Who has the toughest road schedule in the SEC this season?
Home-field advantage means everything in college football, and there’s evidence to back up that claim.
Since 2000, 10 of the SEC’s current 14 teams have won at least 65 percent of their home games, and 12 of the 14 have won at least half their games at home. The numbers don’t lie – playing at home is clearly better.
So what about taking the show on the road? Only five of 14 SEC teams have won at least half their road games since 2000 while five more teams won less than 40 percent of games away from home in that time.
Since playing on the road is an unavoidable truth in college football, all a team can truly hope for is to draw its toughest opponents at home, leaving its road games open for much more manageable opponents. Unfortunately for some, college programs have no control over the location of conference games, which make up the bulk of their schedule, so it is often the luck of the draw as to how difficult a team’s road schedule is.
Three SEC teams were especially unlucky when the schedules were released this year: Florida and Tennessee and Texas A&M.
Florida (4 road games): Alabama (9/20), Tennessee (10/4), Vanderbilt (11/8), Florida State (11/29)
The Gators must follow up a dismal 4-8 season with road games against Alabama and defending champion Florida State in 2014. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more difficult pair of road games on any other schedule in the nation than ‘Bama and FSU, even if those two games are scheduled two months apart.
Vanderbilt may not be known for its home crowds or its gameday atmosphere (it’s one of the two SEC teams with a losing record at home since 2000) but its football program is on the upswing and fans in Nashville are starting to pay attention.
And, of course, any road trip to Neyland Stadium is a difficult task with more than 100,000 rabid Vols’ fans breathing down your neck. Tennessee football isn’t what it used to be, but Butch Jones has the Vols headed back in that direction, and taking on his squad behind enemy lines will always be unsettling.
Tennessee (5 road games): Oklahoma (9/13), Georgia (9/27), Ole Miss (10/18), South Carolina (11/1), Vanderbilt (11/29)
It’s uncommon for an SEC team to schedule a true road game against a team from another power conference, but Tennessee is putting it all on the line with a trip to take on the Oklahoma Sooners this season (even if these teams did schedule this game in 2005).
Oklahoma is likely to be ranked in the top-10 when the season begins and, barring injuries, it should still be a top-10 team by the time the Vols come to town. The only SEC team with a tougher non-conference road game than this is Florida’s game against Florida State, which is already an established rivalry. Simply put, no one envies Tennessee for its “opportunity” to play Oklahoma.
Tennessee was lucky to get Alabama at home, but traveling to The Grove to take on Ole Miss will be no easy feat, nor will road games against East division rivals Georgia and South Carolina. Four of Tennessee’s five road opponents have a good chance to be ranked at the end of the season. That’s rough.
Texas A&M (5 road games): South Carolina (8/28), SMU (9/20), Mississippi State (10/4), Alabama (10/18), Auburn (11/8)
Most fans know about A&M’s road trip to South Carolina to open the season, which is a tough way for the Aggies to usher in the post-Manziel era. After a brief in-state road trip to take on SMU, A&M reaches the meat of its schedule, which features three really tough games away from College Station.
Mississippi State fans were told to leave their cowbells at home, but Bulldogs fans must have missed that memo last year. The Aggies should expect the same this year, and that unique brand of noise can be difficult for visiting teams to deal with.
Then Texas A&M must move on to another merciless pair of road games against Alabama and Auburn. The recent success of those programs and their rankings in the preseason polls speak for themselves, but playing both teams in enemy territory is practically a death sentence for a team losing its three best players from a year ago (Manziel, Mike Evans and Jake Matthews).
One thing is for sure: A&M will need to bring its bag of tricks on the road to get more than one win away from Kyle Field this season.