There’s no place like home, and that’s as true for college football teams as it is for people.
It’s a huge advantage for teams not to have to travel, and for players to sleep in their own beds in the days leading up to a game. The on-field benefits of playing in front of 80,000 friendly faces are pretty nice, too.
Even with those advantages, some home games are tougher than others. A bitter rival, a tricky non-conference opponent or, in the SEC, a tough crossover opponent from the other division could turn up on the home schedule.
Some years, however, things line up just right. Maybe there’s a FCS opponent or two, or a non-conference foe that’s headed for a rebuilding year to balance out the tougher tests on the schedule.
Here are the five SEC schools that have, on paper, the easiest set of home dates in 2016:
Schedule: Nicholls State (Sept. 10), Tennessee (Oct. 1), Vanderbilt (Oct. 15), Auburn (Nov. 12), Louisiana-Lafayette (Nov. 19) and Georgia Tech (Nov. 26)
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 30-43 (.411)
Home record for the past three seasons: 17-3
Overview: While Georgia’s schedule features a pair of challenging neutral-site games, the Kirby Smart era begins with a friendly home slate.
While Lafayette and Georgia Tech figure to be a little better this fall, Tennessee and Auburn are Georgia’s only home opponents who managed winning records last season. Aside from the Tennessee game, the Bulldogs should be favored in all of their home contests.
Schedule: Western Kentucky (Sept. 10), Kent State (Sept. 24), Kentucky (Oct. 1), Texas A&M (Oct. 22), Mississippi State (Nov. 12), Chattanooga (Nov. 19) and Auburn (Nov. 26)
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 53-37 (.644)
Home record for the past three seasons: 20-1
Overview: Going by 2015 results, this schedule doesn’t belong on this list. But Western Kentucky should take a step back from its 12-2 record without QB Brandon Doughty, who passed for more than 5,000 yards and 48 touchdowns last season.
Factor in a retooled Mississippi State roster and an FCS foe in Chattanooga, and Texas A&M and Auburn remain as the toughest outs on the home slate for the Tide.
Schedule: Southern Miss (Sept. 3), New Mexico State (Sept. 17), South Carolina (Sept. 24), Vanderbilt (Oct. 8), Mississippi State (Oct. 22), Georgia (Nov. 5) and Austin Peay (Nov. 26)
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 38-49 (.437)
Home record for the past three seasons: 11-11
Overview: Coach Mark Stoops is feeling the pressure to produce his first bowl appearance in Lexington, and this set of home games could be enough to get the Wildcats close to that magic six-win plateau.
New Mexico State, South Carolina, Vanderbilt and Austin Peay all were sub-.500 teams in 2015, and with road dates against Florida, Tennessee, Alabama and Louisville, the Wildcats need as many home wins as they can get this fall.
Schedule: Eastern Michigan (Sept. 10), Georgia (Sept. 17), Delaware State (Sept. 24), Middle Tennessee (Oct. 22), Kentucky (Oct. 29), Vanderbilt (Nov. 12) and Arkansas (Nov. 26)
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 36-50 (.419)
Home record for the past three seasons: 14-6
Overview: Georgia and Arkansas likely are the toughest opponents on a manageable home schedule for new coach Barry Odom.
The nonconference opponents shouldn’t provide too much trouble, with the possible exception of Middle Tennessee, and key SEC East games with Kentucky and Vanderbilt are set for Faurot Field.
Schedule: UMass (Sept. 3), Kentucky (Sept. 10), North Texas (Sept. 17), LSU (Oct. 8), Missouri (Oct. 15), South Carolina (Nov. 12), and Presbyterian (Nov. 19)
Opponents’ combined 2015 record: 27-58 (.318)
Home record for the past three seasons: 12-7
Overview: With a neutral-site game against Georgia and road trips to Tennessee and Florida State, Florida’s toughest games in 2016 will take place away from the friendly confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The home schedule is far more forgiving, as LSU is the only team that had a winning record last season. The Gators could be double-digit favorites in every other home game in 2016.