Strictly for yuks, I took a glance at this season’s conference scheduling (note: Auburn moved the Samford game to the week before the Iron Bowl after the link was posted) to see which schools might get an advantage/disadvantage over how the 2010 schedules laid out. Here’s my team-by-team, not-even-out-of-February best guesses about that:
- Alabama. The early season slate is similar to last year’s, other than that the Tide travels to Happy Valley to play Penn State. As for conference games, ‘Bama drops South Carolina for Vanderbilt, which is a plus. Arkansas and LSU have to travel to Tuscaloosa (and Alabama’s bye week comes before the LSU game). Florida is a road game. They’ve scheduled Georgia Southern the week before the Iron Bowl, which could be a minor pain in the ass. Overall assessment: slightly more difficult.
- Arkansas. The first three games are a breeze. And they’ll have a good shot at winning five of the last six, as two of the road games are at Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. It’s the three games in between – at Alabama, vs. Texas A&M and Auburn – that will make or break the season for the Hogs. They swap Tennessee for Georgia from the East which, arguably, is slightly better. Overall assessment: unchanged.
- Auburn. Last year’s schedule was soft enough that I thought before the season Auburn was looking at nine wins, for sure (Cam and Fairley made a potentially good season into one for the ages). This year’s? Not so much. The Tigers have five road games and Kentucky drops off the schedule, replaced by Florida. Just from the personnel losses, you’d figure that Auburn was going to find much tougher sledding in 2011, and the schedule doesn’t do them any favors. Overall assessment: significantly more difficult.
- Florida. The Gators draw Alabama, LSU and Auburn from the West this season. As daunting as that sounds, it’s even worse: they
payplay those three on consecutive weekends and LSU and Auburn are road games. South Carolina is a road game. Last season showed FSU isn’t a patsy anymore. This may be the most difficult schedule any SEC team plays in 2011. Welcome back, Coach Muschamp. Overall assessment: more difficult.
- Georgia. If Georgia returns to being a competent, competitive team in 2011, they’ll have the potential to go a long way on this schedule. Getting past the first two opponents (yeah, I know, but remember they don’t leave the state to play either) sets things up nicely for an early season run going into the Cocktail Party, prior to which the Dawgs will enjoy a bye week. And dodging Alabama, Arkansas and LSU from the West certainly doesn’t hurt. Biggest negative is that the Dawgs are tied with Alabama for the most conference opponents which have bye weeks before playing, with three. Overall assessment: less difficult.
- Kentucky. The non-conference slate is the yawner we’ve grown accustomed to seeing the ‘Cats play; the only rub is that Louisville looks to be a team on the rise under Charlie Strong. Still, Kentucky gets that rivalry game in Lexington. They drop Auburn, but add LSU on the road. They finish the season with five straight conference games, which no other SEC school matches. Overall assessment: slightly more difficult.
- LSU. The schedule rivals Florida’s as the conference’s toughest, but for a different reason. These Tigers are the only SEC team with two non-conference opponents from Big Six conferences. And both are credible – Oregon and West Virginia. The East rotation isn’t any more daunting than last year’s, though, as the Tigers switch from Vanderbilt to Kentucky and get Florida at home. Still, if LSU winds up being a national title contender in 2011, as some predict, they’ll have earned it. Overall assessment: more difficult.
- Mississippi. The Rebels have a road game at Fresno State. Why? And they play BYU to open instead of Memphis. The conference schedule is relatively mellow, as they draw Vanderbilt, Georgia (which replaces Tennessee) and Kentucky from the East. The bye week is before Alabama, which can’t hurt. Overall assessment: slightly more difficult.
- Mississippi State. These Bulldogs won’t sneak up on anybody this year and the schedule doesn’t really do them any favors. For some reason, MSU plays two of their cupcake games (Memphis and UAB) on the road, which is weird. Florida is replaced with South Carolina, which isn’t particularly helpful, although SC has to travel to Starkville to play. And the season plays out tough over the last three games: ‘Bama, at Arkansas and the rivalry game with Ole Miss. Still, it’s pretty similar to what they dealt with in 2010. Overall assessment: unchanged.
- South Carolina. Eight home games is good. The ‘Cocks drop Alabama for Mississippi State, which is a plus. Given the way they usually sell out to prepare for Georgia, the Navy game could be tricky, but other than that, things lay out pretty nicely. Overall assessment: slightly less difficult.
- Tennessee. They should start 3-1, as there’s no one on the non-conference slate remotely comparable to Oregon. Having to travel to Arkansas will make the Vols’ November slate more difficult, but they’re likely to finish 3-1, too. It’s the middle four games – Georgia, LSU, at Alabama and South Carolina – when the rubber will meet the road. Still, you have to like their overall chances to improve with only four away games. Overall assessment: less difficult.
- Vanderbilt. Your first impression – does it really matter? – isn’t exactly unfair. Vandy opens with Elon instead of Northwestern, which should help, and Connecticut is a home game. LSU is replaced with a game at Alabama. And the bye week comes before that game, for what that’s worth. In the end, though, it strikes me as being the same as it ever was. Overall assessment: unchanged.