August 14, 2022

SEC football: winners and losers of the new schedule

SEC Football

The Tennessee Volunteers prepare to take the field against Missouri Saturday November 23, 2019 at Memorial Stadium. (Lynn Harrington/stayaliveinpower5)

The final piece of the puzzle has been completed for the upcoming season.

The almighty SEC put the finishing touches on its’ conference only format and now all 14 teams are locked, loaded and ready to go. Although each team plays five home games and another five on the road, there’s a thin line.

It’s almost like the rich got richer and the bottom feeders can very well remain cellar dwellers. Still, it’s any given autumn Saturday in the SEC. The College football world should be grateful these games are set in place and everyone is starving in anticipation.

The wait is over and here’s how all of the 14 teams panned out.

WINNERS

Alabama:¬†Instead of opening SEC play against Georgia, Alabama starts off its’ 2020 campaign on the road against a rebuilding Missouri team. Not to mention Nick Saban has yet to lose a season opener with the Crimson Tide. He’s also 8-0 against Texas A&M and Ole Miss over the past four years. The measuring stick game will come at home against Georgia, but Alabama has won five-straight games in the series. The road trip to Knoxville could be intriguing because Jeremy Pruitt’s team is constantly improving. However, Saban has never lost to Tennessee and has 13-straight Third Saturday in October victories. Mississippi State has gone winless against Alabama since 2008, which means Saban’s boys will likely be in cruise control heading into the bye-week. The game of the year that’ll decide the SEC race is at LSU when Alabama resumes. The Iron Bowl will be back in Tuscaloosa and sandwiched between Kentucky and Arkansas. The Crimson Tide will be playing four teams ranked in the top-15 of the preseason Coaches Poll.

Auburn: Gus Malzahn couldn’t have asked for a more favorable slate with the Tigers’ new schedule. No Florida and four of the first five games are against unranked teams. Kentucky will be outmanned and outgunned in the opener. The rivalry clash with Georgia in week two will let College Football fanatics know if Auburn is the real deal. Arkansas, South Carolina and Ole Miss are all inferior to Auburn and Malzahn’s team could potentially be undefeated heading into the clash at home against LSU. A win over the Bayou Bengals and the Tigers will be in cruise control returning from their bye-week. Playing Mississippi State on the road will be challenging, considering Auburn has lost three of its’ last four trips to Starkville. Tennessee poses a threat because it won at Jordan-Hare in 2018, but Auburn still has won six of the past seven meetings. Alabama will be looking for revenge in the Iron Bowl and this time it will be at Bryant-Denny, a place Auburn hasn’t won at since Cam Newton was behind center. Hosting the Aggies on Senior Day is no gimmie, considering they have won three of their last four trips to the Jungle.

Florida: Gator fans are expecting big things out of Dan Mullen in year three. He received a gift with the new schedule. Opening up the season at Ole Miss and hosting South Carolina is as favorable as it gets in SEC play. However, clashing with Texas A&M on the road and hosting the reigning National Champs is a big leap in competition. By the time Missouri visits the Swamp, everyone will know if Mullen’s team is pretenders or contenders. Florida returns from the bye-week for a pivotal game with rival Georgia. The Gators have lost three-straight to the Bulldogs and Mullen is 0-3 against Kirby Smart head-to-head. However, if Florida can get through Georgia, the remainder of their schedule is manageable. Arkansas and Vanderbilt are two of the worst teams in the league and Florida has pretty much owned Kentucky and Tennessee. Regardless of the matter, there’s some buzz back in Gainesville. Quarterback Kyle Trask appears to be ready for the challenge and there are enough blockbuster games on the Gators’ slate for him to make a statement.

Georgia: Although two of the Bulldogs first four games are against heavyweights from the West, their schedule set up nicely. Kirby Smart’s team gets the scrimmage game against Arkansas before the measuring stick with Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry. Georgia is too talented to slip up against Tennessee, but all eyes will be on the matchup at Alabama. The Bulldogs haven’t won in Tuscaloosa since Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno were in the backfield. However, if the Bulldogs can leave Bryant-Denny with a win the sky will be the limit for them. Georgia hasn’t lost at Kentucky since 1996 and doesn’t have to play a game on Halloween. Smart has won three-straight over Florida and is 3-0 against Mullen head-to-head. The last four games on the schedule are against teams that are all coming off non-winning seasons. Georgia also got a break on the schedule by avoiding LSU and this fall could potentially be Smart’s best chance at having an undefeated regular season.

Kentucky: The Wildcats new schedule didn’t change much opponent wise, besides the addition of Alabama. It’s still a challenging slate and Mark Stoops has only finished with a winning record in SEC play once over the last seven years. Having to open the season at Auburn is asking a lot, but Kentucky won its’ last trip to Jordan-Haire, which was in 2009. The next two games at home against the Mississippi schools are winnable. The Wildcats have lost their last 17 trips to Neyland Stadium. Not to mention Kentucky hasn’t beat Georgia since 2009. Missouri and Vanderbilt could possibly be Kentucky’s easiest opponents on the schedule. However, Kentucky’s last two road trips to Alabama and Florida are as tough as it gets in College Football. Although the Wildcats did win their last trip to the Swamp, they have never beat the Crimson Tide in the state of Alabama. The Wildcats hosts Will Muschamp’s scrappy Gamecocks on Senior Day and it’ll be a surprise if they aren’t clawing at the surface for their sixth win of the season.

LSU: It’s not often a team loses nearly half of the roster to the NFL and still be perceived as National Title contenders the following season. The new schedule sets the Tigers up for a great start as they navigate through the SEC meat grinder. Ed Orgeron’s team should be undefeated heading into the measuring stick game at the Swamp. South Carolina hasn’t won in Death Valley since 1994 and is 1-12 all-time in Baton Rouge. However, traveling to play Auburn on the Plains will be a daunting task, even for the elite of the SEC. The Tigers will get some much needed rest with their bye-week and return for the game of the year in Tiger Stadium. Orgeron snapped LSU’s eight-game losing streak to Alabama last season and raised the stakes in the series. Arkansas could potentially be another laugher and everyone remembers the final score at Kyle Field the last time LSU visited. The Magnolia Bowl for the season finale caps off a challenging schedule for the reigning National Champs. Still, the slate features four teams in the top-15 of the Coaches Poll in a seven-week span and the Tigers are out to prove last season was no fluke.

South Carolina: The Gamecocks have arguably had some of the toughest schedules in the FBS as of late. This time around is no different, with road trips to Florida and LSU, plus Auburn got added to the mix. Will Muschamp’s last and only winning season in SEC play with South Carolina came in 2017. No doubt it’s going to be challenging this fall for the Gamecocks, considering they play five teams ranked in the top-15. The opener against Tennessee could go either way, but the trip to the Swamp will likely be a loss. Vanderbilt is South Carolina’s easiest opponent on the menu, but Auburn, LSU and Texas A&M will be tough to digest. However, the schedule lightens up for the Gamecocks’ last four games. Ole Miss and Missouri are breaking in new coaches. Not to mention South Carolina beat Georgia and Kentucky last season. In hindsight, Muschamp’s experience in the SEC should benefit his team’s schedule and he needs to deliver something promising to keep the naysayers from talking about his job security by the end of the year.

LOSERS

Arkansas: The Razorbacks are on their third coach in the last four years. So basically there’s nothing for Arkansas to do, but go up. However, the new schedule may keep Sam Pittman’s team down for the time being. Florida and Georgia got added to the slate, plus all the other usual suspects from the West division. Having to open the season against a top-five team for your first game is a tall order for any coach. Then there’s back-to-back road trips to Mississippi State and Auburn, two teams Arkansas has lost to for the past three seasons. In all honesty, the Ole Miss game at home might be the best chance for Arkansas to find a win. After the bye-week the Razorbacks have arguably the toughest six-game stretch of any SEC team. Out of those six weeks, Arkansas goes up against four top-15 teams, including two on the road. Pittman’s team has to travel to Kyle Field and the Swamp. Not to mention Arkansas hosts the reigning National Champs and squares off with Alabama on Senior Day. Still, it’s just another autumn Saturday in the SEC.

Mississippi State: The new schedule made sure Mike Leach receives a great introduction to SEC football. Too bad Mississippi State can’t open conference play with Arkansas. Instead the Bulldogs have to travel to Death Valley for a clash against the defending National Champs. Life in the SEC West is already brutal enough and East powerhouse Georgia got added to the slate. As of now Leach’s squad will face five top-15 teams out of their 10 games. The other five games on the schedule are winnable, but it still could potentially be a tough first year for Mike Leach in the league. It’ll be intriguing to see how Leach utilizes workhorse running back Kylin Hill in his Air Raid offense. If Hill is used effectively, he could ease the scheme’s transition from smashmouth to aerial assault. It’s unfortunate Leach didn’t get a chance to implement his system in spring ball. The Bulldogs haven’t finished with a winning record in conference play since 2014. It’s odd to see Mississippi State not playing Ole Miss to close out the season, but when the smoke clears Leach should feel right at home in the SEC.

Missouri: The Tigers definitely got the short end of the stick with the new schedule. The SEC will be giving Eliah Drinkwitz a warm welcome with Alabama in the opener. Not to mention the reigning National Champs were added to the slate and that game will be in Death Valley. Sandwich a trip to Knoxville between those two matchups and Missouri has arguably the toughest first three games of any SEC team. If that wasn’t brutal enough, a trip to the swamp against a top-10 Florida team for game five solidifies Missouri has a daunting first half of the season. A bye-week will be much needed for the Tigers. However, Missouri resumes play against Georgia, one of the most talented teams in the country and the reigning SEC East Champs. Bottom line, if the Tigers have a winning record heading into their clash at William-Brice Stadium, they would’ve earned it. The last two games for Missouri will be against teams that are breaking in new coaches, which should stop the bleeding.

Ole Miss: The SEC welcomed Lane Kiffin back by scheduling two of the Rebels’ first three games against top-10 competition. Kiffin showed his disgust for Florida during his lone season with Tennessee. So expect more of the same in the opener against the Gators. The road game at Kentucky will be a dog fight for Kiffin’s team. Reuniting with mentor Nick Saban will be bittersweet for Kiffin. Alabama will show no mercy and may run Ole Miss out of its’ own stadium. Besides Auburn, three of Mississippi’s next four games are very winnable. However, a daunting three-game slate looms to close out the season. Kyle Field is a tough place to win at late in November, plus last year’s slip up only added fuel to the fire in the Egg Bowl. If that wasn’t enough for a coach in his first year with a program, than traveling to Tiger Stadium for the season finale is as tough as it gets. Kiffin has gained valuable experience working under Saban and that should benefit him as his team navigates through the SEC gauntlet.

Tennessee: The Volunteers have momentum and are riding a six-game win streak into the upcoming season. Starting out the gates with South Carolina is winnable, but not guaranteed, and Jeremy Pruitt has lost his first two season openers. Hosting Missouri in game two is another favorable matchup for Tennessee. However, the Tigers dropped 50 on the scoreboard the last time they visited Neyland Stadium. Between the Hedges looms in week three, plus the Bulldogs have won the last three over the Volunteers and outscored them 122-26 during that span. Tennessee hosts a dangerous Kentucky team for game four that hasn’t won in Neyland since 1984. The Volunteers follow up that clash with the Third Saturday in October rivalry and Nick Saban has owned the Cigar Game since he took over in Tuscaloosa. By the time the bye-week strolls around, Tennessee will be battle-tested. Still, Pruitt’s squad won’t have time to relax though, with three of their last four games against ranked teams.

Texas A&M: There’s no denying Jimbo Fisher is one of the highest paid coaches in SEC. However, that doesn’t help his cause when it comes to scheduling. Texas A&M fans are hoping he delivers something promising this fall. After all, it’s year three on the job and there’s no Clemson on the slate. The SEC West is brutal every Saturday, but Fisher’s team also has to deal with addition of Florida and Tennessee to the schedule. Opening up with Vanderbilt should get the entire team ready for the trip to Tuscaloosa in week two. Two-straight weeks of taking on top-10 teams in the Crimson Tide and the Gators could be overwhelming for any program. Still, the Aggies’ next five games are all winnable. That should provide Fisher’s group with some momentum heading into the last two matchups with LSU and Auburn. The Bayou Bengals will be looking for payback after losing their last trip to College Station into a jaw-dropping, seven overtimes. Closing out the year at Jordan-Hare could possibly be too much for even a veteran coach like Fisher to overcome.

Vanderbilt: Derek Mason has gone 10-38 in SEC play over the past six seasons and faces a crucial 2020. However, the new schedule didn’t change up much, besides the addition of LSU and Mississippi State. It might seem the Commodores have been set up for failure with their first two games against ranked teams from the West. However, Vanderbilt’s next four games are against teams coming off losing seasons. No to mention three of those matchups are against teams breaking in new coaches. The tilts against South Carolina, Missouri and the Mississippi schools will be toss ups, but are all winnable. The Commodores last four games are against their East foes coming off winning seasons. That’s a combined overall record of 39-14 in 2019 and all are expected to be improved for the fall. Still, with a couple of breaks, Mason’s squad can pull a few upsets and potentially carve out six wins along the way. It helps that Vanderbilt avoids Alabama and Auburn along the way also.