Grading SEC Slates: Part 1


Published: Friday, June 21, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, June 20, 2013 at 9:29 p.m.

Spring football is over, the SEC Network has been launched and we're all staring straight at the brutal months of summer when the love bugs are thicker than the humidity.

Of course, that means it's time to be thinking about the next football season.

So much of how the teams in this conference will do depends on scheduling. Who do you play and where do you play them?

We've already heard Les Miles complaining about his SEC schedule and we heard more about a nine-game conference schedule in the annual spring meetings in Destin.

And who knows when this league is going to expand again?

But we do know what 2013 is going to look like. So we bring you a three-part series rating the schedules of each of the 14 SEC schools. Today, is the first third of the season, followed by the middle third and then the closing games.

So here, in order, are the teams who open with the toughest schedules down to the easiest:

1. Georgia.

At Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas, LSU.

South Carolina's return to the first part of the schedule makes Steve Spurrier happy. LSU's return to the schedule makes everyone else in the East happy. Mark Richt likes to open up with a tough game and he has it in Clemson. We'll know a lot more about Georgia's defense, which was crippled by early departures, after this stretch.

2. Alabama.

Virginia Tech in Atlanta, at Texas A&M, Colorado State, Ole Miss.

There's a bye between weeks one and two which makes the task of going to College Station to face the one team that beat you last year a little less daunting. Alabama fans in Tuscaloosa won't see their team at home until the fourth week of the college football season.

3. Ole Miss.

At Vanderbilt, SE Missouri State, at Texas, at Alabama.

Hugh Freeze will have his work cut out for him with this early schedule. The Vandy game comes with all the trappings of a Thursday night on ESPN. There is a bye week before Alabama. Thanks for nothing.

4. Tennessee.

Austin Peay, Western Kentucky, at Oregon, at Florida.

Butch Jones will be able to ease into his first season as a Vol and then it's on. Flying across the country to face the Ducks in that stadium? Who scheduled this? And Tennessee hasn't won in Gainesville since the Zook administration.

5. South Carolina.

North Carolina, at Georgia, Vanderbilt, at UCF.

Remember what Spurrier said last year when they faced Georgia in October? “I sort of always liked playing them that second game because you could always count on them having two or three key players suspended." Well, they're back.

6. Vanderbilt.

Ole Miss, Austin Peay, at South Carolina, at UMass.

At Massachusetts? Who does that? Well, it was a two-for-one and the game is at the Patriots' stadium, so we get it. The bigger issue is the game that precedes it.

7. LSU.

TCU in Arlington, UAB, Kent State, Auburn.

LSU's bye weeks are late in the season so the Georgia game is not among the first four, even though it is for Georgia. Confused? Try transcribing Miles' news conferences. That'll really throw you.

8. Kentucky.

Western Kentucky, Miami of Ohio, Louisville, Florida.

The Wildcats face the two teams who faced off in the Sugar Bowl in back-to-back games. And both teams may be better than they were a year ago.

9. Florida.

Toledo, at Miami, Tennessee, at Kentucky.

This is probably the last time you'll see the Gators play at Miami in your lifetime. Yes, even if you're 7 years old. Toledo, which won nine games last year, is no gimmee in the opener.

10. Auburn.

Washington State, Arkansas State, Mississippi State, at LSU.

Washington State is still a long way from being a legitimate BCS team. LSU is not. Mississippi State may have hit the ceiling under Dan Mullen.

11. Texas A&M.

Rice, Sam Houston State, Alabama, SMU.

It's almost like, “Which of these teams does not belong in this group.” The Alabama game will be huge. The other three are chances for Johnny Football to launch another Heisman Trophy campaign.

12. Mississippi State.

Oklahoma State in Houston, Alcorn State, at Auburn, Troy.

Tough opener for the Bulldogs and it could be a morale-destroyer for their defense.

13. Arkansas.

Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, Southern Miss, at Rutgers.

Rutgers beat Arkansas last year. But that was when the Razorbacks were coached by your wacky uncle.

14. Missouri.

Murray State, Toledo, at Indiana, Arkansas State.

This first four will give coach Gary Pinkel a little job security. A very little.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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