Ranking the SEC's non-conference schedules for 2016
Spring has sprung, April is near, and the 2016 college football season will kick off in a little more than five months.
As we await actual, real-life footage of pigskin being tossed around and the sound of shoulder pads colliding, let’s digest some upcoming opponents for every SEC program.
Here we rank the 2016 non-conference schedules for each team:
- Sept. 3: vs. South Alabama Jaguars (5-7)
- Sept. 24: at UMass Minutemen (3-9)
- Oct. 14: at BYU Cougars (9-4)
- Oct. 29: vs. Samford Bulldogs (6-5)
For the first time since 2011, Mississippi State will play an opener in which Dak Prescott does not participate. The Bulldogs should be fine in non-conference play, though, facing two programs that have one total bowl appearance in their history (USA and UMass), a BYU opponent that might field its worst product in a decade, and well, Samford.
- Sept. 3: vs. Appalachian State Mountaineers (11-2)
- Sept. 10: vs. Virginia Tech Hokies* (7-6)
- Sept. 17: vs. Ohio Bobcats (8-5)
- Nov. 5: vs. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (4-7)
Tennessee could be the favorite to win the SEC East in 2016, but it will have to be careful to not look ahead to SEC play. Appalachian State is no pushover and has the talent to vie for a New Year’s Six bowl game this fall; Virginia Tech serves as an interesting matchup with new coach Justin Fuente; and Ohio has been bowl eligible for seven straight years.
- Sept. 10: vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (7-6)
- Sept. 17: at Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-9)
- Sept. 24: at Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (12-2)
- Oct. 22: vs. Tennessee State Tigers (4-6)
Now entering its third season with coach Derek Mason, Vanderbilt will be looking to shake off a 7-17 start over the last two years by competing for a bowl game in 2016. That will be no easy task, however, as the Commodores play two road games during its non-conference stretch, including a rematch with a Western Kentucky team that won the first go-’round last season.
11. Missouri Tigers
- Sept. 3: at West Virginia Mountaineers (8-5)
- Sept. 10: vs. Eastern Michigan Eagles (1-11)
- Sept. 24: vs. Delaware State Hornets (1-10)
- Oct. 22: vs. Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (7-6)
What can we expect from Missouri in Year 1 under Barry Odom? Four wins are on the table for the Tigers during non-conference play, though only two should be locks. Playing West Virginia on the road in the opener will be challenging, and Middle Tennessee could be poised to win the C-USA with what should be a potent, high-scoring offense.
10. Texas A&M Aggies
- Sept. 3: vs. UCLA Bruins (8-5)
- Sept. 10: vs. Prarie View A&M Panthers (9-2)
- Oct. 29: vs. New Mexico State Aggies (3-9)
- Nov. 19: vs. UTSA Roadrunners (3-9)
Breaking in a new quarterback and offensive coordinator, Texas A&M will need a delicate non-conference slate in order to balance out a ridiculous SEC schedule that features road trip to Auburn, Alabama, and Mississippi State. Opening against what should be a top 25 UCLA team will give Aggies fans a good first look at what’s to come over the next several months.
- Sept. 3: vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (9-5)
- Sept. 17: vs. New Mexico State Aggies (3-9)
- Nov. 19: vs. Austin Peay Governors (0-11)
- Nov. 26: at Louisville Cardinals (8-5)
Could this be the year that Kentucky finally turns the corner and becomes bowl eligible for the first time since 2010? Non-conference play could set the barometer, but it won’t determine the outcome. The Wildcats are 6-2 outside of the SEC the last two years, but have failed to reach the postseason. Another 3-1 mark would set them up for the opportunity, at least.
8. LSU Tigers
- Sept. 3: vs. Wisconsin Badgers* (10-3)
- Sept. 10: vs. Jacksonville State Gamecocks (13-2)
- Oct. 15: vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles (9-5)
- Nov. 19: vs. South Alabama Jaguars (5-7)
Here’s a fun stat for you: LSU has never lost a non-conference game under Les Miles. Never. Since the start of the 2005 season, the Tigers are 42-0 against non-SEC teams in the regular season. The lineup they face in 2016 isn’t for the faint-hearted, but recent history suggests they’ll be just fine outside of the conference at the very least.
- Sept. 3: vs. USC Trojans* (8-6)
- Sept. 10: vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (12-2)
- Sept. 24: vs. Kent State Golden Flashes (3-9)
- Nov. 19: vs. Chattanooga Mocs (9-4)
Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide will be tested from the get-go in their quest for a second straight national championship, opening the regular season against a USC opponent that will undoubtedly be in the thick of things for a Pac-12 title. Western Kentucky gave LSU a solid game for two-plus quarters in 2015 and might be the odds-on favorite to retain its C-USA crown.
- Sept. 3: vs. Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (9-4)
- Sept. 10: at TCU Horned Frogs (11-2)
- Sept. 17: vs. Texas State Bobcats (3-9)
- Oct. 1: vs. Alcorn State Braves (9-4)
Arkansas has suffered three big-time non-conference losses in as many years as Bret Bielema has been coach; in 2013 it was against Rutgers, and last season saw upsets to Toledo and Texas Tech. If the Razorbacks are to take the next step and compete for an SEC West title in 2016, they’ll need to fend off a tough non-conference slate that is highlighted by a Week 2 road trip to Fort Worth.
- Sept. 3: vs. Clemson Tigers (14-1)
- Sept. 10: vs. Arkansas State Red Wolves (9-4)
- Oct. 1: vs. UL-Monroe Warhawks (2-11)
- Nov. 19: vs. Alabama A&M Bulldogs (3-8)
In what could be a make-or-break year for Gus Malzahn, Auburn — which comes off a disappointing 7-6 (2-6) season with a last-place finish in the SEC West — faces one of the most difficult non-conference schedules in the SEC. Clemson will be poised for another 13-0 run through the ACC before a second straight College Football Playoff appearance, and Arkansas State has won 44 games since the start of the 2011 season.
- Sept. 3: vs. UMass Minutemen (3-9 record in 2015)
- Sept. 17: vs. North Texas Mean Green (1-11)
- Nov. 19: vs. Presbyterian College Blue Hose (2-9)
- Nov. 26: at Florida State Seminoles (10-3)
Fresh off a 10-win season in coach Jim McElwain’s first year in Gainesville, Florida may have the SEC’s most accessible non-conference schedule in 2016 … outside of its regular season finale. A late-November trip to Tallahassee certainly holds its weight as Florida State appears to be an early CFP contender.
- Sept. 17: vs. East Carolina Pirates (5-7)
- Oct. 22: vs. UMass Minutemen (3-9)
- Nov. 19: vs. Western Carolina Catamounts (7-4)
- Nov. 26: at Clemson Tigers (14-1)
Here’s the good news for South Carolina: The Citadel is not on the schedule. Here’s the bad news: the Gamecocks play against what will likely be the preseason No. 1 team in the country on the road, along with an East Carolina opponent that seemingly plays better against Power 5 competition.
- Sept. 3: vs. North Carolina Tar Heels* (11-3)
- Sept. 10: vs. Nicholls State Colonels (3-8)
- Nov. 19: vs. UL-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (4-8)
- Nov. 26: vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (3-9)
Georgia finds itself near the top in terms of non-conference competition, mostly due to a tough regular season opener in what will be Kirby Smart’s first game as a head coach. North Carolina will compete for the ACC Coastal again and could be a sleeper for the conference crown. Georgia Tech, historically, bounces back after a subpar year and should be a bowl team in 2016.
- Sept. 5: vs. Florida State Seminoles* (10-3)
- Sept. 10: vs. Wofford Terriers (5-6)
- Oct. 1: vs. Memphis Tigers (9-4)
- Nov. 5: vs. Georgia Southern Eagles (9-4)
Though it’s a close call, Ole Miss faces the SEC’s most vicious non-conference schedule in 2016. Highlighted by a Week 1 neutral game against Florida State, the Rebels will also host Memphis (which won the first of the two-game series at home in 2015) and Georgia Southern later in the year. Ole Miss’ FBS non-conference opponents won a total of 28 games last season, which is the most for any SEC team.
*Game will be played at neutral field