The SEC doesn't shy away from calling itself the toughest conference in which to play in all the land. There's a lot of bravado in the SEC, but it's hard to ignore how tough of a league it is. Calling it the best isn't a stretch by any means, and the fact it has produced eight of the last 10 national champions is nothing to ignore.
That brings us to scheduling talk and a look at the toughest three- or four-game stretches for all 14 teams. Next up in the series are the Auburn Tigers.
Toughest stretch: Sept. 3-24 (vs. Clemson, vs. Arkansas State, vs. Texas A&M, vs. LSU)
Why: Sure, any time you play four SEC games in four weeks, it’s brutal – especially when two of those four are road trips to Ole Miss and Georgia. But as an Auburn fan, you can’t ignore the first month. The Tigers play three teams ranked in the top 15 of ESPN’s FPI before they even get to October, and that opening stretch probably will determine the outcome for the remainder of the season. It’s also not ideal for potentially breaking in a new quarterback.
The only good news is that all four games are at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Still, home-field advantage aside, not many teams in college football have a more difficult opener than Auburn. Its opponent, the Clemson Tigers, finished runner-up last year after losing to Alabama in the title game, and they return one of the early Heisman Trophy favorites in quarterback Deshaun Watson. Though they’re ranked No. 4 in the FPI, there’s a good chance they will be ranked No. 1 in the polls when they make the trip to the Plains.
Auburn gets a bit of a reprieve in Week 2 when Gus Malzahn’s former team Arkansas State comes to town. The Red Wolves are no cupcake, having reached a bowl game in each of the last five seasons, but this will be the easiest game of the four and one that Auburn should be able to handle. No game is easy, though. Just look at what happened in Week 2 a year ago.
The third game might be the most intriguing. Like Auburn, Texas A&M is one of those teams in 2016 that could either make a run at the division or be in the market for a new coach at the end of the year. The most likely scenario is somewhere in between, but this looks to be one of those early must-win games for both teams and in particular for Auburn, who could easily be 1-3 in the first month with a loss to the Aggies. It also doesn't bode well that since Texas A&M joined the SEC, the road team has won all four games in this series.
The final game of the stretch speaks for itself. Auburn has beaten LSU just twice in the past nine seasons, and we all remember what happened last year when Leonard Fournette rushed for 228 yards and three touchdowns in a 45-21 rout in Baton Rouge. Fournette is back this year, meaning Auburn will face not one but two Heisman frontrunners in the first month.