Ranking SEC East teams' strength of schedule: Gators have tough path to double-digit wins
After back-to-back division championships under Jim McElwain, the Florida faithful are hoping to see the Gators take the next step, but based on ESPN’s preseason 2017 Football Power Index ratings, it’s hard to see UF taking that next step. In fact, this could be the year that things change in the SEC East.
Based on estimated win totals provided in the FPI, Florida has the third-toughest schedule in the East, behind Vanderbilt and (just barely) South Carolina. The Commodores are the only team in the division not expected to get a sixth win for bowl eligibility. On the other end of the spectrum, Missouri’s 11 FBS opponents (all SEC East teams play one FCS school without an FPI rating) have the lowest combined projected win total.
Here’s a look at each team’s schedule, listed in order of toughness based on opponents’ projected combined wins:
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Opponents’ projected win total: 82.5
Non-FPI opponent: Alabama A&M
Skinny: Talk about a tough season ahead for Derek Mason. After finally getting Vanderbilt back to a bowl game, the Commodores draw Alabama as their rotating SEC West foe. Aside from playing FCS Alabama A&M in Week 2, VU will be facing a projected bowl-bound team every week, including non-conference foes Middle Tennessee, Kansas State and Western Kentucky.
Opponents’ projected win total: 80.3
Non-FPI opponent: Wofford
Skinny: The Gamecocks’ season is book-ended by a couple of ACC matchups against NC State (Week 1) and Clemson (Week 13). In between, it’s the standard SEC East slate, a manageable SEC West draw of Texas A&M and Arkansas, and a Louisiana Tech team expected to go to the postseason. Will Muschamp certainly has his work cut out for him in Year 2, with a schedule full of projected bowl-bound teams aside from Wofford (FCS) and Vanderbilt.
Opponents’ projected win total: 80.1
Non-FPI opponent: Northern Colorado
Skinny: While it won’t effect the SEC East race, Florida has the toughest non-conference schedule, as the Gators open the season against Michigan in Dallas and wrap it up with Florida State in The Swamp. Nine of UF’s FBS opponents are expected to go bowling, with only Vanderbilt and UAB projected to go below .500.
Opponents’ projected win total: 77.4
Non-FPI opponent: Indiana State
Skinny: The Volunteers have the toughest SEC West draw with Alabama as its permanent rival and LSU (No. 3 in the West on FPI) as its rotating opponent for 2017. In non-conference, Tennessee plays mostly projected bowl-bound teams with Georgia Tech and Southern Miss both expected to hit the six-win mark. UMass is the one FBS team on the schedule not expected to post a winning record.
Opponents’ projected win total: 74.6
Non-FPI opponent: Eastern Kentucky
Skinny: The Wildcats get a very manageable schedule in their hopes for getting another bowl bid. With permanent rival Mississippi State and rotational foe Ole Miss, it’s one of only two SEC East teams to miss the SEC West’s Big 3 in the FPI (Alabama, Auburn and LSU). Two of Kentucky’s non-conference foes, Southern Miss and Louisville, will likely be going bowling. A mid-season meeting with Eastern Michigan should be one for the win column.
Opponents’ projected win total: 72.5
Non-FPI opponent: Samford
Skinny: Of the SEC East teams with rivals from the ACC, Georgia gets off easiest by finishing the regular season against Georgia Tech. With an out-of-conference clash with Notre Dame on the schedule and the annual meeting with Auburn, it’s not necessarily a cakewalk for the Dawgs to the postseason, but they’ll gladly take it over Florida or Tennessee’s schedule. Appalachian State should make for an entertaining opener. Vanderbilt is the only FBS team on the schedule not expected to go to a bowl game.
Opponents’ projected win total: 68.7
Non-FPI opponent: Missouri State
Skinny: The Tigers’ non-conference slate includes three FBS teams projected to go below .500 (Purdue, Idaho and UConn) plus the FCS foe Missouri State. That should practically guarantee Mizzou gets its six wins for bowl eligibility. MU’s SEC West draw has one of the division’s tougher teams (Auburn) but also one of its weaker teams, permanent rival Arkansas.