Ranking toughest home schedules in the SEC
There are dozens of ways to parse college football schedules. When do the open dates fall? Does a team have any Thursday or Friday night games, making for short weeks of preparation? Or how many schools on your team’s favorite schedule have an off date before your game?
Home games are also important. A good schedule gives a team plenty of chances to pick up wins in front of its home fans. It’s a tough balancing act for athletic directors, sprinkling in a few guarantee games and challenging non-conference contests around a rotating league schedule.
Here’s a look at the five toughest home schedules in the SEC this season:
Schedule: Clemson (Sept. 3), Arkansas State (Sept. 10), Texas A&M (Sept. 17), LSU (Sept. 24), Louisiana-Monroe (Oct. 1), Arkansas (Oct. 22), Vanderbilt (Nov. 5) and Alabama A&M (Nov. 19).
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 57-45 (.559).
Overview: With a whopping eight home games, the Tigers have a chance to take a step forward from last year’s inconsistent campaign. There are some cupcakes, like ULM and Alabama A&M, but there are road blocks as well.
Clemson, a national title contender, starts the season at Jordan-Hare, and three more bowl teams from 2015 — Arkansas State, Texas A&M and LSU — follow in rapid succession. The first month has four home games, which is a rare scheduling luxury. But should the Tigers start slowly, the season could be undone before baseball season is over.
4. Texas A&M
Schedule: UCLA (Sept. 3), Prairie View A&M (Sept. 10), Tennessee (Oct. 8), Ole Miss (Nov. 12), UTSA (Nov. 19) and LSU (Nov. 24).
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 47-26 (.644).
Overview: Prairie View A&M and UTSA should be cannon fodder for the Aggies, but the rest of the home slate is a bit tricky.
UCLA, and its highly touted quarterback Josh Rosen, visit College Station for a tough opening game. Tennessee, the SEC East favorite, visits later in the season before LSU comes calling for a game on Thanksgiving.
Schedule: Jacksonville State (Sept. 10), Mississippi State (Sept. 17), Missouri (Oct. 1), Southern Miss (Oct. 15), Ole Miss (Oct. 22), Alabama (Nov. 5) and South Alabama (Nov. 19).
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 65-29 (.691).
Overview: Jacksonville State is an FCS team, but at 13-2, it was the second-best FCS team in the nation last fall. Southern Miss was a bowl team last year, so that leaves South Alabama as the lone pushover on the non-conference home schedule.
The Ole Miss game comes on the heels of the Southern Miss game, but at least both LSU and Alabama will have an open date before a pivotal SEC West battle Nov. 5.
2. Ole Miss
Schedule: Wofford (Sept. 10), Alabama (Sept. 17), Georgia (Sept. 24), Memphis (Oct. 1), Auburn (Oct. 29), Georgia Southern (Nov. 5) and Mississippi State (Nov. 26).
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 63-28 (.692).
Overview: The guarantee game with Wofford starts the season for the Rebels, but things get far more difficult immediately after the Terriers come calling.
Alabama, Georgia and Memphis invade Oxford in the three weeks that close out September. It’s a brutal stretch that could boost the Rebels’ playoff hopes — or shatter them all together. Things calm down after that, with Auburn, Georgia Southern and Mississippi State wrapping up the home slate.
Schedule: La. Tech (Sept. 3), Texas State (Sept. 17), Alcorn State (Oct. 1), Alabama (Oct. 8), Ole Miss (Oct. 15), Florida (Nov. 5), LSU (Nov. 12).
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 64-28 (.696).
Overview: Texas State finished 3-9 last fall, making the Bobcats the weak FBS link on the Razorbacks’ home schedule. Alcorn State is a decent FCS team, but shouldn’t offer much resistance. That’s the good news.
The bad? How about back-to-back games with Alabama and Ole Miss (coming off a bye week) in early October, followed by back-to-back clashes with Florida and LSU a month later? It’s a month’s worth of the toughest games on the schedule packed into the smallest possible window.