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2019 SEC Football Strength of Schedule Review

Ever since the beginning of the College Football Playoff just a few years ago, scheduling for college teams has mattered more than ever, with the toughness of the games a team has played affecting the entire rankings. Teams like Alabama consistently schedule high school level opposition to help them get an easy schedule, but this can backfire for some teams at ranking time before the playoffs. Using the model of Tom Fornelli from CBS Sports (further explained at the bottom of the page), here is the ranking of each SEC football squad’s schedule in 2019, from hardest to easiest.

#1 – South Carolina Gamecocks

The Gamecocks look primed to be a good squad entering the year, led by standout senior quarterback Jake Bentley, but a schedule with Alabama, Missouri, Kentucky and Clemson at home, as well as Texas A&M, Georgia, Florida and giant killers Appalachian State on the road does the boys from Columbia no favours, and could hold the team back.

#2 – Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia’s schedule isn’t something to simply pass over. A couple of ju-co level teams in Murray State and Arkansas State will be easy, but Notre Dame in Sanford Stadium, Vanderbilt on the road to open the year, Texas A&M, Auburn, Florida and Georgia Tech proves to be a tough schedule for one of CFB’s best teams.

#3 – Texas A&M Aggies

The Aggies, like South Carolina, play the three teams that have made the title game over the last two years. Having Alabama, Georgia AND Clemson on your schedule is a death wish. But non-conference games of Lamar, UTSA and Texas State make the Aggies schedule nothing compared to the high-thrill schedule rollercoaster the Gamecocks will have to travel.

#4 – Arkansas Razorbacks

Arkansas is bad, and the fact that they don’t have Arkansas on their schedule, funnily enough, makes their SOS harder than that of their other SEC West rivals that DO have Arkansas on their schedule.  Yikes. The nonconference games feature the likes of Western Kentucky and Colorado State, nothing to write home about, and Kentucky and Mizzou from the East is not too much. Texas A&M at a neutral site, plus Alabama and LSU on the road is what will kill this team down the stretch.

#5 – Ole Miss Rebels

The Rebels have a respectable schedule, but nothing extremely harsh. The Golden Bears of California will fly down to Oxford, while Ole Miss will head up to Memphis in a nonconference matchup. Texas A&M in Oxford is fine, while getting Vanderbilt isn’t too bad. But their normal schedule of Alabama, Auburn, LSU and the Egg Bowl game against Mississippi State boosts their SOS up a bit.

#6 – Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols are looking to improve this year, and their schedule isn’t one that will get in the way of their high hopes. The annual game against Bama will be a tough matchup for them, while Tennessee will play Florida in Gainesville, before hosting Georgia at Neyland Stadium. Georgia State, Chattanooga and UAB will be the key nonconference teams playing Tennessee, while the nonconference headliner will be BYU. Nothing too scary.

#7 – LSU Tigers

The annual matchups against Florida, Alabama, Auburn and A&M boost the Tigers’ SOS. The big nonconference headliner for this bunch is Texas (in Austin), which should be a competitive game. Drawing Vanderbilt as their SEC East road opponent hurt this team’s SOS, but tough road contests against the SEC’s two Mississippi teams boost the SOS back up higher.

#8 – Mississippi State Bulldogs

The big nonconference game for the boys from Starkville is Kansas State, an average sort of game that could’ve been a little harder. Their other nonconference opponents include Louisiana, Southern Miss or Abilene Christian; nothing exceptional. Kentucky headed to Starkville, as well as Tennessee, provide two eh games from the SEC East. LSU and Alabama at home also help them out.

#9 – Florida Gators

The Miami Hurricanes in Orlando, Florida State and a couple of FCS teams make up the nonconference slate for the Gators. But their SEC schedule is tough, with LSU and Auburn from the West, while South Carolina, Kentucky and Mizzou on the road blows for them. Then again, we can’t forget about the game against Georgia in Jacksonville.

#10 – Missouri Tigers

Mizzou gets a bit of an easy go-around this year. Wyoming in Laremie and West Virginia at home highlight their nonconference schedule (as well as LSU killers Troy), while Ole Miss and Arkansas from the West is a win for them. Georgia on the road is a blow, but in transfer signal caller Kelly Bryant’s first year, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee will all make the journey to Columbia to play the Tigers.

#11 – Auburn Tigers

Oregon as a season opener at a neutral site has potential to be a good one, but road games at LSU, Texas A&M and Florida will be interesting, but the two best teams in the conference in Georgia and Alabama will head to Auburn from their division. Tulane, Kent State and Samford help finish up a marshmallow soft nonconference schedule.

#12 – Vanderbilt Commodores

A home game at Georgia starts off the year, in a tough opening week matchup. A road trip to Purdue, plus Northern Illinois, UNLV and Eastern Tennessee compose the Commodores’ nonconference schedule, while they also face South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee on the road, plus Kentucky at home, making a fairly easy schedule for Vanderbilt.

#13 – Kentucky Wildcats

Toledo, Eastern Michigan, UT-Martin and Louisville is one weak nonconference schedule for the Wildcats. Arkansas and Mississippi State from the West is easy pickings too, while their toughest in-conference matchup is Georgia on the road. But Kroger Field will play host to Missouri, Florida and Tennessee in an easy schedule for Big Blue.

#14 – Alabama Crimson Tide

What a surprise, Alabama has an easy schedule. The reigning SEC champions’ nonconference schedule is lead by… Duke. Not exactly a marquee matchup of any sorts. Western Carolina, New Mexico State and Southern Miss also play Alabama this year, while Tennessee and South Carolina contest the Crimson Tide from the East. Texas A&M and Auburn on the road will be their toughest matchups, as well as LSU at home, but all of their matchups will likely be easy routs once again.

The Model Used (quoted from Tom Fornelli of CBS Sports)

“Essentially, what I do is look at which teams each program is playing and how strong those teams have performed in my ranking system in past years. The history of a program is a better indicator of its future success than just about anything, though I did make a change this season.

In previous years, I ranked programs based on how they fared the last five seasons. This year, I’ve changed it to the last three seasons. Yes, the sample size is smaller, but what I noticed is that it’s typically the same teams performing well over the last three as it was the previous five. By changing it to three, it shows a bit more accuracy for the upcoming season. For example, playing UCF last season wasn’t worth as much as it probably should have been when considering UCF’s previous five seasons. Now, considering only the last three, UCF is much stronger. On the flip side, there’s a program like Oregon, which is the No. 27 team overall over the previous five seasons but is only No. 47 in the last three. Considering the Ducks haven’t finished any of the previous three seasons ranked in the AP Top 25, that No. 47 ranking better reflects their overall strength at present than the previous five seasons ranking.

Finally, I consider other factors such as where the game is played as well as when it’s played. For example, if you’re playing Boston College on the road and it’s your fifth game in five weeks, that’s more difficult than if you were playing Boston College on the road following a bye. The same can be said if your opponent is coming off a bye while you’ve played a month straight. There’s also the issue of playing on a short week. I then crunch all the numbers, and in the end, I get something that gives us all a good idea of which teams are most likely to face the most difficult schedules in 2019.”