA team. This is actually a dangerous nonconference game, whether or not Kentucky intended it to be so.
Sept. 9, Eastern Kentucky
It’s an in-state FCS school, which I’m okay forgiving every once in a while.
Sept. 30, Eastern Michigan
Chris Creighton has done amazing things in Ypsilanti. Eastern Michigan might not be a total cupcake this year, which was an unimaginable statement a few short years ago.
Nov. 25, Louisville
Another annual rivalry, but Bobby Petrino has Louisville looking like a potential Playoff dark horse. Kentucky might be out of its league in this game, unless Louisville’s offensive line collapses like it did last year.
There’s only one P5 game on this schedule, but it’s a good one. This is ostensibly a three-cupcake schedule, but it doesn’t look like that plan will work out for Kentucky. The Wildcats may very well end September with two losses (they play Florida in an SEC game on September 23rd), but this schedule will be challenging and will prepare them well for SEC play.
Sept. 2, Missouri State
In-state FCS school. Not much to see here.
Sept. 16, Purdue
Both programs are struggling right now, but both programs have potential to grow this year. I like even P5 matchups, and this definitely qualifies.
Oct. 21, Idaho
The Vandals are in their final FBS season (that’s the current plan, at least), and they actually have the talent to make this a decent one. This game has minor upset potential if Missouri hasn’t improved this past offseason.
Oct. 28, @UConn
The Huskies aren’t a P5 program, but they’re a usually-solid Group of 5 program that played in a BCS Bowl as the Big East champion this decade. I’m okay with Power 5 teams playing Group of 5 teams like this, especially on the road or as part of a home-and-home (this is both).
Missouri is rebuilding, but this is a good schedule. It only has one true cupcake, which is countered by a game against a P5 team and a good Group of 5 team. No complaints from me.
South Carolina Gamecocks
Sept. 2, vs NC State (in Charlotte, NC)
This seemed like a more enticing matchup a few years ago, but Will Muschamp seems to have the Gamecocks heading in the right direction. This should be a solid matchup.
Sept. 23, Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs are a strong Conference USA program that almost beat an SEC school last year. Playing them is a bit of a risk, and it’s always nice to see Power 5 schools take non-conference risks.
Nov. 18, Wofford
The SEC plays too many November FCS games for my liking, but I won’t punish individual teams for following the overall trend.
Nov. 25, Clemson
It’s an annual rivalry, but playing the defending national champions always gets a perfect score from me.
This schedule includes two Power 5 teams along with a solid Group of 5 program. Can’t ask for more than that.
Sept. 4, vs Georgia Tech (in Atlanta, GA)
This game gets a national stage on Labor Day. Both teams should be Top 25 teams and top-tier teams in their divisions, and this game should be an excellent way to close out opening weekend.
Sept. 9, Indiana State
I’ll forgive Tennessee for playing the Sycamores. Virginia Tech showed us the risks of playing a good team five days after a big opener. If Tennessee isn’t taking a week off after the Monday night game, it’s not so bad to be playing a mediocre FCS team that weekend.
Sept. 23, UMass
The Minutemen were shockingly competitive in a few of its games last year, but they’re still one of the worst teams in FBS. This is as much of a cupcake game as you find.
Nov. 4, Southern Miss
Tennessee tried to play three total cupcakes this year. Southern Miss might be a decent team, but should not be the second-best team on any contender’s schedule.
Tennessee is expected to be a potential Playoff contender. This is not a schedule that Playoff contenders should be playing.
Sept. 2, @MTSU
Middle Tennessee is a decent Group of 5 opponent. Playing this game on the road makes it a pretty good game.
Sept. 9, Alabama A&M
Vandy’s schedule is pretty solid, so one FCS team isn’t awful.
Sept. 16, Kansas State
Vanderbilt is playing up in this home-and-home, but not by too much. This is a great series, and kudos to Vanderbilt for giving it to us.
Nov. 4, Western Kentucky
Most SEC schools play a cupcake in November. Vanderbilt will spend its November nonconference game playing a team that could very well be in contention for a New Years’ Six bowl. Full props.
There is only one true cupcake on this schedule. For a program like Vanderbilt, where just making a bowl is considered a good season, three or four cupcakes might be expected. Vanderbilt went above and beyond — as the Commodores so consistently seem to do — and deserves full credit for this schedule, even if there’s only one P5 team on this schedule.