It’s a rite of late summer — predicting the wins and losses.
Every year before the season starts, fans parse their favorite football team’s schedule, adding up the locks, the potential wins and — for the truly impartial — the likely losses.
There are few pushovers in the SEC, but some games are especially challenging on paper. Maybe the opponent is a national power, or maybe it’s a road game. In the worst cases, it might be both.
With that in mind, here is this season’s most difficult SEC game for each team in the league:
Game: at Ole Miss (Sept. 17)
Breakdown: It was tempting to go with the November visit to LSU, but Alabama has beaten the Tigers in four straight games since a 9-6 loss in Death Valley in 2011. On the other hand, Ole Miss has the rare distinction of owning two consecutive wins over the Crimson Tide. It’s just as important as the LSU game for SEC West positioning, but with a little added spice.
Game: at Auburn (Oct. 22)
Breakdown: The game with Alabama two weeks earlier is no picnic, but at least it’s happening in Fayetteville. The trip to Jordan-Hare will be the first true road game for the Razorbacks this season, and it will come on the heels of that Alabama game and a visit from Ole Miss. To make matters worse, both the Rebels and Tigers will be coming off bye weeks.
Game: at Alabama (Nov. 26)
Breakdown: The Iron Bowl is always tough, but this year, the rivalry game will be even more difficult. It comes at the end of six-week stretch in which the Tigers will face Arkansas, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt, Georgia and Alabama A&M before the trip west to Tuscaloosa. Alabama has a more friendly lead-in, with home games against Mississippi State and Chattanooga before Auburn comes to town.
Game: at Tennessee (Sept. 24)
Breakdown: If you ask the pundits, Florida doesn’t have much chance to repeat as SEC East champions this season. The Gators can change all that when they visit Knoxville. They’ve won five straight games at Neyland Stadium, and 11 straight against the Volunteers overall. If they can make it six and 12, respectively, the Gators will have the experts rethinking their projections.
Game: vs. Florida (Oct. 29)
Breakdown: Aside from a road trip to Ole Miss and a home game with Tennessee, this is as tough as this year’s schedule gets for new coach Kirby Smart. Florida has won the past two meetings by an average of 21 points, so snapping that skid would be a nice way for Smart to begin his career in Athens.
Game: at Florida (Sept. 10)
Breakdown: Trips to Tennessee and Alabama are frightening enough for the Wildcats, but Florida serves as the Wildcats’ bogeyman. The Gators have reeled off 29 straight wins in the series, and Kentucky hasn’t won in Gainesville since 1979. This is the sort of game that could help get Mark Stoops a contract extension if he finds a way to win.
Game: at Florida (Oct. 8)
Breakdown: The Ole Miss and Alabama games might mean more for SEC West tiebreakers, but any visit to The Swamp is tougher than a home date for LSU. While the Tigers have won three straight in the series, the teams have split the past eight meetings in Gainesville, with LSU winning the most recent 30-27 in 2014.
Game: at LSU (Oct. 22)
Breakdown: The Rebels will want to take down LSU in Death Valley to give themselves a leg up in the West. The Tigers have won the past three meetings there, and six of the past seven. But Ole Miss is 12-2 on the road in the past two seasons, proving the Rebels are comfortable outside of Oxford. LSU has the easier lead-in with a home game against Southern Miss, while Ole Miss visits Arkansas before heading to Baton Rouge.
Game: at Ole Miss (Nov. 26)
Breakdown: The Egg Bowl arrives for the Bulldogs this season at the tail end of an eight-game run that features road trips to BYU, Kentucky and Alabama and home clashes with Auburn, Texas A&M and Arkansas. It’s a brutal stretch, and it will be interesting to see what sort of condition Dan Mullen’s team is in by then.
Game: at Tennessee (Nov. 19)
Breakdown: It’s the last road game of the season, and it comes with an interesting statistic. The Tigers have never lost in Neyland Stadium. Granted, they’ve only been twice (2012 and 2014). Still, it’s not something many teams can claim. The Volunteers will be eager to set that right, adding a little edge to an already tough game for Mizzou.
Game: at Florida (Nov. 12)
Breakdown: When you’re coming off a 3-9 season and picked last in the SEC East, all the league games are difficult on paper. South Carolina lost its first 12 visits to The Swamp, but has won two of its past three games there. With that on their minds, and Presbyterian coming in the following week, the Gators will be giving the Gamecocks their full attention.
Game: at Georgia (Oct. 1)
Breakdown: Whether or not the Volunteers manage to break their losing streak against Florida the week before, the trip to Athens looms large. If Tennessee beats Florida, the challenge will be to produce the same intensity and effort. Should the Vols lose to the Gators, it will be tough for Butch Jones to pick his team back up to face the challenge of playing between the hedges. Either way, it’s going to be tricky.
Game: at Alabama (Oct. 22)
Breakdown: With Johnny Manziel, the Aggies are 1-0 in Tuscaloosa. Without him, they’re 0-1 with a 59-0 thumping in 2014 — their first shutout loss since 2003. Texas A&M has an open date to prepare for the trip, but that won’t make playing at Bryant-Denny Stadium much easier.
Game: South Carolina (Sept. 1)
Breakdown: There are tough games all over the schedule for the Commodores, but the opener provides a unique opportunity. Vanderbilt is a 3.5-point favorite against a team that’s rebuilding and likely to have a freshman quarterback taking at least some of the snaps. A win in this game would reverse South Carolina’s dominance in Nashville (10-2 record), start the season off with a bang and help coach Derek Mason, to some degree, prove his program’s critics wrong.