Ranking every SEC team's 2018 non-conference schedule
As has been the case for several years, the non-conference slate in the SEC is top heavy toward season-opening games at neutral sites, from Dallas to Atlanta and Orlando, Fla.
After the grind of the conference season, most teams wrap up with a rivalry opponent, typically from the ACC.
Clemson, Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe and Middle Tennessee are common opponents for several SEC teams this year, and most of the games are strategically placed on the schedule.
The made-for-television early season games offer a splash early in the season. But by and large, most teams don’t play a second Power 5 opponent, especially outside of their non-league in-state rival.
Here is a ranking of SEC schedules by team, toughest to easiest:
1. Texas A&M
Jimbo Fisher left the ACC, but he can’t escape Clemson even in his first season. But before then, the Aggies open the season against Northwestern State, and get Louisiana-Monroe after the Tigers. UAB, which reached a bowl game last season, visits Nov. 17, just ahead of the Aggies’ regular-season finale against LSU.
The Gators open the Dan Mullen era with the program’s second meeting with Charleston Southern, and then hope to duplicate their last meeting with Colorado State, which they beat 62-3 in 2009. The Gators were scheduled to play Idaho in 2014, but the game was called off because of weather and rescheduled for 2018. Finally, the Gators will look to snap a five-game losing streak to rival Florida State. Playing the likes of the Rams and Seminoles is something most other SEC teams won’t do in 2018.
The Tigers open the season at a neutral site, in Arlington, Texas, against Miami, before the home opener the following week against Southeastern Louisiana. That’s the first meeting between the teams since 1949. LSU closes September against Louisiana Tech, and will also play Rice on Nov. 17.
Washington in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff is the highlight game on a slate that includes Alabama State, Southern Miss and Liberty. Because of how the schedule’s structured, Auburn won’t play a true road game until Oct. 6 at Mississippi State.
5. South Carolina
The Gamecocks open at home with Coastal Carolina, the first time they started a season at Williams-Brice since 2014. It’s also the first non-Power 5 opener since 2011. Marshall, which visits Columbia in Week 3, won the New Mexico Bowl last season but must replace three-year starting quarterback Chase Litton, who surprisingly entered the NFL Draft. UT-Chattanooga serves as the tune-up before the Gamecocks close the season with their annual date against Clemson, this year at Death Valley.
The Commodores have three non-league games to open the season: Middle Tennessee, Nevada and Notre Dame. The MTSU game is expected to be the last in the series for a while, and the Nevada game is the first between the programs. The Notre Dame game is the third between the teams, but just the second meeting for Vanderbilt in Notre Dame Stadium. The Commodores will wrap up the non-league schedule with Tennessee State on Sept. 29th.
The Vols will open with Will Grier and West Virginia in Charlotte, one of the best openers across the league. Grier threw for 283 yards and 2 TDs the last time he faced the Vols — including the dramatic 63-yard strike to Antonio Callaway that allowed Florida to escape with a 28-27 victory in 2015.
The Vols face the Mountaineers for the first time and will play at an NFL stadium for the second consecutive year. Then they return to Neyland Stadium the next two weeks against East Tennessee State and UTEP. UNC Charlotte will close the non-conference schedule on Nov. 3 with the schools’ first meeting.
Louisville is the signature matchup on a schedule that includes Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Citadel. The Crimson Tide have not lost a season opener in 11 years under coach Nick Saban. The past six have been won by double digits. Bobby Petrino, meanwhile, will have a new quarterback to replace Lamar Jackson, and a lot of new faces on defense.
All eyes will be on the rematch at Purdue after the Boilermakers beat Missouri in 2017, 35-3. But that comes after home games against UT-Martin and Wyoming, which is the first meeting between the Tigers and Cowboys. After traveling to Alabama in October, the Tigers finish their non-league schedule against Memphis, which is starting over at quarterback. Those teams haven’t met since 1999.
10. Mississippi State
The Bulldogs open against Stephen F. Austin on Sept. 1 before the Bulldogs travel to Kansas State in Manhattan, Kan., for the first time since 1977. Louisiana and Louisiana Tech round out the first schedule for Joe Moorhead.
11. Ole Miss
The Rebels open with Texas Tech in Houston, and then play their home opener the following week against Southern Illinois. After hosting Alabama in Week 3, the Rebels get a breather Sept. 22 when Kent State comes to Oxford. They wrap the non-conference schedule Oct. 6 against Louisiana-Monroe, which the Rebels last met in 2008.
Matchups against Central Michigan, Murray State and Middle Tennessee all lead to the annual Governor’s Cup meeting at Louisville, where the Cardinals have won six of the past seven overall meetings. Kentucky is 6-0 against Central Michigan, and the most recent game was in 2011, 27-13.
The Razorbacks open with Eastern Illinois, and then travel to Colorado State the next week before North Texas comes to town. Arkansas wraps up its non-conference slate Oct. 20 against Tulsa, which is coming off a 2-10 season. The Rams replace the original Power 5 opponent in that slot, Michigan, and satisfies the SEC’s requirement to play a Power 5 team in 2018 and ’19 when the Rams come to Arkansas.
For the second consecutive year, the Bulldogs have a relatively weak home non-conference schedule, and this time don’t have a Notre Dame game to prop up the overall slate. Austin Peay, Middle Tennessee, UMass and Georgia Tech is not exactly a gauntlet, though the Yellow Jackets have won the past two meetings at Sanford Stadium.