It will continue to be a discussion in the College Football Playoff poll and it may affect which of the conference’s teams make college football’s version of the Final Four: The SEC schedule is a grind.
The conference slate can take its toll. Facing some of the nation’s top competition week-in and week-out, sometimes a team needs a breather.
The SEC continues to play eight-game conference schedules while three of the Power 5 conferences play nine conference games each year. Beginning this season, the Big Ten eliminated FCS opponents from the schedule. Back in April, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said the conference has no plans to eliminate FCS games.
The SEC did institute a rule beginning in 2016 requiring each program to schedule at least one “power conference” opponent (or independent schools Notre Dame, BYU or Army) every season. But whether it’s an FCS opponent or inferior FBS program, almost every team will play a “cupcake” in 2016.
For the purposes of this story, we’ll define “cupcake” as an FCS team — or a Group of 5 or independent FBS program that won four or fewer games in 2014.
- Sept. 10: Nicholls State (2-8-1) at Georgia
- Sept. 10: Jacksonville State (13-2) at LSU
- Sept. 10: Wofford (5-6) at Ole Miss
- Sept. 10: Prairie View A&M (8-2) at Texas A&M
- Sept. 24: Delaware State (1-10) at Missouri
- Oct. 1: Alcorn State (9-4) at Arkansas
- Oct. 22: Tennessee State (4-6) at Vanderbilt
- Oct. 29: Samford (6-5) at Mississippi State
- Nov. 5: Tennessee Tech (4-7) at Tennessee
- Nov. 19: Austin Peay (0-11) at Kentucky
- Nov. 19: Presbyterian (2-9) at Florida
- Nov. 19: Alabama A&M (3-8) at Auburn
- Nov. 19: Chattanooga (9-4) at Alabama
- Nov. 19: Western Carolina (7-4) at South Carolina
Analysis: Every SEC team will play one FCS opponent in 2016. LSU may have drawn the short straw, though. The Tigers host Jacksonville State early in the season. The Gamecocks nearly upset Auburn last year before falling to North Dakota State in the FCS national title game. Jacksonville State also beat Chattanooga, on Alabama’s ’16 schedule, in the second round of the FCS playoffs.
Florida was the only conference program not to schedule an FCS opponent last season, though LSU’s season opener against McNeese State got canceled due to weather.
- Sept. 3: UMass (3-9) at Florida
- Sept. 10: Eastern Michigan (1-11) at Missouri
- Sept. 17: New Mexico State (3-9) at Kentucky
- Sept. 17: North Texas (1-11) at Florida
- Sept 17: Texas State (3-9) at Arkansas
- Sept. 24: Kent State (3-9) at Alabama
- Sept. 24: Mississippi State at UMass (3-9) (Gillette Stadium)
- Oct. 1: Louisiana Monroe (2-11) at Auburn
- Oct. 22: UMass (3-9) vs South Carolina
- Oct. 29: New Mexico State (3-9) at Texas A&M
- Nov. 19: Texas-San Antonio (3-9) at Texas A&M
- Nov. 19: Louisiana-Lafayette (4-8) at Georgia
Analysis: LSU, Ole Miss, Tennessee and Vanderbilt will not match up against any FBS cupcakes this season. The road through the brutal SEC West and to the SEC Championship is that much tougher for the Tigers and Rebels.
A couple teams will get a full serving of SEC flavor in 2016. UMass will open up against Florida and travel to Columbia, S.C., to take on the Gamecocks. Mississippi State gets to spice up its cupcake some when it travels to Tom Brady world and plays the Minutemen on the road at Gillette Stadium.
New Mexico State also drew two SEC opponents in Kentucky and Texas A&M.
Say a prayer for both teams.
The Aggies also get to take on former LSU running backs coach Frank Wilson and UTSA on Nov. 19. The Gators will get a nice easy start to the season with UMass and North Texas two weeks later, while Auburn goes up against Louisiana-Monroe, who most notably knocked off Nick Saban and Alabama in 2007.
This season, 26 of the SEC’s 56 non-conference games (46.4 percent) qualify as a “cupcake game.” That’s the same percentage as last season.
Back to LSU and Ole Miss: Credit both programs for their scheduling as each will open against a big-time opponent and play capable FBS teams along the way. The Tigers begin the season against Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, and also hold games against Jacksonville State (13-2), Southern Miss (9-5) and South Alabama (5-7). The Rebels take on Florida State (10-3) to kickoff the season before playing Wofford (5-6), Memphis (9-4) and Georgia Southern (9-4).
Florida, Missouri and Texas A&M each have three “cupcake” games on their schedules.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway without sacrificing a good Saturday of college football, circle Nov. 19 on your schedule. The second-to-last weekend of the season features five cupcake games, and will give you plenty of time to rest up before a rivalry week.