Tough early schedules for SEC teams

Talking to Georgia players a couple of weeks ago, they all seemed excited about the thought of going through their treacherous first month of the season.

The Bulldogs, who will unveil a new -- and younger -- defensive lineup this fall, begin the season at Clemson, then host South Carolina, get a breather against North Texas and then host LSU. Clemson should have one of the top offenses out there, South Carolina will be very balanced offensively and will have a solid defense yet again, and LSU's offense should be much improved. Certainly, you can't sleep on LSU's defense, even if it is going to be younger.

Georgia has some younger horses to work with on defense, but the confidence is high on that side of the ball. Still, that's an extremely tough early slate for any team.

"It's going to be a challenge," Georgia cornerback Damian Swann said, "but I feel if we can do something with those first couple of games it will make the rest of the ride a little easier. If we get over those first couple humps, we'll control our own destiny.

"It's going to be a great welcoming to college football for (the younger defensive players). It's going to be a big challenge for them, but playing in this league, you have to grow up fast."

ESPN's Travis Haney took a look at the toughest early schedules for teams around the country and, along with Georgia, Ole Miss and Tennessee made his list from the SEC.

No surprises there when you consider that Ole Miss has arguably the toughest early five-game stretch of any team in the country. The Rebels start a three-game road trip on Sept. 14 at Texas. Two weeks later, they head to Alabama and then Auburn before hosting Texas A&M and LSU.

Tennessee's rough stretch starts with a trip to Oregon on Sept. 14 before heading to Gainesville a week later. The Vols then host Georgia on Oct. 5 and South Carolina on Oct. 19 before riding down to Alabama on Oct. 26. Good luck, Butch Jones.

For the Bulldogs, this will be a really good test for a defense that has to replace 12 players who either started or played significant time in 2012. Taking on quality offenses early is a blessing and a curse for this unit. It helps a younger group grow up, but it could wear it down as well if things don't click early or improve week-to-week.

But the Bulldogs have been behind early in the SEC East race the past two years and have still made it to Atlanta.

Jones is getting a not-so-nice welcome to his new home in the SEC with that tough early stretch. After two early cupcakes, the Vols have to play the three top teams in the SEC Eastern Division right after going out to Eugene, Ore., to take on the high-flying Ducks.

This team has a lot of questions remaining on both sides of the ball, and as Haney puts it, the Vols could be playing five top-10 teams in 42 days. Rough.

As for the Rebels, Hugh Freeze made it a point to tell me this spring that his team was very fortunate to avoid the injury bug last year. It arrived this spring and if it stays through fall camp and beyond, the Rebels could be in trouble. Ole Miss has to be healthy to get through its early stretch, which no one in the country wants any part of. And you can't forget the opener at Vanderbilt. The Rebels have lost three straight to the Commodores.

September, which includes a trip to Tuscaloosa for the second straight year, and October do no favors for the Rebels in 2013.