We finish out nonconference schedule grades with the SEC West. This division has averaged a participant in the National Championship Game since 2009 (two participants after the 2012 season, none after 2014). If you were forced to pick a division to put a team in the NCG this year–or any year–you’d pick this one. So how do the teams’ schedules stack up? Are these teams preparing properly to have a schedule worthy of a CFP participant? Let’s see.
A few notes before I begin. First of all, this is a highly subjective process, because it has to be. I have general outlines, but every team has to be judged on its own merits. It would be foolish, for example, to expect the exact same schedules out of Alabama and Kansas. Obviously, a College Football Playoff contender has to be held to a higher standard.
Second of all, I will give a grade for each game and an overall grade. The overall grade is not simply an average of the individual grades. It is a grade in its own right looking at the totality of a team’s nonconference schedule. Every game against an FCS team earns an automatic F. But if a Power 5 team schedules one FCS team and two other really good games, the one FCS game won’t really hurt the overall grade.
Lastly, the ACC and SEC present a bit of difficulty. I expect every team–even from the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12–to play at least one Power 5 opponent. If I was being fair, I would expect the ACC and SEC teams to play two, since they play one fewer conference game. However, since almost none of them do that, it would feel like I’m capriciously lowering the score of every team in those conferences. On the other hand, it isn’t fair to the Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 to judge them all evenly. Therefore, as a compromise, I don’t knock down the scores of ACC and SEC teams for playing fewer conference games, but it will be tougher for me to give them the highest grades.
SEC West Nonconference Schedule Grades
Alabama Crimson Tide
Sept. 1st, vs Louisville (in Orlando, FL)
This game would have looked very tempting had Lamar Jackson decided to stay for his final year. Then again, the Louisville offensive line had done such a poor job protecting him the last two years that maybe it’s better he’s not playing. For a team that likes playing huge opening-weekend games, it feels weird to see Alabama start as a 25-point favorite. You would hope the defending National Champions would give us a better marquee nonconference game. Oh well; at least they’re not playing Duke.
Sept. 8th, Arkansas State
The Red Wolves are consistently towards the top of the Sun Belt, but they’ve never had much success in nonconference play. Alabama could do much better with its second-best nonconference game.
Sept. 29th, ULL
Louisiana (formerly known as Louisiana-Lafayette) makes for a second nonconference game in which Alabama will be favored by at least 35 points.
Nov. 17th, The Citadel
Who ever would have guessed that Alabama would play an FCS team in November?
I am not at all impressed with Alabama’s nonconference schedule. I wasn’t last year, either, and both Fresno State and Colorado State turned out to be decent. I can’t see the same happening with Arkansas State–and certainly not with ULL–this year. Louisville has been strong the past few years, but that might not continue. With cross-divisional games against Tennessee and Missouri, we are likely looking at Alabama’s weakest overall schedule this decade. Will that matter to the committee if Alabama loses a game? Maybe not. But if I’m Alabama, I really don’t want to find out.
Sept. 1st, Eastern Illinois
The Panthers actually upset Northwestern a few years back.
Sept. 8th, @Colorado State
The Rams have been a mid-to-top Mountain West team since the Jim McElwain era. I’m always happy when Power 5 teams travel to visit good Group of 5 teams. I like it.
Sept. 15th, North Texas
North Texas used to be a total cupcake, and was one when this game was scheduled. The program has taken a turn for the better with Seth Littrell, and this game might also actually be competitive.
Oct. 20th, Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane were recently a top Conference-USA team, but the program has fallen apart a little the past few years. Still, this game is always somewhat dangerous.
I can’t decide whether this is the best awful schedule or the worst good schedule that I’ve ever graded. There are no P5 opponents, but there is only one true cupcake and a road game over 1,700 miles away. This schedule is actually decent, and that could be trouble for Arkansas making a bowl in Chad Morris’ first season.
Sept. 1st, vs Washington (in Atlanta, GA)
Now this is what a neutral-site major nonconference game will look like. Both teams will probably be in or around the preseason Top 10, and this will be a very early chance for each team to jockey for CFP position. I can’t wait to watch it.
Sept. 8th, Alabama State
The Hornets are probably in the top half of the SWAC.
Sept. 29th, Southern Miss
As recently as six or seven years ago, Southern Miss was one of the worst programs in FBS. Since then, this program has really turned around. The Golden Eagles won’t challenge Auburn, but there are worse cupcakes in Conference-USA to pick from.
Nov. 17th, Liberty
Liberty is not an FCS team anymore, and this program has quietly put together a fair bit of talent. Auburn isn’t going to lose to the Flames, but this game could look a little strange early if Auburn is looking ahead to Alabama.
There is only one complete cupcake on this schedule, and two other games that come very close. The game against Washington really helps outweigh that, though. I’d hope for a little better from a potential CFP contender, but at least this is nowhere near as bad as Alabama’s.
Sept. 2nd, vs Miami (in Arlington, TX)
Once again, JerryWorld is providing us with a great game on opening weekend. This game gets its own slot on Sunday as both teams look to make an early Playoff statement.
Sept. 8th, Southeastern Louisiana
Playing in-state FCS schools is better than out-of-state FCS schools.
Sept. 22nd, Louisiana Tech
The Bulldogs haven’t beaten a Power 5 team since 2012. This program is consistently decent, though.
Nov. 17th, Rice
LSU joins the SEC party of playing cupcakes the week before the end of the season. After all, LSU has to prepare for its big rivalry against… Texas A&M?
LSU is joining another SEC West trend–playing an amazing opener followed by three very weak nonconference games. For LSU it’s somewhat acceptable, though. The Tigers get Florida and Georgia in cross-divisional play.
Ole Miss Rebels
Sept. 1st, vs Texas Tech (in Houston, TX)
This might not be as high-profile as some of the other SEC West openers, but this should be a good game between two programs in similar positions at the time. Both are probably in the bottom of their conferences but definitely have huge potential. This should be a fun game.
Sept. 8th, Southern Illinois
The Salukis may have pulled off a few upsets in basketball, but they’re still just a mediocre FCS football team.
Sept. 22nd, Kent State
Kent State was a few games away from a BCS Bowl in 2012. Now they’re the most frosting-laden of cupcakes.
Oct. 6th, ULM
Louisian-Monroe beat Alabama back in 2007. It’s been a long time since then, and ULM is just 2-10 in its last dozen games against P5 teams–with both wins coming against bad Wake Forest teams. Right now, the Warhawks are a cupcake.
The trend of a great openers followed by three cupcakes continues. Ole Miss will probably get to six wins this year, and depending on how its appeal to the NCAA goes, could go bowling.
Mississippi State Bulldogs
Sept. 1st, SFA
The Bulldogs open up against FCS Stephen F. Austin.
Sept. 8th, @Kansas State
I am a huge fan of this home-and-home. It’s two middle-to-top teams in their respective conferences with the potential for big success every few years going after each other? This should be one of the highlights of Week 2.
Sept. 15th, ULL
The Ragin’ Cajuns play both Mississippi State and Alabama in September. Good luck to that team going forward. It’s going to need it.
Nov. 3rd, Louisiana Tech
The last time these two met, fun-filled hilarity ensued. Louisiana Tech was destroyed that game, but this is a team that can beat a Power 5 team under the right conditions. Mississippi State is a far better team, but Louisiana Tech is a bit of a risky prospect the week before facing Alabama. This screams “trap game.”
Mississippi State was going for one good game and three cupcakes, but one of the cupcakes might actually be decent. It’s still pretty weak overall, but it’s better than some of the other SEC heavyweights are doing.
Texas A&M Aggies
Aug. 30th, Northwestern State
If you’re going to open the season on Thursday night, you really should play an FBS team.
Sept. 8th, Clemson
Jimbo Fisher just can’t escape these Tigers. The Aggies have a ton of stockpiled talent, so we may get a great early season game out of this.
Sept. 15th, ULM
The Warhawks better hope there is a bit of a hangover for Texas A&M after playing Clemson. They may not get too embarrassed if that happens. Nah.
Nov. 17th, UAB
UAB was actually not too awful last year. This is a cupcake game, but there are worse cupcakes out there.
The SEC West has a clear scheduling philosophy. Play one good game, then load up on cupcakes. I’d like to see Quint Kessenich say something about these.