Whose schedule is easiest?

InsideTennessee brings you the best in Vol football coverage. Check out this story analyzing how the Vols' 2015 SEC schedule compares to the league's other programs:

Anyone who thinks the schedule-maker has minimal impact on SEC football hasn’t been paying attention.

Missouri won the Eastern Division in 2013 and 2014 with 7-1 league marks each time. Care to guess how many of those 14 victories came against teams with winning records?


Gary Pinkel’s 2013 Tigers went to Athens and beat a Georgia team that wound up finishing 5-3 in SEC play and 8-5 overall.

All told, Pinkel has gone 13-0 against SEC teams with .500 or worse records the past two years. Counting SEC Championship Games, he is just 1-4 against teams with winning league records. He lost 27-24 at home to a 2013 South Carolina squad that wound up 6-2 in league play, then lost the 2013 SEC Championship Game 59-42 to an Auburn team that went 7-1 in conference action. Pinkel played just two SEC teams with winning league records in 2014, losing big each time. His Tigers were hammered 34-0 on their home field by Georgia during the regular season, then trounced 42-13 by Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

Pinkel deserves credit for beating the teams he’s supposed to beat but he has benefited greatly from the SEC East being down and getting lucky draws in crossover games against the SEC West. He drew a 3-5 Ole Miss team and a 4-4 Texas A&M team in 2013, then drew a 3-5 A&M team and a 2-6 Arkansas team in 2014.

So, which teams appear to have the most favorable SEC schedules for 2015? Here’s a team-by-team breakdown:

Alabama has the misfortune to draw arguably the SEC East’s top two teams, Georgia and Tennessee, as crossover foes. Worse, the Tide must face hostile crowds in what projects to be its three toughest games – at Georgia, at Mississippi State and at Auburn. The other SEC road game is against one of the few teams to beat Bama during the past four years, Texas A&M.


Arkansas faces an even stiffer challenge as an SEC visitor. The Razorbacks must play at Tennessee, at Alabama, at Ole Miss and at LSU. In addition, they play a so-called “neutral site” game against Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas.


Auburn gets a break this year. The Tigers face perhaps their four toughest foes – Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia and Alabama – in the Loveliest Village on the Plains. LSU and Arkansas will be challenging on the road but Gus Malzahn’s team should be good enough to prevail at Kentucky and at Texas A&M.


Florida appears likely to be mediocre in 2015, and its SEC schedule could make a bad situation worse. The Gators project to be home underdogs against Ole Miss and Tennessee, plus road dogs at Kentucky, Missouri and LSU. They’ll be decided underdogs in their annual Jacksonville clash with Georgia. If Florida loses all of those, it’s looking at a 2-6 league record.


Georgia has a very favorable SEC schedule. The Dawgs get 2014 SEC division champs Alabama and Missouri in Athens, along with South Carolina and Kentucky. The SEC road slate features mid-level tests at Tennessee and Auburn, plus a likely cake walk at Vanderbilt. Florida is down, so the annual cocktail party in Jacksonville shouldn’t be much of a challenge for Mark Richt’s boys.


Kentucky is improving and could be a surprise team, thanks to a manageable schedule. The Cats should beat Vanderbilt on the road, meaning they could go 5-3 in league play if they hold serve at home against Florida, Missouri, Auburn and Tennessee. Road games at South Carolina, Mississippi State and Georgia won’t be much fun, though.


LSU may be an underdog in all four of its SEC road games this fall – at Mississippi State, at South Carolina, at Alabama and at Ole Miss. The Tigers get a break, however, in that they won’t have to face any of the East’s top three teams (Georgia, Tennessee, Missouri).


Ole Miss has the fine fortune to face probably the East’s two weakest teams, Florida and Vanderbilt, as crossover foes. The Rebels have a good chance to sweep their conference home games – Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, Arkansas, LSU – and should beat Florida in Gainesville. Winning at Alabama is unlikely but Hugh Freeze’s team has a reasonable shot at Auburn and at Mississippi State. The rub? Ole Miss plays 10 weeks in a row before its open date in Week 11.


Mississippi State’s crossover foes project to be two of the SEC East’s mid-level teams, Kentucky and Missouri. The Bulldogs get UK, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss in Starkville, which is a huge plus. The road games are all reasonably winnable – at Auburn, at Texas A&M, at Missouri and at Arkansas.


Missouri’s schedule has a little more gristle this fall. The Tigers’ crossover foes are two of the West’s better teams, Mississippi State and improving Arkansas. Missouri must face SEC East favorite Georgia on the road, along with Arkansas, Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Moreover, Gary Pinkel’s team plays eight weeks in a row before getting an open date.


South Carolina faces its three toughest East challenges on the road – at Georgia, at Missouri and at Tennessee. The Gamecocks’ crossover games against teams from the West, at Texas A&M and versus LSU, are fairly winnable, however.


Tennessee should win its SEC opener at Florida before getting Arkansas and Georgia in Knoxville. After an open date and a loss at Alabama, the Vols have a chance to finish strong with SEC games at Kentucky, versus South Carolina, at Missouri and versus Vanderbilt. If the young talent matures quickly, the Big Orange could surprise.


Texas A&M will be the crowd favorite in five of its eight SEC games. Mississippi State, Alabama, South Carolina and Auburn must visit College Station, and Arkansas shows up three hours away in Arlington. The SEC road games are winnable – at Ole Miss, at Vanderbilt and at LSU.


Vanderbilt projects to struggle in SEC play, whether the Commodores are at home or away. On a positive note, two of their most winnable SEC games (Kentucky and Texas A&M) will be played in Nashville on consecutive November Saturdays.


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