- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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The SEC has taken its share of grief for not going out and playing anybody outside the league.
Some of it has been deserved, and some of it probably undeserved when you consider how grueling the league schedule is in the SEC.
With that said, we’ve ranked all 14 SEC schools’ nonconference schedules for the 2013 season, with No. 1 being the toughest and No. 14 being the easiest.
1. South Carolina: Aug. 29 North Carolina; Sept. 28 at UCF; Nov. 23 Coastal Carolina; Nov. 30 Clemson
The Gamecocks get the top spot based on playing three legitimate teams outside the league. They get both North Carolina and Clemson at home, but that trip to UCF at the end of September has danger written all over it.
2. Florida: Aug. 31 Toledo; Sept. 7 at Miami; Nov. 23 Georgia Southern; Nov. 30 Florida State
While the Gators don’t have to leave the state of Florida for a nonconference game (for the 21st consecutive year), they do have two stiff tests outside the league, both against bitter rivals. And nobody wants to have to deal with Georgia Southern’s option offense the week before playing Florida State.
3. Georgia: Aug. 31 at Clemson; Sept. 21 North Texas; Nov. 9 Appalachian State; Nov. 30 at Georgia Tech
That opener at Clemson under the lights in Death Valley will be a huge test right out of the gate. The Bulldogs are also the only SEC school this season playing two true road games against BCS opponents.
4. Tennessee: Aug. 31 Austin Peay; Sept. 7 Western Kentucky; Sept. 14 at Oregon; Sept. 28 South Alabama
The Vols are this high because they have the most treacherous nonconference trip of any team in the league. There’s never a good time to go to Oregon.
5. Ole Miss: Sept. 7 Southeast Missouri; Sept. 14 at Texas; Oct. 26 Idaho; Nov. 16 Troy
Along with Georgia and Tennessee, Ole Miss faces the toughest true road test outside the league in 2013 when the Rebels travel to Texas the third week of the season.
6. LSU: Aug. 31 TCU (in Arlington, Texas); Sept. 7 UAB; Sept. 14 Kent State; Oct. 26 Furman
After playing one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the country two years ago, the Tigers kick off the 2013 season with one of the more intriguing season openers in the country against TCU at JerryWorld.
7. Mississippi State: Aug. 31 Oklahoma State (in Houston); Sept. 7 Alcorn State; Sept. 21 Troy; Oct. 12 Bowling Green
Give the Bulldogs credit. After not playing anybody a year ago outside the league, they’re stepping up their game and taking on Oklahoma State in Houston to open the season.
8. Kentucky: Aug. 31 Western Kentucky (in Nashville); Sept. 7 Miami (Ohio); Sept. 14 Louisville; Nov. 2 Alabama State
Charlie Strong has turned Louisville into a national power, and even though the Wildcats get the Cardinals at home this season, good luck in dealing with Teddy Bridgewater.
9. Arkansas: Aug. 31 Louisiana-Lafayette; Sept. 7 Samford (in Little Rock); Sept. 14 Southern Miss; Sept. 21 at Rutgers
Other than the trip to Rutgers, the Hogs shouldn’t have much trouble in the nonconference part of their schedule in their first season under Bret Bielema. But going to Piscataway, N.J., and winning will be a chore.
10. Alabama: Aug. 31 Virginia Tech (in Atlanta); Sept. 21 Colorado State; Oct. 5 Georgia State; Nov. 23 Chattanooga
The opener against Virginia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game looks good on paper, but does anybody really expect the Crimson Tide to have a hard time against the Hokies? The other three games will be over by halftime … or maybe when Alabama gets off the bus.
11. Missouri: Aug. 31 Murray State; Sept. 7 Toledo; Sept. 21 at Indiana; Sept. 28 Arkansas State
The “tough” game of the four is at Indiana. Otherwise, this is an easier nonconference schedule than the Tigers faced in their first season in the SEC.
12. Vanderbilt: Sept. 7 Austin Peay; Sept. 21 at UMass; Sept. 28 UAB; Nov. 30 Wake Forest
The Commodores went 3-1 in their nonconference slate last season on their way to nine wins overall. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be 4-0 this season. The only road game is at UMass, which won one game a year ago.
13. Auburn: Aug. 31 Washington State; Sept. 7 Arkansas State; Oct. 12 Western Carolina; Oct. 26 Florida Atlantic
Gus Malzahn won’t have to leave campus for a nonconference game in his first season as Auburn's head coach, and if the Tigers aren’t unbeaten in those four games, it could be another long season on the Plains.
14. Texas A&M: Aug. 31 Rice; Sept. 7 Sam Houston State; Sept. 21 SMU; Nov. 2 UTEP
The Aggies might as well be 4-0 to start the season. All four games are at home against lesser foes, and it’s hard to believe that any of the four will come within three or four touchdowns of the Aggies.
10hEdward Aschoff and Greg Ostendorf