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Ranking the SEC’s Toughest Non-Conference College Football Schedules in 2017

The SEC takes all sorts of heat for its non-conference scheduling, and, frankly, this coming year probably won’t be much different.

 

Sure, there’s a Florida State here and a Clemson there, and there are those end-of-season ACC rivalries, but the SEC’s non-conference scheduling remains largely unfulfilling from a viewer’s perspective. After a 2016 to forget (outside the state of Alabama), the league may be in a bit of a redemption period this coming season.

 

Here are our rankings of the SEC’s top non-conference schedules, from most difficult to least challenging.

 

1. Florida

Sept. 2 vs. Michigan (in Arlington, Texas)

Sept. 9 vs. Northern Colorado

Nov. 18 vs. UAB

Nov. 25 vs. Florida State

 

Now this is a non-conference schedule: Not just two Power Five teams, but two Power Five teams that played in last year’s Orange Bowl. Well done, Gators.

 

2. Georgia

Sept. 2 vs. Appalachian State

Sept. 9 at Notre Dame

Sept. 16 vs. Samford

Nov. 25 at Georgia Tech

 

Not bad, Dawgs. Two challenging Power Five road environments, along with an opener against a Sun Belt team that is 21-5 over the past two seasons. Not bad at all.

 

3. South Carolina

Sept. 2 vs. NC State (in Charlotte, N.C.)

Sept. 23 vs. Louisiana Tech

Nov. 18 vs. Wofford

Nov. 25 vs. Clemson

 

That season-ending tilt with Clemson is always a challenge, especially in this era of Tigers football, and a neutral-site opener against an annual bowl team from the ACC is nothing to sneeze at, either.

 

4. Alabama

Sept. 2 vs. Florida State (in Atlanta)

Sept. 9 vs. Fresno State

Sept. 16 vs. Colorado State

Nov. 18 vs. Mercer

 

The opener with the Seminoles is arguably the most anticipated non-conference game in the sport in years. These could be the preseason Nos. 1 and 2 teams, meeting in Week 1. But there is not much else of substance here.

 

5. Auburn

Sept. 2 vs. Georgia Southern

Sept. 9 at Clemson

Sept. 16 vs. Mercer

Nov. 18 vs. ULM

 

Auburn and Clemson is always fun. Georgia Southern ain’t too shabby, either.

 

6. Vanderbilt

Sept. 2 at Middle Tennessee

Sept. 9 vs. Alabama A&M

Sept. 16 vs. Kansas State

Nov. 4 vs. Western Kentucky

 

Vanderbilt is up at No. 6 ahead of some other comparable SEC teams because of the strength of schedule relative to expectations. A Week 1 road trip, a home tilt with an always-good KSU team and a November tilt with a Western Kentucky team that’s gone 23-5 the past two years is challenging for the Commodores.

 

7. Texas A&M

Sept. 3 at UCLA

Sept. 9 vs. Nicholls State

Sept. 16 vs. UL Lafayette

Nov. 11 vs. New Mexico

 

Last year’s opener with the Bruins in College Station went to OT. This one, on a Sunday night, takes place at the Rose Bowl, lending some punch to an otherwise-meh non-conference slate.

 

8. Arkansas

Sept. 2 vs. Florida A&M (in Little Rock)

Sept. 9 vs. TCU

Sept. 30 vs. New Mexico State

Nov. 4 vs. Coastal Carolina

 

A three-hour trip to Little Rock is as far as the Hogs will travel outside of SEC play. TCU at home is a stiff challenge, though.

 

9. Kentucky

Sept. 2 at Southern Miss

Sept. 9 vs. Eastern Kentucky

Sept. 30 vs. Eastern Michigan

Nov. 25 vs. Louisville

 

The Wildcats should be thankful for their season-ending rivalry game with Louisville, because there’s nothing else here of note.

 

10. Tennessee

Sept. 4 vs. Georgia Tech (in Atlanta)
Sept. 9 vs. Indiana State

Sept. 23 vs. UMass

Nov. 4 vs. Southern Miss

 

A Labor Day opener in the Yellow Jackets’ backyard is a nice cap to a great opening weekend in the sport, but that’s about it as far as the Volunteers’ non-conference schedule is concerned.

 

11. LSU

Sept. 2 vs. BYU (in Houston)

Sept. 9 vs. Chattanooga

Sept. 23 vs. Syracuse

Sept. 30 vs. Troy

 

No road games. Syracuse as the lone Power Five opponent. There is that intriguing neutral-site opener with BYU, but the Tigers usually schedule better than this.

 

12. Mississippi State

Sept. 2 vs. Charleston Southern

Sept. 9 at Louisiana Tech

Oct. 14 vs. BYU

Nov. 4 vs. UMass

 

Hooray for a road game. And BYU at home. Still no Power Five games, though.

 

13. Ole Miss

Sept. 2 vs. South Alabama

Sept. 9 vs. UT Martin

Sept. 16 at Cal

Nov. 11 vs. UL Lafayette

 

There’s that trip to Cal... and that’s it. Hopefully the Rebels have better luck in their opener with South Alabama than rival Mississippi State did last year, though.

 

14. Missouri

Sept. 2 vs. Missouri State

Sept. 16 vs. Purdue

Oct. 21 vs. Idaho

Oct. 28 at UConn

 

There is a Power Five team here, at least. Alas, it’s Purdue, in the first year of a new regime.

 

— Written by Matt Fortuna, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and spent six seasons covering college football for ESPN.com. Fortuna’s work has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA) seven times. Follow him on Twitter @Matt_Fortuna and like his Facebook page.