Print and Go Back ESPN.com: SEC [Print without images]

Monday, February 15, 2010
The SEC's toughest nonconference games

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

The SEC has taken a beating the last few years about its weak nonconference schedule, and in some cases, rightfully so.

But the teams in this league are making more of an attempt to play at least one marquee nonconference game a year.

Here’s my early ranking of the 10 toughest nonconference games involving an SEC team in 2010. There’s a chance this list could change some as we get closer to the season.

But for now, here goes:

1. Oregon at Tennessee, Sept. 11: The Ducks will start the season as a Top 5 team in just about every preseason poll. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli headlines a horde of returning starters for Chip Kelly’s club.

2. Florida at Florida State, Nov. 27: The Seminoles have a chance to be really good on offense with the return of quarterback Christian Ponder from a shoulder injury. If some young guys come through on defense, look out.

3. Penn State at Alabama, Sept. 11: The Nittany Lions lose a lot of good football players from their 2009 team. But it’s still Penn State, and it’s still JoePa. These two teams have played some classics over the years.

4. LSU vs. North Carolina (Atlanta), Sept. 4: We’ll find out soon enough if LSU has improved any on offense. The Tigers open the season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against a North Carolina defense that’s fast, talented and nasty.

5. Georgia Tech at Georgia, Nov. 27: Going against Paul Johnson’s option offense is always a challenge, and the Yellow Jackets will be extra motivated after being spanked at home last season by the Bulldogs.

6. West Virginia at LSU, Sept. 25: The Mountainers will have to plug in a new starter at quarterback, but the core of the offense and defense returns. This is a team that could easily win the Big East title in 2010.

7. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas), Oct. 9: This might end up being a 52-50 game with the way these two offenses score points. If the Aggies tighten up on defense, they’ll be a dangerous team next season.

8. Vanderbilt at Connecticut, Oct. 2: The Commodores hit the road to face a Connecticut team that may be the sleeper pick in the Big East. The Huskies lost just six starters from a team that blasted South Carolina in the bowl game.

9. South Carolina at Clemson, Nov. 27: Speaking of the Gamecocks, they end the 2010 season by traveling to arch-rival Clemson. It hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses for South Carolina the last decade at Death Valley.

10. Clemson at Auburn, Sept. 18: We’ll dub this the Lewis Grizzard Bowl. Clemson won’t have C.J. Spiller to lean on next season, but the Tigers still have enough talent to line up and beat just about anybody they play.

Noting: LSU is the only SEC team to have two games on this list, and they're both the first month of the season. ... Kentucky, Mississippi State and Ole Miss don't play nonconference games that made the Top 10. Kentucky's toughest game is at Louisville. Mississippi State's toughest game is at Houston. Ole Miss' toughest game is a push between a trip to Tulane and a home game against Fresno State. ... In addition to the Georgia Tech game, Georgia also travels to Colorado in 2010. ... Of the SEC's 10 toughest nonconference games, notice that Florida, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are the only three teams playing true road games. Even then, Florida and South Carolina don't leave their respective states.