For as much as the SEC likes to continually flex its muscles, there's one thing the league continues to get heavily criticized about:
When it comes to finding nonconference foes to face year in and year out, the SEC as a whole hasn't exactly been on par with the rest of the country. Yes, the regular season grind in the SEC can be exhausting -- I totally understand that --- but there are far too many cupcakes littering SEC schedules. The annual "FCS Saturday" that the SEC partakes in every November is one too many.
SEC Nonconference Schedule Ranking
The number associated with each team is the percentage of games an average FBS team would be expected to lose if it faced that schedule; the higher the number, the harder the schedule.
Of the 53 nonconference games SEC teams played in during the 2014 season, 10 of them came against Power 5 teams, with the SEC going 5-5 in those games.
That number increases to 11 in 2015, but it should at least double -- if not triple -- from here on out. But what do I know? I'm just a fan of the game, who wants to see good -- no, GREAT -- football every week. Don't get me wrong, SEC play is great and all, but who wouldn't want to watch Auburn-Ohio State or Alabama-TCU in 2015?
Think about the kids!
One of the many good things to come out of the College Football Playoff is the new emphasis on strength of schedule. That prompted the SEC to create a new policy that starting in 2016, each SEC school will be required to play at least one Power 5 team annually. Personally, I think that number should increase to two per season, but this is at least some sort of start.
So how do the SEC's nonconference schedules stack up against the rest of the Power 5 conferences going forward? Well, ESPN Stats & Information has ranked the nonconference schedules for all 64 Power 5 teams over the next five years (2015-19) by calculating the difficulty of every game using the Football Power Index. While SEC teams have some of nation's toughest overall schedules as a whole, it's almost solely because of conference play. When it comes to nonconference strength, the league has "on average the weakest nonconference schedule in the country," according to ESPN Stats & Information.
It's important to note that since not all of the nonconference games have been set, Stats & Info filled in the holes for teams with either an average Power 5 opponent, an average Group of 5 opponent or an FCS opponent, based on analysis from scheduling trends. Also, the number of nonconference teams each team plays didn't matter. The strength of competition did.
Here's a look at where all 14 SEC ranked out of all 64 Power 5 teams:
18. South Carolina
44. Texas A&M
47. Mississippi State
57. Ole Miss
The SEC only has one team ranked in the top 20. That would be South Carolina at No. 18. The Gamecocks are 18th in part because they play North Carolina in Charlotte this fall, along with UCF and Clemson. South Carolina benefits from having Clemson as a nonconference rival on its schedule every season. The SEC has just three other teams in the top 40 -- No. 21 Georgia, No. 27 Florida and No. 38 Vanderbilt. Six teams rank between 43 and 50, with Missouri bringing up the rear at No. 60. Yuck. For crying out loud, the Big Ten and ACC both have six teams inside the top 20!
Alabama and LSU have proven that they aren't afraid to have one of the early season, marquee nonconference games. That's great, and more will come -- like Alabama playing Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas, this fall and USC in Arlington next year, and LSU playing Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in 2016 and playing Miami and Texas in consecutive years -- but having cupcakes such as Middle Tennessee, Kent State, Charleston Southern, Jacksonville State and a directional Kentucky school brings their rankings down.
It's interesting that Florida is in the top 30, but that's because of Florida State's success. The Gators have long been knocked for having a very soft nonconference schedule, but Florida's 2017 matchup with Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, will mark the first time the Gators have left their home state to play a regular-season nonconference game since going to Syracuse in 1991. Other than that, Colorado State and East Carolina are currently the biggest nonconference draws not named FSU. Seriously, North Texas, UMass and New Mexico State? Yawn.
Arkansas has a chance to shoot up these rankings if they take advantage of the empty spots. This fall is weak (Texas Tech and Toledo are OK), but Arkansas has a home-and-home with TCU set up for 2016-17 and another one with Michigan in 2018-19. There's plenty of space for some other quality Power 5 teams, Razorbacks!
SEC schools can still beef up their future schedules -- which they most certainly need to do as a whole -- but there are a few games I'm excited about. Georgia's games with Notre Dame in 2017 and 2019 sound fun, as does Mississippi State's game at Kansas State in 2018. Ole Miss' game against Florida State in Orlando in 2016 should be intriguing, as should Texas A&M's matchups with Arizona State this fall and UCLA next year. And Tennessee-Virginia Tech at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2016 should be a hoot.