The Southeastern Conference will roll into the 2013 season with a legitimate five teams all vying for an SEC and BCS Championship berth. LSU experienced a mass deflection of underclassmen and is now likely a year away from competing for a championship.
Each team is loaded with talent, but the grueling slate of an SEC season can wear-down even the most talented and well-coached teams; it can be the make or break key to a run at a championship game versus relegation to a Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance (which in the SEC is simply not good enough).
If you were wondering just how much a schedule effects a team’s chance at a championship in the SEC, look no further than last year’s two participants in Atlanta, Alabama and Georgia. Each team avoided the big boys from the other side of the conference. Alabama didn’t have to play Florida, Georgia, or South Carolina in the regular season, while Georgia avoided LSU, Alabama, and Texas A&M.
This year those honors go to Alabama, Texas A&M, and South Carolina, all of who avoid the other division’s finest squads.
All three also return a ton of talent, making them front-runners for a trip to Atlanta in December.
On the other hand, Florida and Georgia will have to face LSU, and although the Tigers will be funneling in a plethora of inexperienced talent, they are never an easy team to beat.
Let’s take a deeper look at each team’s schedule, and rank them from toughest (No. 1) to easiest (No. 5) path to a championship. In the rankings we take into account home games, quality opponents, quality road games, and cross-division games.
Let us know in the comments below who you think has the toughest schedule.
No. 5 – Texas A&M Aggies
Home games: 8
Quality opponents: 4 (Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, Vanderbilt)
Quality road games: 2 (Ole Miss, LSU)
Out-of-conference games: Rice (home), Sam Houston State (home), SMU (home), UTEP (home)
Cross-division games: Vanderbilt (home), Missouri (away)
SEC teams avoided: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee
Breakdown: Talk about a gift from the college football gods. Eight home games, no meetings with the big boys from the East, Alabama at home, and no out-of-conference games that will even cause the 12th Man to break a sweat. For the cross-division game, Missouri is a mess and Vanderbilt comes to College Station. Let’s just put it this way, Vandy won’t beat Johnny Football in his own backyard. The away game at LSU won’t be easy, but after the mass exodus from the Tigers, Manziel should have a field day with their defense. The same goes for the game against Ole Miss, but the squad that A&M trots out onto the field is currently more polished than Hugh Freeze’s. Alabama comes to College Station in what is shaping up to be the marquee match-up of the 2013 season. When it comes to schedules, especially in the SEC, it just doesn’t get any better than the Aggies’ in 2013.
No. 4 – South Carolina Gamecocks
Home games: 7
Quality opponents: 4 (Georgia, Florida, Clemson, Mississippi State)
Quality road games: 1 (Georgia)
Out-of-conference games: North Carolina (home), UCF (away), Coastal Carolina (home), Clemson (home)
Cross-division games: Arkansas (away), Mississippi State (home)
SEC teams avoided: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Breakdown: If there was a year that the Gamecocks were set-up to make a run at an elusive title, this is it. The only quality opponent from the West they have to play is Mississippi State, and not only does USC get them at home, but the Gamecocks are head and shoulders above the Bulldogs when it comes to quality of team. Clowney, in fact, could probably beat them by himself. The Gamecocks also get hated-rival Clemson at home, as well as Florida. Their one tough away game will be at Georgia in the second week of the season, and the Dawgs will be out for blood after last year’s embarrassment in Columbia.
No. 3 – Alabama Crimson Tide
Home games: 7
Quality opponents: 5 (Virginia Tech, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State)
Quality road games: 3 (Virginia Tech in Atlanta, Texas A&M, Mississippi State)
Out-of-conference games: Virginia Tech (in Atlanta), Colorado State (home), Georgia State (home), Chattanooga (home)
Cross-division games: Kentucky (road), Tennessee (home)
SEC teams avoided: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Breakdown: Alabama once again avoids the big boys from the East, and will only have to leave the comfy confines of Bryant-Denny Stadium five times in 2013. Only three of those road-trips are against quality opponents, and only two are true road games. Virginia Tech has virtually no shot at beating Saban in the first game of the season, Ole Miss is still a year off, Mississippi State is Mississippi State at the end of the day, and LSU comes to Tuscaloosa. The schedule is more than manageable, and outside of the trip to College Station, the Tide should roll relatively easily once again.
No. 2 – Georgia Bulldogs
Home games: 6
Quality opponents: 4 (Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, Florida)
Quality road games: 3 (Clemson, Vanderbilt, Florida in Jacksonville)
Out-of-conference games: Clemson (away), North Texas (home), Appalachian State (home), Georgia Tech (away)
Cross-division games: LSU (home), Auburn (away)
SEC teams avoided: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Breakdown: Georgia is going to get thrown into the fire right off the bat with a showdown against Clemson, followed by South Carolina, two teams both vying for a BCS title. Halfway through September the nation will know if this team is a title contender, or not. The Dawgs avoid Alabama and Texas A&M, and their cross-division game against LSU is at home. We would count Georgia Tech in ‘quality road opponents’ due to the simple fact that they are a hated-rival, but the Yellow Jackets are just plain not good right now.
No. 1 – Florida Gators
Home games: 6
Quality opponents: 5 (Miami, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida State)
Quality road games: 4 (Miami, LSU, Georgia in Jacksonville, South Carolina)
Out-of-conference games: Toledo (home), Miami (away), Georgia Southern (home), Florida State (home)
Cross-division games: Arkansas (home), LSU (away)
SEC teams avoided: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Breakdown: Florida will once again roll out one of the nation’s toughest schedules in 2013. Could this be a sign of things to come for the Orange ‘n Blue? Only three teams in history have won the national title with the nation’s toughest schedule, two of those being the Florida Gators. Will Muschamp and crew will have to travel away from The Swamp six times in 2013. That includes games in Miami, Baton Rouge, Jacksonville, and South Carolina. Luckily for the Gators, they get Florida State at home. It isn’t going to be easy for Muschamp in Year 3, but then again, nothing in the SEC ever is.