Ranking the SEC's nonconference slates

The SEC catches some serious grief from other conferences for not playing more high-profile nonconference games.

My feeling is that everybody should play at least one marquee nonconference game every season, but there’s also no reason to load up when you have to navigate the grind of the league schedule.

As a rule, the SEC schools have made more of an effort the past few years to go out and play at least one nonconference game that qualifies as a main event.

There are several in the first three weeks this season: LSU vs. Oregon, Georgia vs. Boise State, BYU at Ole Miss and Auburn at Clemson. Arkansas takes on Texas A&M the first week of October, and then there are the annual rivalry games at the end of the season: Clemson at South Carolina, Florida State at Florida and Georgia at Georgia Tech.

Here’s how we would rank the SEC’s nonconference schedules in 2011 from toughest to easiest:

1. LSU: Sept 3 – Oregon in Arlington, Texas; Sept. 10 – Northwestern State; Sept. 24 – at West Virginia; Nov. 12 – Western Kentucky

2. Georgia: Sept. 3 – Boise State in Atlanta; Sept. 17 – Coastal Carolina; Nov. 5 – New Mexico State; Nov. 26 – at Georgia Tech

3. Arkansas: Sept. 3 – Missouri State; Sept. 10 – New Mexico in Little Rock; Sept. 17 – Troy; Oct. 1 – Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas

4. Ole Miss: Sept. 3 – Brigham Young; Sept. 10 – Southern Illinois; Oct. 1 – at Fresno State; Nov. 12 – Louisiana Tech

5. Alabama: Sept. 3 – Kent State; Sept. 10 – at Penn State; Sept. 17 – North Texas; Nov. 19 – Georgia Southern

6. Florida: Sept. 3 – Florida Atlantic; Sept. 10 – UAB; Nov. 19 – Furman; Nov. 26 – Florida State

7. South Carolina: Sept. 3 – East Carolina in Charlotte, N.C.; Sept. 17 – Navy; Nov. 19 – The Citadel; Nov. 26 – Clemson

8. Auburn: Sept. 3 – Utah State; Sept. 17 – at Clemson; Sept. 24 – Florida Atlantic; Nov. 19 – Samford

9. Vanderbilt: Sept. 3 – Elon; Sept. 10 – Connecticut; Oct. 22 – Army; Nov. 26 – at Wake Forest

10. Kentucky: Sept. 1 – Western Kentucky in Nashville; Sept. 10 – Central Michigan; Sept. 17 – Louisville; Oct. 22 – Jacksonville State

11. Mississippi State: Sept. 3 – at Memphis; Sept. 24 – Louisiana Tech; Oct. 8 – at UAB; Nov. 5 – Tennessee-Martin

12. Tennessee: Sept. 3 – Montana; Sept. 10 – Cincinnati; Oct. 1 – Buffalo; Nov. 5 – Middle Tennessee

Of note: LSU is the only school in the league that plays two opponents away from home who are members of BCS conferences (Oregon and West Virginia). … For the 20th consecutive season, Florida won’t have to leave the state of Florida to play a nonconference game in the regular season. The last time the Gators did was 1991 when they lost 38-21 at Syracuse. … In addition to Florida, Georgia and Tennessee also won’t have to leave their respective states to play nonconference games in 2011. … The Gators and the Vols are the only two teams in the league who will play all four nonconference games in their home stadiums. … Auburn doesn’t face anybody on its nonconference slate that finished with a winning record last season. The closest was Clemson at 6-7. … Three of Vanderbilt’s nonconference opponents (Elon, UConn and Army) are coming off winning seasons. … Tennessee was originally scheduled to play at North Carolina this coming season, but athletic director Mike Hamilton bought that series out after the Tar Heels refused to move it until later this decade. A home date with Buffalo replaced North Carolina on Tennessee’s schedule. … Jacksonville State gets a chance to shock an SEC team for the second straight season after upsetting Ole Miss to open the season a year ago. This coming season, Jacksonville State takes it shot at Kentucky on Oct. 22. … Mississippi State plays two games away from home against non-BCS opponents. The Bulldogs play at Memphis to open the season and also travel to UAB on Oct. 8. … Only four opponents who ended last season ranked in the AP’s Top 25 show up on SEC schedules in 2011: Boise State (Georgia), Florida State (Florida), Oregon (LSU) and Texas A&M (Arkansas).