The third installment of this offseason series is all about the football crazy South and their championship winning football teams.
The SEC's scheduling is always a fun topic to talk about, so feel free to chime in with any comments you may have.
Before we start I have to announce that I've been grading these teams basically within their own conference.
So if you see Florida with a B- for example and I gave Cincinnati the same grade, it doesn't necessarily mean they have the same strength of schedule.
Also, like last year some of the SEC teams are getting kind of frisky with their out of conference scheduling.
We have a whopping 9 OOC road games, 6 BCS opponents outside of the SEC, and 4 whole games outside of the South!
However, Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Florida all see it fit to have zero road games out of conference. And they are all in the same division too.
Now, let's do this!
OOC Home: Florida Atlantic, UAB, Furman, and Florida State
OOC Road: None
Conference Home: Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia (Jacksonville), and Vanderbilt
Conference Road: Kentucky, LSU, Auburn, and South Carolina
Who They Miss: Arkansas, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State
No one epitomizes the lameness of the SEC scheduling philosophy more than Florida, where as you can see they have put three cozy home games on their schedule outside of the SEC before finally playing the Seminoles late in the season.
This is almost a B+ schedule however due to the inclusion of a (likely) top 10 FSU team, plus what should be three brutal road games in the SEC.
However, the Gators do miss a couple very good teams in Arkansas and Mississippi State, but host Alabama for only the ninth time in history, and only the fourth time since 1991.
OOC Home: Boise State (Georgia Dome), Coastal Carolina, and New Mexico State
OOC Road: Georgia Tech
Conference Home: South Carolina, Mississippi State, Auburn, and Kentucky
Conference Road: Ole Miss, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, and Florida (Jacksonville)
Who They Miss: Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU
I know this grade might seem a little low, but if the Bulldogs can get past Boise State early in the season, this schedule sets up about as favorable as can be in the SEC.
I don't think this is a national contender Boise team (they have to take a step back at some point, right?) and Georgia Tech is nothing more than a middling BCS team. Add to that two seriously weak games outside conference play and this schedule doesn't look as tough as a first glance may have you think.
There are three tough home games, but unless Tennessee overachieves this year Georgia might not play a true road game against a winning team in the SEC in 2011.
The Dawgs also miss out playing what have been the three best teams in the western division, one of which will probably be the conference champion. If there's a team floating around the back end of the top 25 that you want to bet will win 10+ games next year, this Georgia schedule might be the one to throw some money down on.
OOC Home: Western Kentucky (Nashville), Central Michigan, Louisville, and Jacksonville State
OOC Road: None
Conference Home: Florida, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Tennessee
Conference Road: LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt, and Georgia
Who They Miss: Alabama, Arkansas, and Auburn
Aside from their rivalry game with Louisville (which bores most of the country to death anyway), Kentucky's OOC schedule leaves a lot, and I mean a lot, to be desired.
The Wildcats are playing in three tough stadiums on the road in the SEC, but their home slate isn't all that impressive (particularly if Florida stays down in 2011).
Overall, this has to be considered one of the weakest schedules in the SEC, especially with three top western teams missing from it.
OOC Home: East Carolina (Charlotte), Navy, Citadel, and Clemson
OOC Road: None
Conference Home: Vanderbilt, Auburn, Kentucky, and Florida
Conference Road: Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Arkansas
Who They Miss: Alabama, LSU, and Ole Miss
Yes, Citadel is on there and there are no away games out of conference, but the Gamecocks will play one team with a small pulse (East Carolina) and two other teams ripe for an upset (Navy and Clemson).
South Carolina does avoid the two monsters from the west, which lowers their strength of schedule considerably, but they also face four daunting road games in the SEC, including going a whole month (with a bye week) without playing in the comforts of Williams-Brice Stadium.
OOC Home: Montana, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Middle Tennessee
OOC Road: None
Conference Home: Georgia, LSU, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt
Conference Road: Florida, Alabama, Arkansas, and Kentucky
Who They Miss: Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State
Aside from hosting Cincinnati in week two, the Volunteers don't have anything to fear with their OOC schedule. That should be three gimme's for Dooley & Co. to pad the stats.
This schedule has more of a C grade feel to it especially without two quality teams in Auburn and Mississippi State, but Tennessee gets major bonus points for having to play what I consider to be the top 4 teams in the SEC (and that doesn't even include Florida or Georgia)!
That's a lot of rough waters to navigate for the boys from Rocky Top.
OOC Home: Elon, UConn, and Army
OOC Road: Wake Forest
Conference Home: Ole Miss, Georgia, Arkansas, and Kentucky
Conference Road: South Carolina, Alabama, Florida, and Tennessee
Who They Miss: Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi State
No one out of conference is scary, although the Commodores should be underdogs to Connecticut. Still, Vanderbilt won't be awarded many points for this type of lineup.
The home schedule in the SEC is about as easy as can be, and they miss what should be three ranked teams in Auburn, LSU, and Mississippi State. However, their road schedule is absolutely brutal with no breathers at all (not there really are for Vanderbilt in the SEC, but you know what I mean).
OOC Home: Kent State, North Texas, and Georgia Southern
OOC Road: Penn State
Conference Home: Arkansas, Vanderbilt, Tennessee, and LSU
Conference Road: Florida, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Auburn
Who They Miss: Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina
If it was 1991 the game at Happy Valley would mean more, but as it is that's just not that matchup it could be. In other words, even with a road game against Penn State this is still a pretty weak OOC schedule, including three ludicrous home games that should shame any Alabama fan.
The Tide get LSU and Arkansas at home, but have a rare visit to the Swamp to go along with road trips to Mississippi State and Auburn.
They do miss a tough South Carolina and possibly a tough Georgia team, making this a pretty manageable schedule for a team of Alabama's caliber.
OOC Home: Missouri State, New Mexico (Little Rock), and Troy
OOC Road: Texas A&M (Cowboys Stadium)
Conference Home: Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Mississippi State (Little Rock)
Conference Road: Alabama, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, and LSU
Who They Miss: Florida, Georgia, and Kentucky
The neutral site game against the Aggies is a big boost here, but Arkansas isn't winning any friends of schedule strength committees with their home games in 2011.
However, they have four challenging home games and still have to visit the conference's two best teams on the road. The Razorbacks do luck out with two other road games against the bottom of the conference in Vanderbilt and Ole Miss though.
Why two games in Little Rock? And why against New Mexico (seriously?) and Mississippi State?
Could you imagine Notre Dame scheduling a team even worse than Western Michigan last year and then moving the game to Solider Field?
OOC Home: Utah State, Florida Atlantic, and Samford
OOC Road: Clemson
Conference Home: Mississippi State, Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama
Conference Road: South Carolina, Arkansas, LSU, and Georgia
Who They Miss: Kentucky, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt
Like many BCS teams, the Tigers have loaded up on sacrificial lambs for their three-game OOC schedule. Luckily, there's a competitive game against Clemson in there.
Auburn's grade is so high because they miss the three weakest teams in the eastern division, which means they are likely to play the top 7 teams in the SEC.
Add that up and it will be another one of those year's where the Tigers are playing half of their games (or more) against ranked opponents.
If you want to know why the SEC is the best conference, just think that the defending national champions (with a lot of starters lost, I know) still with a lot of talent, could legitimately be the underdog in 6 or 7 games in league play this upcoming season.
When is the last time Ohio State, Oregon, or Oklahoma had that problem?
OOC Home: Oregon (Cowboys Stadium), Northwestern State, and Western Kentucky
OOC Road: West Virginia
Conference Home: Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, and Arkansas
Conference Road: Mississippi State, Tennessee, Alabama, and Ole Miss
Who They Miss: Georgia, South Carolina, and Vanderbilt
I think this will be the most difficult schedule in the country for the 2011 regular season.
In addition to the grueling play in the SEC, the Tigers have to face the defending (and 2011 favorite) Pac-10 champions, as well as the likely favorite to win the Big East. And neither game is at Death Valley.
The rest of their league schedule is pretty balanced, and they miss two quality teams in Georgia and South Carolina, but three tough home games and two grueling road contests make this almost an impossible schedule to go unbeaten against.
OOC Home: Louisiana Tech, and UT-Martin
OOC Road: Memphis, and UAB
Conference Home: LSU, South Carolina, Alabama, and Ole Miss
Conference Road: Auburn, Georgia, Kentucky, and Arkansas (Little Rock)
Who They Miss: Florida, Tennessee, and Vanderbilt
We should give Mississippi State some credit for playing two road games out of conference (virtually unheard of for a Southern team), but the teams they are playing are awful.
It's schedules like this that allow a team to go 2-6 in conference play and still make a bowl game.
The SEC schedule is tough, with only one breather for home and away, but this looks like it is ripe for a 10-win season for the Bulldogs.
OOC Home: BYU, Southern Illinois, and Louisiana Tech
OOC Road: Fresno State
Conference Home: Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU
Conference Road: Vanderbilt, Auburn, Kentucky, and Mississippi State
Who They Miss: Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee
There's going to be an SEC team playing in California!?!?!?
The Rebels play a couple solid opponents outside of league play, but do get the luck of missing three quality opponents in Florida, South Carolina, and Tennessee in the SEC.
Ole Miss' home schedule is loaded to ridiculous proportions, but that is offset by a relatively easy road schedule for an SEC team.
If the Rebels can win three or four of their OOC games, this should be an easy enough schedule to get to a decent bowl game.