SEC: 2012 SEC schedule analysis

Schedule analysis: Vanderbilt

June, 8, 2012
We wrap up our schedule analysis series today with Vanderbilt:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 8: at Northwestern (6-7)
Sept. 15: Presbyterian (4-7)
Oct. 27: Massachusetts (5-6)
Nov. 24: at Wake Forest (6-7)

SEC home games

Aug. 30: South Carolina
Oct. 13: Florida
Oct. 20: Auburn
Nov. 17: Tennessee

SEC road games

Sept. 22: at Georgia
Oct. 6: at Missouri
Nov. 3: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Ole Miss

Gut-check time: Right off the bat, Vanderbilt gets a chance to prove that last season was the start of something special under James Franklin and not just a one-time deal. South Carolina comes to Vanderbilt to open the season on a Thursday night on ESPN. The rest of the league will be watching, and the Commodores need to make a statement at home if they're serious about taking this thing to another level under Franklin. Vanderbilt didn't score a touchdown last season against South Carolina, but has had some success against the Gamecocks in recent years. This would be a huge upset, but it's the kind of upset the Commodores need to spring if they're going to be a player in the East.

Trap game: Vanderbilt has had its way with Ole Miss of late. The Commodores have won three straight over the Rebels and five of the last seven. This season, Vanderbilt plays at Ole Miss on Nov. 10 the week after going on the road to face Kentucky. Sooner or later, Ole Miss is going to figure out a solution to its woes against Vanderbilt, and this may be the year. It could get especially dicey for the Commodores if they roll into Oxford and the Rebels have yet to break their SEC losing streak.

Snoozer: You gotta love Presbyterian's mascot -- the Blue Hose. But it's a game the Commodores should have well in hand by halftime.

Telltale stretch: Beginning with a Sept. 22 trip to Georgia, Vanderbilt faces four SEC games in five weeks that will shape the Commodores' season. They get a bye after the visit to Georgia, but then go on the road Oct. 6 to face Missouri and come back home to play Florida and Auburn in back-to-back weeks. The "old" Vanderbilt wouldn't have been given much of a chance to win one of those games. But if the Commodores can find a way to split, they could be headed for their second straight bowl appearance.

Final analysis: Franklin's not enamored with having to play two nonconference games against teams from BCS conferences. Look for that to change in the future. The Commodores are one of only two SEC teams doing so along with Missouri in 2012. It's critical that Vanderbilt wins at least three of its nonconference games. The Commodores won all four last season, which was a big reason they were able to get to a bowl game. The nonconference slate will be more challenging this season with the trip to Northwestern the second week of the season. There's also a trip to Wake Forest for the second straight year to close the regular season. Staying healthy will be important, because the month of November will provide some real opportunities for the Commodores if they get off to a slow start. The only problem is that three of the four games that month are on the road. The lone home game in that stretch is Tennessee on Nov. 17, and something says that has been circled in blood on Vanderbilt's calendar.

Schedule analysis: Texas A&M

June, 7, 2012
Breaking down the Aggies' schedule in their first season in the SEC:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Aug. 30: vs. Louisiana Tech (8-5), in Shreveport, La.
Sept. 15: at SMU (8-5)
Sept. 22: South Carolina State (7-4)
Nov. 17: Sam Houston State (14-1)

SEC home games

Sept. 8: Florida
Sept. 29: Arkansas
Oct. 20: LSU
Nov. 24: Missouri

SEC road games

Oct. 6: at Ole Miss
Oct. 27: at Auburn
Nov. 3: at Mississippi State
Nov. 10: at Alabama

Gut-check time: How SEC-ready are the Aggies? We won't have to wait long to find out. Florida comes to College Station the second week of the season, and it's a critically important game for the Gators with a trip to Tennessee looming the following week. The atmosphere at Kyle Field should be off the charts, and just the whole spectacle of Texas A&M playing its first SEC game against one of the league's traditional powerhouses will make for some serious drama. The Aggies' home schedule is stacked this first season. Arkansas and LSU also come to town, so getting this first one would be huge.

Trap game: Louisiana Tech won the WAC last season, and this should be the Bulldogs' most explosive offense under Sonny Dykes. Plus, Texas A&M has to travel to Shreveport, La., to play the game. It's a Thursday night affair, and Texas A&M had better bring its "A" game or else.

Snoozer: South Carolina State (and not South Carolina) comes to Kyle Field on Sept. 22. It's the week before Arkansas comes to town.

Telltale stretch: It starts with a home game against LSU on Oct. 20, and then it's all on the road for the next three weeks. The Aggies travel to Auburn on Oct. 27, then to Mississippi State on Nov. 3 and finally to Alabama on Nov. 10. That's three SEC road dates in three weeks, and nobody else in the conference has to do that. The fact that you start out that stretch with a home game against LSU, a team likely to open the season No. 1 in the country, makes that three-game road trip to follow seem more like a six-game road trip.

Final analysis: It's an attractive home schedule for the Aggies in their first season in the league, but there's nothing easy about their schedule. For starters, it's never ideal to play schools such as Louisiana Tech and SMU away from home. Those games are upsets waiting to happen. Kevin Sumlin & Co. also drew the short stick in being the only SEC school in 2012 that has to play three straight weeks on the road against league opponents. Talk about a grind, especially when it ends with a trip to Alabama. The Aggies need to be at least 4-2 heading into their home showdown with LSU on Oct. 20. If so, they should have a decent chance to make it to a bowl game. The last thing Texas A&M wants to be going into that three-game road swing is hovering around the .500 mark. It could easily come down to the finale at home against Missouri as to whether the Aggies are going to finish their first regular season in the SEC with a winning record.

Schedule analysis: Tennessee

June, 6, 2012
Breaking down Tennessee's schedule for 2012:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Aug. 31: vs. N.C. State (8-5), in Atlanta
Sept. 8: Georgia State (3-8)
Sept. 22: Akron (1-11)
Nov. 3: Troy (3-9)

SEC home games

Sept. 15: Florida
Oct. 20: Alabama
Nov. 10: Missouri
Nov. 24: Kentucky

SEC road games

Sept. 29: at Georgia
Oct. 13: at Mississippi State
Oct. 27: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Vanderbilt

Gut-check time: The last time Tennessee beat Florida, Ron Zook was coaching the Gators and Phillip Fulmer was coaching the Vols. The year was 2004, which was a few head coaches ago for both schools. If Tennessee is going to make a move in the East this season, the Vols have to figure out a way to end their drought against the Gators. Protecting their home turf will also be critical, and Florida's visit on Sept. 15 will be the Vols' first SEC test of the season.

Trap game: After what Derek Dooley was caught on tape saying in the locker room last season about Tennessee always kicking the (bleep) out of Vanderbilt, you can bet James Franklin and the Commodores will be ready when the Vols roll into Nashville on Nov. 17. The game is sandwiched between home dates with Missouri and Kentucky, and will be the sixth game in as many weeks for the Vols after getting their bye in early October.

Snoozer: After opening the season in Atlanta against N.C. State, Tennessee comes back home the second week of the season to face Georgia State. It's anything but a grueling a nonconference slate for the Vols. Georgia State, Akron and Troy won a combined seven games last season.

Telltale stretch: How well the Vols survive that stretch in the middle of the season where they play three SEC road games in five weeks will go a long way toward shaping their season. It's a four-game stretch with a bye coming after the initial trip to Georgia on Sept. 29. Then comes a trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 13. Alabama comes to Knoxville the next week, and then it's back on the road to face South Carolina on Oct. 27. The Vols have three games in October this coming season. Their SEC October record under Derek Dooley is 0-8. The reality is that another winless October in 2012 will make it very difficult for Dooley to survive.

Final analysis: It's impossible to downplay how important that opener against N.C. State is for the Vols, who have not fared well in the Georgia Dome. In fact, the last time they won a football game in the Georgia Dome was the 1998 SEC championship game. Winning that game gives Tennessee the momentum it needs heading into the SEC opener with Florida two weeks later in Knoxville. If the Vols can manage to win both of those games, they might just be the sleeper in the Eastern Division race. Obviously, the Florida game is the more important of the two, although you wonder how fragile the Vols would be if they stumble in Atlanta. On the flip side, if the Vols were to start 1-2 and lose both of those games, they could be staring down the barrel of their third straight non-winning regular season ... or even worse. When you look at the schedule as a whole, especially if the Vols can stay healthy, eight regular-season wins is certainly possible. Something says that home date with Missouri on Nov. 10 will end up being a huge swing game.

Schedule analysis: South Carolina

June, 4, 2012
We take a closer look today at South Carolina's 2012 schedule:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 8: East Carolina (5-7)
Sept. 15: UAB (3-9)
Nov. 17: Wofford (8-4)
Nov. 24: at Clemson (10-4)

SEC home games

Sept. 22: Missouri
Oct. 6: Georgia
Oct. 27: Tennessee
Nov. 10: Arkansas

SEC road games

Aug. 30: at Vanderbilt
Sept. 29: at Kentucky
Oct. 13: at LSU
Oct. 20: at Florida

Gut-check time: Any trip to Tiger Stadium is usually bound to be a kick in the gut. The Gamecocks travel to the Bayou on Oct. 13. The game itself will be hard enough, especially when you consider that the Tigers have three potential first-rounders on their defensive line. But going on the road to face LSU sandwiched between key Eastern Division contests against Georgia and Florida easily makes the LSU trip the toughest test on the Gamecocks' schedule.

Trap game: The opener at Vanderbilt is one that should have everybody in Gamecock Land nervous. For one, Vanderbilt has played South Carolina tough in recent years, and had some success. And with it being a Thursday night game on the road, those are always a bit tricky. In fact, the last time South Carolina faced Vanderbilt on a Thursday in Nashville (2008), the then No. 24-ranked Gamecocks limped away a loser.

Snoozer: The Gamecocks get UAB at home the third week of the season and a week after hosting East Carolina. It will still be uncomfortably hot that time of year in Columbia, S.C., but neither game figures to be hotly contested.

Telltale stretch: The month of October will either validate the Gamecocks or expose them. It starts with a home date against Georgia on Oct. 6, a game that has historically been played the second week of the season, and then it's on the road for back-to-back games at LSU and Florida. The October pressure-cooker concludes with Tennessee paying a visit to Williams-Brice Stadium on Oct. 27. Think the Gamecocks might take a 3-1 record right now and be done with it, especially if that one loss were to LSU?

Final analysis: One of the first things that sticks out about South Carolina's schedule is that the Gamecocks play six straight SEC games without a break, starting with Missouri at home on Sept. 22, and three of those games are on the road. Having to play at LSU and Arkansas at home is a huge disadvantage for the Gamecocks in the East race when you consider that Georgia avoids Alabama, Arkansas and LSU for the second straight year. Arkansas has had South Carolina's number, too, and the Hogs will get the Gamecocks coming off that grueling October stretch. It helps some that South Carolina will get a bye before the Hogs come to town. The key game is obviously Georgia. If the Gamecocks can beat the Bulldogs for a third straight season, they could afford a loss at LSU and still be in control of their own destiny in the East. All in all, getting to 11 wins again will be a major undertaking, especially with the trip to Clemson lurking there at the end of the season. The Gamecocks have won three in a row against the Tigers and haven't won four straight in the series since 1951-54. Not only that, but South Carolina has never won three straight against Georgia, which is what the Gamecocks will be gunning for in 2012.

Schedule analysis: Ole Miss

June, 1, 2012
We resume our schedule analysis today with what Hugh Freeze faces in his first season as Ole Miss' coach:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Central Arkansas (9-4)
Sept. 8: UTEP (5-7)
Sept. 15: Texas (8-5)
Sept. 22: at Tulane (2-11)

SEC home games

Oct. 6: Texas A&M
Oct. 13: Auburn
Nov. 10: Vanderbilt
Nov. 24: Mississippi State

SEC road games

Sept. 29: at Alabama
Oct. 27: at Arkansas, in Little Rock
Nov. 3: at Georgia
Nov. 17: at LSU

Gut-check time: Ole Miss doesn't begin SEC play until the fifth week of the season, and the Rebels don't exactly ease in, either. They go headfirst with a trip to defending national champion Alabama on Sept. 29. The Crimson Tide destroyed the Rebels 52-7 last season in Oxford and have only lost twice in their past 29 games at Bryant-Denny Stadium; both of those losses were to the No. 1 team in the BCS standings at the time. What's more, Ole Miss has lost eight consecutive games to Alabama and hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 1988.

Trap game: Ole Miss knows all too well what can happen in a season opener against an inspired FCS team that comes to town ready to shock the world. Jacksonville State upset Ole Miss two years ago, and Central Arkansas will be looking to do the same this Sept. 1.

Snoozer: There really isn't one, although Tulane was awful last season. Ole Miss plays Tulane this season in New Orleans, so the location, at least, will add a little pizzazz to the game.

Telltale stretch: Beginning with the last Saturday in October, Ole Miss goes on the road for three games in a span of four weeks. That kind of road swing is never easy, but then you consider where the games are. Ole Miss goes to Little Rock to face Arkansas on Oct. 27, then plays at Georgia the next week. The only home game in the stretch is Vanderbilt on Nov. 10 -- before the Rebels get back on the road to face LSU on Nov. 17. Even for the strongest of teams, that's the kind of swing that can send a season spiraling downward. The Rebels will likely just be trying to survive at that point and get to the regular-season finale against Mississippi State in one piece.

Final analysis: It's a close race between Auburn and Ole Miss in terms of who has the SEC's toughest schedule in 2012. The nod has to go to the Rebels simply because they get the "good fortune" of having to go on the road to face what most people feel like will be the four best teams in the league. There ought to be some kind of SEC policy against having to play Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU all in the same season on the road. Nobody else in the SEC has to navigate such an ominous road schedule. We're talking four teams that will start the season ranked in the top 15 nationally. If that's not enough, Ole Miss also plays Texas at home in the third week of the season. As you look down the tail end of the Rebels' schedule, Vanderbilt's visit to Oxford looms large. Why Vanderbilt? The Rebels have lost to the Commodores four of the past five seasons, and if Ole Miss wants to make a push for a bowl game this first season under Freeze, it has to find a way to get out from under the Vanderbilt stranglehold.

Schedule analysis: Missouri

May, 30, 2012
Missouri tackles its first SEC schedule in 2012:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Southeastern Louisiana (3-8)
Sept. 15: Arizona State (6-7)
Sept. 29: at UCF (5-7)
Nov. 17: Syracuse (5-7)

SEC home games

Sept. 8: Georgia
Oct. 6: Vanderbilt
Oct. 13: Alabama
Oct. 27: Kentucky

SEC road games

Sept. 22: at South Carolina
Nov. 3: at Florida
Nov. 10: at Tennessee
Nov. 24: at Texas A&M

Gut-check time: Missouri gets two of the heavyweights at home in its first season in the SEC. Alabama comes to town on Oct. 13, but it's Georgia's visit the second week of the season that could really set the tone for the Tigers. A win announces to the entire league that Missouri means business. A loss could be difficult to overcome, especially when you look at what the Tigers face during the second half of the season. Georgia will have some key players missing on defense early in the season. The atmosphere at Faurot Field should also be electric with it being Missouri's first-ever SEC game. In short, it's a chance for the Tigers to really kick it off in grand style and make an immediate impression on the rest of the SEC.

Trap game: Sandwiched between trips to Tennessee and Texas A&M at the end of the season is a home date with Syracuse on Nov. 17. Doug Marrone has done a great job in getting the Orange back to respectability, and you wonder where Missouri's focus will be that deep in the grind of the SEC schedule.

Snoozer: The Tigers should be able to put it on cruise control and still win comfortably in the Sept. 1 opener against Southeastern Louisiana.

Telltale stretch: Missouri ends the season by playing its last three SEC games on the road. The only thing that breaks up that stretch is a home game against Syracuse on Nov. 17. Otherwise, the Tigers will spend all of November on the road -- at Florida on Nov. 3, at Tennessee on Nov. 10 and at Texas A&M on Nov. 24. Missouri is the only school in the league in 2012 that plays its final three SEC games on the road.

Final analysis: It will be imperative that Missouri capitalizes on the September and October portion of its schedule. The Tigers will head into November having played away from home only twice, and one of those games is a Sept. 29 nonconference date at UCF. There aren't any powerhouses awaiting among the Tigers' four nonconference opponents. That said, Missouri is one of only two SEC teams in 2012 that will play two nonconference games against teams from BCS conferences -- Arizona State at home on Sept. 15 and Syracuse at home on Nov. 17. The only other SEC school playing two nonconference games against teams from BCS conferences is Vanderbilt. The Tigers get a bye prior to their final five games, which should help them recharge. The magic number in September and October, which includes six home games, will be at least five wins. Anything less will make it difficult for the Tigers to produce a winning season in their first tour through the SEC.

Schedule analysis: Mississippi State

May, 29, 2012
We pick back up today with Mississippi State and a closer look at the Bulldogs' 2012 schedule:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Jackson State (9-2)
Sept. 15: at Troy (3-9)
Sept. 22: South Alabama (6-4)
Oct. 20: Middle Tennessee (2-10)

SEC home games

Sept. 8: Auburn
Oct. 13: Tennessee
Nov. 3: Texas A&M
Nov. 17: Arkansas

SEC road games

Oct. 6: at Kentucky
Oct. 27: at Alabama
Nov. 10: at LSU
Nov. 24: at Ole Miss

Gut-check time: The trips to Alabama and LSU speak for themselves. But the game that sticks out as one of those teeter-totter games is the home date with Arkansas on Nov. 17 -- the week after the Bulldogs visit LSU. Mississippi State took Arkansas to double overtime two years ago at home, but couldn't close the deal. If the Bulldogs are going to make a move in the West, they have to take down at least one of the Big Three. Their best chance will be against the Hogs at home.

Trap game: The Bulldogs' first SEC road game is at Kentucky on Oct. 6. It comes on the heels of a bye week, but there's also a chance they could be 4-0 and riding high at that point -- maybe too high. You can also bet that the Wildcats will view the Bulldogs' visit as one of those games they have to win if they're going to make it to a bowl game in 2012.

Snoozer: Take your pick. The Bulldogs will make the rounds in the Sun Belt Conference with three games. South Alabama, which is transitioning to the FBS ranks, comes to town on Sept. 22.

Telltale stretch: The front end of Mississippi State's schedule looks inviting enough, but that stretch starting the final weekend of October is brutal. The Bulldogs play at Alabama on Oct. 27, come back home the following week to face Texas A&M and go back on the road to face LSU on Nov. 10. It doesn't end there, either. Arkansas visits Scott Field on Nov. 17. That's three preseason top 15 teams in four weeks, and two of those games are on the road.

Final analysis: On one hand, you look at Mississippi State's schedule and grimace. The Bulldogs are one of only two teams in the league that has to play at Alabama and at LSU this coming season. Ole Miss is the other lucky party. What's more, Mississippi State has to face Alabama, LSU and Arkansas all in a span of four weeks. So we'll find out what these Bulldogs are made of in late October and November. There's also reason to be extremely optimistic when you look at the first part of their schedule. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Mississippi State could be 6-1 or even 7-0 when the Bulldogs visit Alabama on Oct. 27. Five of their first seven games are at home, and the two road games are against Troy and Kentucky. Their nonconference slate is ridiculously easy, with three games against Sun Belt Conference teams and a fourth against FCS foe Jackson State. The Bulldogs also go the entire season without having to play back-to-back games away from home. Bottom line: There's going to be a ton of Mississippi State fans restlessly ringing cowbells if the Bulldogs don't win at least eight games.

Schedule analysis: LSU

May, 25, 2012
LSU's 2012 schedule isn't the monster last season's was:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: North Texas (5-7)
Sept. 8: Washington (7-6)
Sept. 15: Idaho (2-10)
Sept. 29: Towson (9-3)

SEC home games

Oct. 13: South Carolina
Nov. 3: Alabama
Nov. 10: Mississippi State
Nov. 17: Ole Miss

SEC road games

Sept. 22: at Auburn
Oct. 6: at Florida
Oct. 20: at Texas A&M
Nov. 23: at Arkansas

Gut-check time: You just know the Nov. 3 date has been circled on LSU's calendar since January. The 21-0 beatdown at the hands of Alabama in the BCS National Championship Game remains a sore subject on the Bayou. The players insist that loss has driven them even harder, particularly the fact that LSU picked that game to lay its only egg of the season. One of these two teams has won three of the last five national titles. Alabama proved last season that losing the regular-season matchup doesn't necessarily end your national championship hopes. The chances of that happening again are remote, though, which only raises the stakes this coming season when Alabama and LSU clash in Tiger Stadium.

Trap game: The trip to Florida on Oct. 6 comes right before South Carolina comes to town, and the Tigers will likely be 5-0 at that point. The Gators could also be unbeaten and playing with a lot of confidence at home. Moreover, they'll be coming off of a bye week.

Snoozer: The Idaho game on Sept. 15 is the third of three straight home nonconference games for the Tigers, and something says there will be more LSU fans out in the parking lots tailgating in the second half than actually watching the game.

Telltale stretch: LSU's quest to get back to the BCS National Championship Game will start in earnest against Florida on the road the first weekend of October. Key tests await the Tigers each of the next three games. They come back home to face South Carolina on Oct. 13, then travel to Texas A&M on Oct. 20 and get a week off before taking on Alabama at home on Nov. 3. The Tigers will need to play their best football to make it through that stretch unscathed.

Final analysis: LSU has traded the toughest schedule in college football a year ago for a much more manageable one in 2012. The Tigers tackled both Oregon and West Virginia away from home last season. Their toughest nonconference test this season is Washington at home. They don't play back-to-back road games all season. It's also a big advantage for LSU to have a bye the week before the Alabama game, especially with the Crimson Tide playing the week before against Mississippi State and then having to travel to Baton Rouge. LSU will get Alabama at night, too, and the Tigers take it to another level on Saturday night in Tiger Stadium. Something else that sticks out is that LSU doesn't play its first home SEC game until South Carolina on Oct. 13. That's a long wait if the Tigers should happen to lose early. The finale against Arkansas will be in Fayetteville this season, which is a change from past years. Playing the game in Little Rock essentially meant that both teams had to travel. But this season, LSU is the only one of the two that has to travel and does so on a short week.

Schedule analysis: Kentucky

May, 23, 2012
Let's break down Kentucky's 2012 schedule:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 2: at Louisville (7-6)
Sept. 8: Kent State (5-7)
Sept. 15: Western Kentucky (7-5)
Nov. 17: Samford (6-5)

SEC home games

Sept. 29: South Carolina
Oct. 6: Mississippi State
Oct. 20: Georgia
Nov. 3: Vanderbilt

SEC road games

Sept. 22: at Florida
Oct. 13: at Arkansas
Oct. 27: at Missouri
Nov. 24: at Tennessee

Gut-check time: It's not even an SEC game that rises to this level for the Wildcats, who will need to be on top of their game early. The opener on the road at Louisville is huge on so many fronts for Kentucky. For one, the Wildcats lost to the Cardinals last season at home after winning four in a row, and it's a game that carries a lot of weight in that state from a recruiting standpoint. Equally important is the fact that Kentucky needs a healthy dose of confidence early as it jumps into the SEC fray. Going on the road and winning at Louisville to open the season would likely give the Wildcats a nice 3-0 buffer heading into the conference opener at Florida on Sept. 22.

Trap game: Kentucky had better not be looking past Western Kentucky on Sept. 15 before traveling to Florida that next week. Western Kentucky played the Wildcats tough in the opener last season, and Willie Taggart has dramatically improved that program.

Snoozer: The Wildcats come off their bye the second week of November to face Samford on Nov. 17. It's the week before the regular-season finale against Tennessee, so it's doubtful that Commonwealth Stadium will be buzzing ... or close to full.

Telltale stretch: Kentucky's first four SEC games are at Florida on Sept. 22, home against South Carolina on Sept. 29, home against Mississippi State on Oct. 6 and then on the road at Arkansas on Oct. 13. That's a four-game stretch that would cause anybody to wince, especially when you consider that Kentucky returns home on the back end of that stretch to face Georgia. Somewhere the Wildcats have to find a couple of wins in that gauntlet. That is, if they're going to bounce back with a winning season in 2012.

Final analysis: One game is never the end-all for a college football team, but it's impossible to overemphasize how much that opener against Louisville means to Kentucky. The Wildcats are probably going to need all four of those nonconference wins to get to six or seven wins overall, particularly when you consider that Kentucky has won more than two SEC games in a season only three times in the last nine years. It helps that Kentucky avoids both Alabama and LSU, but the Wildcats also have to play seven straight SEC games without getting a break. It starts with a trip to Florida on Sept. 22 and ends with a home game against Vanderbilt on Nov. 3. There are no byes or nonconference games in between. In fact, Kentucky is the only team in the league that has to play seven straight weeks against SEC opponents. Talk about the grind of all grinds.

Schedule analysis: Georgia

May, 22, 2012
We take a closer look today at the Georgia Bulldogs' 2012 schedule:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Buffalo (3-9)
Sept. 15: Florida Atlantic (1-11)
Nov. 17: Georgia Southern (11-3)
Nov. 24: Georgia Tech (8-5)

SEC home games

Sept. 22: Vanderbilt
Sept. 29: Tennessee
Oct. 27: vs. Florida, in Jacksonville, Fla.
Nov. 3: Ole Miss

SEC road games

Sept. 8: at Missouri
Oct. 6: at South Carolina
Oct. 20: at Kentucky
Nov. 10: at Auburn

Gut-check time: The South Carolina game on Oct. 6 has as much or more riding on it for Georgia as any season in recent memory, and it's always a pivotal contest. Until last season, the loser of this game had never advanced to the SEC championship game. The Bulldogs were able to change that by winning 10 in a row after their loss to the Gamecocks the second week of the season. Georgia has lost two in a row in the series, and the Bulldogs would prefer to control their own destiny in the East race heading into the latter part of October as opposed to needing help. Winning in Columbia, S.C., is never easy, but the road to a second straight trip to the SEC championship game for the Bulldogs will almost certainly go through the Palmetto State. What's more, Georgia has never lost three in a row to South Carolina since the teams first started playing back in 1894 (64 meetings).

Trap game: With the reported suspensions on defense for Georgia, the SEC opener at Missouri the second week of the season will be one tough assignment, especially with all the hoopla surrounding Missouri's first-ever SEC game.

Snoozer: There's the opener against Buffalo and then Florida Atlantic's visit two weeks later. Between them, they were 4-20 last season.

Telltale stretch: From Oct. 6 through Nov. 10, the Bulldogs only play one game at home. Four of the five games in that stretch are away from Sanford Stadium, and it starts with the trip to South Carolina. Then comes a bye week followed by an away game at Kentucky and the annual clash with Florida in Jacksonville. After Ole Miss' visit the first weekend of November, Georgia goes back on the road the following week to face Auburn.

Final analysis: Georgia is one of only two Eastern Division teams that avoids all three of the Western Division heavyweights. The other one is Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs don't have to face Alabama, Arkansas or LSU during the 2012 regular season, whereas South Carolina -- which figures to be Georgia's stiffest competition in the East -- has to play at LSU and gets Arkansas at home. That's a huge advantage for Georgia any way you slice it. The Bulldogs also have a much cushier nonconference schedule than last season. In effect, they're trading Boise State for Buffalo. Unless the Bulldogs have a rash of injuries, this is a schedule tailor-made for 10 wins.

Schedule analysis: Florida

May, 21, 2012
We'll break down the Florida Gators' schedule today:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Bowling Green (5-7)
Nov. 10: Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4)
Nov. 17: Jacksonville State (7-4)
Nov. 24: Florida State (9-4)

SEC home games

Sept. 22: Kentucky
Oct. 6: LSU
Oct. 20: South Carolina
Nov. 3: Missouri

SEC road games

Sept. 8: at Texas A&M
Sept. 15: at Tennessee
Oct. 13: at Vanderbilt
Oct. 27: vs. Georgia, in Jacksonville, Fla.

Gut-check time: LSU embarrassed Florida last season in Baton Rouge and has won the last two games in this series. Will Muschamp could use a breakthrough win in his second season, and taking down the Tigers in the Swamp would certainly qualify. Depending on how the Gators start the season, it could be a huge game. It's not a complete stretch to think that Florida could be 4-0 when LSU visits on Oct. 6. What's more, the Gators have a bye week leading into the game. History suggests that the winner of this game is destined for a big season. Each of the past seven years, the winning team has gone on to win at least 11 games and has played in the BCS National Championship Game four times.

Trap game: The SEC opener against Texas A&M in College Station has danger written all over it. The Aggies will be sky-high about playing their first SEC game, and you know Kyle Field will be rocking. If the Gators aren't on top of their game in Week 2, they won't get out alive.

Snoozer: It's a long-standing tradition at Florida to play some real yawners to start the season. They open on Sept. 1 with Bowling Green at home.

Telltale stretch: The back-to-back road games at Texas A&M and Tennessee in September will be huge tests for the Gators. But where they'll play their way in or play their way out of the Eastern Division race will be the three-game stretch starting with South Carolina on Oct. 20 at home. The annual clash with Georgia in Jacksonville comes a week later, and then it's back to the Swamp on Nov. 3 against Missouri. All three games are against East opponents, and even if Florida doesn't get it done against LSU, the Gators could make up for it by sweeping the Gamecocks, Bulldogs and Tigers.

Final analysis: Similar to past years, Florida plays all eight of its SEC games in succession. There are no breaks in September or October against weaker nonconference teams, although the bye is positioned nicely the week before LSU's visit to the Swamp. The most difficult thing about Florida's nonconference schedule is that annual finale against Florida State, and this year it's on the road. That's tough duty, to grind through the SEC slate and then have a team that's going to open the season ranked in the top 10 nationally waiting for you on the final weekend of the regular season. Then again, the Gators haven't left the state of Florida to play a nonconference game since 1991, and that was a 38-21 loss to Syracuse. We'll find out a lot about these Gators in those first three weeks. They have to make it through the Texas A&M and Tennessee trips unscathed. If they do, don't be surprised if they're right in the middle of the East race once the second half of the season rolls around.

Schedule analysis: Auburn

May, 18, 2012
Today, we dissect Auburn's schedule as the Tigers enter the 2012 season with a new offensive coordinator and new defensive coordinator:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: vs. Clemson (10-4), in Atlanta
Sept. 15: Louisiana-Monroe (4-8)
Nov. 3: New Mexico State (4-9)
Nov. 17: Alabama A&M (8-4)

SEC home games

Sept. 22: LSU
Oct. 6: Arkansas
Oct. 27: Texas A&M
Nov. 10: Georgia

SEC road games

Sept. 8: at Mississippi State
Oct. 13: at Ole Miss
Oct. 20: at Vanderbilt
Nov. 24: at Alabama

Gut-check time: LSU comes to the Plains on Sept. 22. The game will be played a month earlier than it was a year ago, and you can bet that nobody in Auburn's locker room will need to be reminded what happened the last time the two teams clashed. LSU embarrassed Auburn 45-10, triggering what was a humbling close to Auburn's regular season. The Tigers lost to LSU, Georgia and Alabama by a combined 101 points. If Auburn is going to make some noise in the Western Division race this coming season, it starts with LSU's visit that fourth Saturday in September. Arkansas visits two weeks later, and Auburn will need at least a split if the Tigers are going to be a factor come November.

Trap game: Vanderbilt proved last season that it's not going to be an easy out under James Franklin, especially at home. Auburn's Oct. 20 visit to Nashville comes on the heels of a trip to Ole Miss, and the second leg of a road swing in this league is always dicey.

Snoozer: The Nov. 3 game against New Mexico State is the second of four straight games at home for the Tigers, who have a couple of glorified scrimmages in November when you toss Alabama A&M into the mix two weeks later.

Telltale stretch: So much is riding on Auburn's start to the season -- Clemson in Atlanta in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and then Mississippi State in Starkville the second week of the season. If those two home games against LSU on Sept. 22 and then Arkansas on Oct. 6 are going to mean much, it's imperative that Auburn take care of its business right out of the gate.

Final analysis: Simply surviving the first part of the schedule will be as important as anything for the Tigers in 2012. There's going to be a lot that's new on both offense and defense, so that could be to their advantage in those first couple of games. Teams will be guessing a little bit in terms of what to prepare for. The good news for the Tigers is that four of their last five games are at home. Gene Chizik is 20-3 at home as Auburn's head coach. The bye week also comes at a good time and is sandwiched between the key home dates with LSU and Arkansas. Auburn won't be able to survive a start as shaky as the one last season, not facing Clemson in the opener in Atlanta and then traveling to Mississippi State the second week of the season. The Tigers will need to be on top of their game from the outset because LSU comes to town a few weeks later, not to mention Arkansas, all before the midway point of the season. Again, though, if Auburn can make it through those first two games, seven of its next nine contests will be played in Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers won eight games last season, and bettering that mark in 2012 is going to be a real challenge when you consider that four of the teams they face -- Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and LSU -- will start the season ranked somewhere in the top 15 nationally.

Schedule analysis: Arkansas

May, 17, 2012
Today, we dissect Arkansas' schedule as the Hogs look to break through in the Western Division:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: Jacksonville State (7-4)
Sept. 8: Louisiana-Monroe (4-8), in Little Rock
Sept. 22: Rutgers (9-4)
Nov. 3: Tulsa (8-5)

SEC home games

Sept. 15: Alabama
Oct. 13: Kentucky
Oct. 27: Ole Miss, in Little Rock
Nov. 23: LSU

SEC road games

Sept. 29: at Texas A&M
Oct. 6: at Auburn
Nov. 10: at South Carolina
Nov. 17: at Mississippi State

Gut-check time: The two biggies are Alabama and LSU, both at home. Both games are huge if the Hogs are going to get over that hump and get to Atlanta to play for the SEC championship. But if we have to pick one, we'll go with Alabama's visit to Razorback Stadium on Sept. 15. It's a game that could set the tone for Arkansas' entire season, and what's more, the Hogs haven't beaten the Crimson Tide since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa. That's five straight losses. They were close two years ago in Fayetteville, but need to find a way to finish the job this time and take the early lead in the West race.

Trap game: The Rutgers game the week after Alabama comes to Fayetteville has danger written all over it. Even though the game's at home, the Scarlet Knights should be very good on defense and will challenge for the Big East title. The Hogs are probably going to be fighting the Alabama hangover, too, and that's whether they win or lose against the Crimson Tide.

Snoozer: Ole Miss found out the hard way not to sleep on Jacksonville State a few years ago, but the second game of the season against Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock has a chance to be one of those games where guys are playing in the second half and aren't even listed on the roster.

Telltale stretch: We'll find out about the Hogs in November. They hit the road for back-to-back games at South Carolina on Nov. 10 and then Mississippi State on Nov. 17. Then on a short week, they come back home to face LSU on Nov. 23 in Fayetteville. Making it through that stretch unscathed would be a monumental task for any team in America.

Final analysis: The best news for the Hogs is that they get both Alabama and LSU in Razorback Stadium this season. In the past, they'd always played LSU in Little Rock, which is a home game for Arkansas, but still a three-hour trip across the state. Arkansas is just 1-5 against Alabama and LSU the past three seasons. It's going to take at least a split against those two teams to have a chance at the Western Division title. The other game that looms large for the Hogs this season is the trip to South Carolina. They have owned the Gamecocks, who will likely start this season ranked in the top 10 nationally. Arkansas has won three straight in the series and five of the last six, and none of the last three contests has been close. It's worth noting that South Carolina does have a bye week prior to Arkansas coming to town this season. With Texas A&M joining the SEC, that game will be in College Station instead of Cowboys Stadium. And in addition to the grueling three-game stretch to end the season, the Hogs have to go on the road to face Texas A&M and Auburn in back-to-back weeks after getting Alabama and Rutgers at home. In fact, Arkansas is the only team in the SEC in 2012 that has to go on the road two different times to face SEC foes in consecutive weeks. They travel to Texas A&M on Sept. 29 and Auburn on Oct. 6 and then to South Carolina on Nov. 10 and Mississippi State on Nov. 17.

Schedule analysis: Alabama

May, 16, 2012
With spring practice behind us for all 14 SEC teams, it’s time to start breaking down the schedules for next fall and assess who has the toughest paths and who has the easiest paths to a successful 2012 season.

We’ll start with defending national champion Alabama:

Nonconference opponents (with 2011 records)

Sept. 1: vs. Michigan (11-2), in Arlington, Texas
Sept. 8: Western Kentucky (7-5)
Sept. 22: Florida Atlantic (1-11)
Nov. 17: Western Carolina (1-10)

SEC home games

Sept. 29: Ole Miss
Oct. 27: Mississippi State
Nov. 10: Texas A&M
Nov. 24: Auburn

SEC road games

Sept. 15: at Arkansas
Oct. 13: at Missouri
Oct. 20: at Tennessee
Nov. 3: at LSU

Gut-check time: There are two obvious choices -- at Arkansas the third week of the season and at LSU the first Saturday in November. Taking down the Hogs in Fayetteville will be a chore. The Crimson Tide just barely escaped there two years ago and will once again be breaking in some new faces in the secondary against a quarterback, Tyler Wilson, who's one of the best passers in the country. As tough as that game will be, the trip to LSU will be even more daunting. The Tigers are still hurting from that beating they took in the Superdome in January and may have an even better defense in 2012. Plus, it's going to be a night game. Tiger Stadium at night is never a good combination for the visiting team.

Trap game: If Tennessee has everybody healthy, the Vols have the passing game to give the Crimson Tide trouble on Oct. 20 in Neyland Stadium. It also will be Alabama's second straight road game after traveling to Columbia, Mo., the week before to face Missouri.

Snoozer: Take your pick. The Sept. 22 tilt against Florida Atlantic qualifies as does the Nov. 17 date with FCS foe Western Carolina. Between them, Florida Atlantic and Western Carolina won two games last season.

Telltale stretch: Alabama faces three road tests in a four-week stretch beginning with Missouri on Oct. 13 in Columbia, Mo. A trip to Tennessee follows the next week and then it's back home to face Mississippi State on Oct. 27. You can bet that the Crimson Tide will get all three teams' best shots, which will make that trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU on Nov. 3 all the more difficult.

Final analysis: The opener against Michigan will be a test, and chasing down Denard Robinson is never a lot of fun for any defense. Other than the Wolverines, though, the Crimson Tide's nonconference schedule is about as cushy as it gets. Only once all season does Alabama have to go on the road in back-to-back weeks (Missouri on Oct. 13 and Tennessee on Oct. 20), and four of the Tide's last five games are at home. It also helps that Alabama avoids both Georgia and South Carolina in the Eastern Division. The bye week comes at a good time, just prior to the Missouri and Tennessee road trips, so the Tide should be rested. Granted, there are big shoes to fill on defense, and inexperience could be a problem early. But if Alabama gets past that Michigan opener and then the trip to Arkansas two weeks later unscathed, the Tide will be right there in the middle of yet another national championship chase and will likely roll into Baton Rouge on Nov. 3 unbeaten.



Wednesday, 12/24
Saturday, 12/20
Monday, 12/22
Tuesday, 12/23
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12