Recently, the SEC has received some criticism for its out-of-conference scheduling practices. In an analysis of non-conference strength of schedule for the next five years, the SEC ranked last in the Power 5 (ACC, SEC, Big 10, Pac-12, and Big 12). Part of that reason for that criticism and poor ranking is a tendency to schedule home games against FCS teams during open weeks in late November (prior to rivalry weekend), a practice that has earned the monikers “FCS Saturday” and “cupcake weekend.” Those games are typically home games and, if a team brings in one or two cupcakes to start the season as well, that doesn’t lead to much traveling.
The SEC recognized that this trend needs to change in light of the new playoff system’s emphasis on strength of schedule and now requires each team to play one Power 5, non-conference opponent each season. There has also been a recent trend of playing in marquee neutral site games during opening weekend which will likely only increase with this new policy. Couple that with the additions of relatively distant Texas A&M and Missouri, as well as the fact that the latter is considered a part of the SEC East, and some teams have really started to rack up the miles.
Looking ahead to next season, we’ve added up the miles all 14 teams will travel to determine which has the toughest schedule based on distance. LSU is the only program that will eclipse 6,000 miles, while Georgia will barely break 2,000.
Following are the rankings, from No. 1 to No. 14.
Toughest SEC Football Schedules For 2015 By Distance
1. LSU – 6,238 miles
LSU’s total is a little skewed by a 2,800+ mile trip to Syracuse on September 26th. That game should be a walk in the park and it’s followed by another relatively easy game at home against Eastern Michigan, so I wouldn’t imagine this puts too much stress on the Tigers. Maybe Les Miles is just curious what the Astroturf in the Carrier Dome tastes like.
LSU’s home/away mix is actually fairly balanced. They even get a bye week before traveling to Tuscaloosa in November. The real test is week two at Mississippi State who actually managed a win in Baton Rouge last year. It’s a pivotal early season matchup for both teams that will go a long way in determining how the West shakes out going forward.
2. Florida – 5,496 miles
The Gators’ longest trips, unfortunately for them, come on back to back weekends. An October 10th trip to Missouri (2000+ miles) comes just before a trip to Death Valley (1000+ miles) on October 17th. Those games are also the beginning of a month long stretch during which the Gators do not have a home game. After the always-contentious tilt with LSU, the Gators get a much needed bye followed by a neutral site game against Georgia in Jacksonville. That three-game (four-week) stretch will determine if Florida is going to be a contender in the East or if this is the rebuilding season most fans assume it is.
3. Arkansas – 5,450 miles
Arkansas opens the season with two games in Fayetteville and one in Little Rock before heading to Arlington, Texas for a neutral site matchup against the Aggies on September 26th. That game is followed by trips to Knoxville and Tuscaloosa in what will be Arkansas’s toughest road stretch this season.
4. Auburn – 4,910 miles
After an interesting matchup in Atlanta against Louisville to open the season, Auburn has a fairly balanced scheduled. The Tigers even have the luxury of playing Georgia and Alabama at home with a buffer game against the Idaho Vandals sandwiched between the two, also at home. Auburn’s most difficult road test will be going to Baton Rouge early in the season (September 19th). Between that game and LSU’s matchup with Mississippi State the week before, the West is going to start taking shape early in the season.
5. South Carolina – 4,860 miles
In another interesting opening weekend game, South Carolina will face off against North Carolina in Charlotte. The Gamecocks only face road opponents in consecutive weeks once – Oct. 31 at Texas A&M and Nov. 7 at Tennessee. Luckily for Steve Spurrier’s squad, that stretch comes after a bye week.
6. Missouri – 4,692 miles
Missouri’s furthest trip this season will be a road game against Georgia in late October, followed by another away game at Vanderbilt the week after. The Tigers will play two games on the road in Arkansas, against Arkansas State and the Razorbacks. The remaining away game is against Kentucky.
7. Vanderbilt – 4,508 miles
Just about every game is tough when you are little fish in a big pond like the Commodores. Their longest trip is a 1,500+ mile journey to Houston to play the Cougars followed by a shorter, but significantly more hostile, trip to The Swamp.
8. Mississippi State – 4,122 miles
Mississippi State has the unfortunate luck of being the only SEC West team to have to make the trek to Missouri and Texas A&M this season, with both trips coming in at over 1,000 miles each. They are extremely lucky though to get LSU, Alabama, and Ole Miss all at home. If they have any hopes of repeating last year’s success, that should help quite a bit. The most difficult road stretch the Bulldogs face is back to back games at Auburn and at Texas A&M on weeks four and five.
9. Texas A&M – 4,022 miles
The Aggies may not travel the least, distance-wise, but they have one of the friendlier travel schedules I’ve ever seen. They don’t leave the state of Texas until October 24th, with neutral site games in Houston (Arizona State) and Arlington (Arkansas) representing their only non-home games during that stretch. They also don’t have to leave the state again until November 21st. All totaled, that gives them nine of their first 10 games inside the state of Texas (nine of 12 total). As if that were not fortunate enough, A&M will get Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, and South Carolina all at Kyle Field.
10. Tennessee – 3,646 miles
Like most SEC East teams, the furthest Tennessee will travel is to Missouri (1200+ miles). After a neutral site game with Bowling Green in Nashville to open the season, the Volunteers will host the Oklahoma Sooners followed by a visit to The Swamp two weeks later on September 26th. That trip to Gainesville is Tennessee’s toughest road test, if for no other reason than it is a huge psychological hurdle to overcome. They haven’t beaten the Gators in a decade and if they fall again, early in the season, it will be a tough blow to the Vols’ season hopes.
11. Alabama – 3,506 miles
Another season, another enticing opener for the Crimson Tide. This year they make the trip to Arlington to take on the Wisconsin Badgers who apparently decided the best way to overcome last year’s opening loss to LSU was to poke the SEC West bear again. Kudos to them and ‘Bama for making the effort to keep scheduling tough, non-conference opponents. The Tide have some challenging road games this season (Georgia, Texas A&M, Mississippi State, and Auburn) but they are nicely spaced out and should be manageable. As is the case basically every other year, the biggest game will be the hyper intense in-state matchup with Auburn to close out the regular season in Auburn.
12. Kentucky – 3,090 miles
The Wildcats’ relatively low anticipated travel mileage is mostly a product of them only having four road games. The week two trip to play the Gamecocks in Columbia will be a difficult, early test that will provide a nice barometer for where this year’s Kentucky team will wind up. A loss there followed by a visit from the Gators, who haven’t lost to Kentucky during anyone on either team’s lifetime, is not a pretty way to start the season.
13. Ole Miss – 2,626 miles
The Rebels were fortunate to draw away games that were located in mostly Mississippi and neighboring Alabama and Tennessee. With their furthest contest down in the Gainesville (1300+ miles), they will have the chance to build on last year’s success while staying relatively close to home. Unfortunately for Ole Miss, that means they play Alabama, Auburn, and rival Mississippi State on the road. The week three game at Tuscaloosa followed by that trip to The Swamp two weeks later will constitute their toughest road stretch.
14. Georgia – 2,266 miles
Georgia’s longest trip is an easy 340 miles south to Jacksonville, FL for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail on Halloween evening (yes, they have already scheduled it for 3:30 even though it’s just May and yes, I have already begun prepping my liver). The Bulldogs get South Carolina, Alabama, and Missouri all at home, between the hedges. The late season trip to Auburn and a trip to nearby rival Georgia Tech two weeks later make up the most difficult part of a very manageable road schedule.