After an unenviable road schedule last season that included visits to rivals Tennessee, Florida State and an unexpected detour to LSU, the circumstances flip for Florida in 2017.
All of the Gators’ biggest games this fall are either in The Swamp or at neutral sites, setting up one of the best home slates in the entire SEC — if not the best.
Now, that’s a subjective evaluation, but here’s an attempt at ranking the home schedules from top to bottom for every team in the conference with weight given to potential ranking of opponent, rivalry implications and relative intrigue.
Sure, every Alabama game is huge given the Crimson Tide’s national title aspirations, but that doesn’t mean casual college football fans are circling the late-season Louisiana-Monroe contest on the schedule. That’s more what we’re trying to get at here.
Sept. 9 vs. Northern Colorado; Sept. 16 vs. Tennessee; Sept. 30 vs. Vanderbilt; Oct. 7 vs. LSU; Oct. 14 vs. Texas A&M; Nov. 18 vs. UAB; Nov. 25 vs. Florida State.
Aside from the annual neutral-site showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville, the Gators host all of their biggest rivals at home with Tennessee, LSU and Florida State coming to Gainesville. The LSU game, of course, was switched as part of the agreement to move the 2016 game to Baton Rouge, La. LSU and Florida State could be a top-10 or even top-5 team when it comes to town. Add in the cross-division game with an always intriguing Texas A&M program and the Gators’ home slate tops our list.
Sept. 9 vs. Alabama A&M; Sept. 16 vs. Kansas State; Sept. 23 vs. Alabama; Oct. 7 vs. Georgia; Nov. 4 vs. Western Kentucky; Nov. 11 vs. Kentucky; Nov. 18 vs. Missouri
This is the only ranking in which the Commodores would climb so high, but it can’t be denied they have an intriguing home slate this fall. Hosting the preseason favorites in both the SEC West and East (Alabama and Georgia) is the highlight, but the non-conference lineup isn’t bad either. Kansas State was voted third in the Big 12 preseason poll after a 9-4 finish last year. And Western Kentucky is the preseason favorite in Conference USA’s East Division after its storybook 11-win 2016 season. There’s only one throwaway game (Alabama A&M) while Florida has two, but the Gators get the edge due to the rivalry implications of their key matchups.
3. Mississippi State
Sept. 2 vs. Charleston Southern; Sept. 16 vs. LSU; Oct. 14 vs. BYU; Oct. 21 vs. Kentucky; Nov. 4 vs. UMass; Nov. 11 vs. Alabama; Nov. 23 vs. Ole Miss
The Bulldogs host two of the SEC’s premier teams in Alabama and LSU, host the Egg Bowl with rival Ole Miss and have an intriguing non-conference tilt with BYU, which is coming off a 9-4 finish in 2016. Like most teams, it hosts two throwaway games with FCS foe Charleston Southern and a UMass program that went 2-10 last year. But the highlights are enough to push Mississippi State toward the top of this list.
Sept. 2 vs. Georgia Southern; Sept. 16 vs. Mercer; Sept. 30 vs. Mississippi State; Oct. 7 vs. Ole Miss; Nov. 11 vs. Georgia; Nov. 18 vs. Louisiana-Monroe; Nov. 25 vs. Alabama
The 2017 Iron Bowl might be the biggest game in the SEC this year and Auburn gets to play host. The Tigers also host the preseason SEC East favorite, Georgia, in another of the most anticipated games on the conference slate. But games against an FCS-level Mercer program and two middling non-Power 5 teams give Auburn one of the weakest home non-conference lineups. (The Tigers do visit Clemson, which explains the weaker rest of the non-conference schedule, but that doesn’t factor into our purposes here).
5. South Carolina
Sept. 16 vs. Kentucky; Sept. 23 vs. Louisiana Tech; Oct. 7 vs. Arkansas; Oct. 28 vs. Vanderbilt; Nov. 11 vs. Florida; Nov. 18 vs. Wofford; Nov. 25 vs. Clemson.
The Gamecocks have only one throwaway game on their home slate, with the rest of the schedule full of intrigue. Clemson could be a top-5 team when it visits in the final week of the regular season, Florida should be ranked also, Kentucky and Vanderbilt are pivotal games for South Carolina if it wants to move up the SEC East standings in Will Muschamp’s second season, Arkansas is a respectable mid-tier SEC foe and Louisiana Tech is the preseason favorite in Conference USA’s West Division.
6. Texas A&M
Sept. 9 vs. Nicholls State; Sept. 16 vs. Louisiana-Lafayette; Sept. 30 vs. South Carolina; Oct. 7 vs. Alabama; Oct. 28 vs. Mississippi State; Nov. 4 vs. Auburn; Nov. 11 vs. New Mexico
Hosting both Alabama and Auburn, who might end up as the two best teams in the SEC, is a major boost to an otherwise sagging home schedule. New Mexico was competitive in the Mountain West Conference last season, but that doesn’t carry much weight in SEC country and Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette are schedule fillers.
Sept. 9 vs. Eastern Kentucky; Sept. 23 vs. Florida; Sept. 30 vs. Eastern Michigan; Oct. 7 vs. Missouri; Oct. 28 vs. Tennessee; Nov. 4 vs. Ole Miss; Nov. 25 vs. Louisville.
The Wildcats bring three potential top-25 teams to Lexington, Ky., in Florida, Tennessee and Louisville. And after stunning in-state rival Louisville, 41-38, last year, that rematch will be as anticipated as ever. That gives Kentucky a slight edge over the next team on our list.
Sept. 9 vs. Fresno State; Sept. 16 vs. Colorado State; Sept. 30 vs. Ole Miss; Oct. 14 vs. Arkansas; Oct. 21 vs. Tennessee; Nov. 4 vs. LSU; Nov. 18 vs. Mercer.
Much the opposite of Vanderbilt’s position on this list, this is the only sort of ranking that could have Alabama so low. The Crimson Tide’s two biggest games (Florida State and Auburn) come away from Tuscaloosa, Ala. The clash with LSU should be among the best games on the SEC schedule and is the reason Alabama is ahead of the next couple teams on this list. Meanwhile, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Tennessee are interesting enough opponents, but the rest of the slate doesn’t move the needle. Fresno State was 1-11 last year, Colorado State was 7-6 and Mercer is an FCS team.
Sept. 2 vs. Missouri State; Sept. 9 vs. South Carolina; Sept. 16 vs. Purdue; Sept. 23 vs. Auburn; Oct. 21 vs. Idaho; Nov. 4 vs. Florida; Nov. 11 vs. Tennessee.
The Tigers open with four straight home games in a pivotal season for second-year head coach Barry Odom, which is a good way to try to build some momentum and fan interest. Auburn, Florida and Tennessee are all big draws, but intrigue is limited for the other home matchups.
Sept. 9 vs. Indiana State; Sept. 23 vs. UMass; Sept. 30 vs. Georgia; Oct. 14 vs. South Carolina; Nov. 4 vs. Southern Miss; Nov. 18 vs. LSU; Nov. 25 vs. Vanderbilt.
Georgia and LSU are marquee matchups and will be high-interest games for the sake of the SEC standings. The rest, meh.
Sept. 9 vs. Chattanooga; Sept. 23 vs. Syracuse; Sept. 30 vs. Troy; Oct. 14 vs. Auburn; Nov. 11 vs. Arkansas; Nov. 25 vs. Texas A&M.
That LSU-Auburn showdown is another on the list of most anticipated SEC games in 2017, Arkansas and Texas A&M could make for good contests, but the rest of the Tigers’ home slate is forgettable. Moving the Florida game to Gainesville as part of the agreement to detour to Baton Rouge last year hurts the Tigers on this list.
12. Ole Miss
Sept. 2 vs. South Alabama; Sept. 9 vs. UT Martin; Oct. 14 vs. Vanderbilt; Oct. 21 vs. LSU; Oct. 28 vs. Arkansas; Nov. 11 vs. Louisiana; Nov. 18 vs. Texas A&M
The Rebels have more to worry about within their football program at this point than their lowly ranking on this list. But the non-conference home games are lackluster and, with exception of LSU, all of Ole Miss’ biggest games are on the road (Cal, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State).
Sept. 9 vs. TCU; Sept. 30 vs. New Mexico State; Oct. 21 vs. Auburn; Nov. 4 vs. Coastal Carolina; Nov. 18 vs. Mississippi State; Nov. 24 vs. Missouri.
Arkansas also takes on Florida A&M in Little Rock and has Texas A&M in a neutral-site clash in Arlington, Texas, limiting its home schedule. Auburn is the obvious highlight, TCU carries some intrigue as a non-conference opponent, but overall this is an underwhelming home slate.
Sept. 2 vs. Appalachian State; Sept. 16 vs. Samford; Sept. 23 vs. Mississippi State; Oct. 14 vs. Missouri; Nov. 4 vs. South Carolina; Nov. 18 vs. Kentucky.
Georgia fans have a lot to be excited about this season with the Bulldogs picked to win the SEC East and generating plenty of preseason hype, but their big games take place outside of Athens. A non-conference matchup with Notre Dame, the in-state showdown with Georgia Tech and key SEC clashes with Tennessee, Florida and Auburn are on the road or at a neutral site.