If you’ve read our breakdown of every SEC road trip (and why wouldn’t you have?), you’d know that Southeastern teams are traveling all over the country this season. There will be some tough non-conference games at home, but the biggest challenges are away from campus.
Here are the nine toughest non-conference games on the SEC slate this season:
9. Georgia vs. North Carolina
Sept. 3 — The Bulldogs will face a doozy of a challenge at home in Week 1. North Carolina was a quarter away from the ACC title last year, and brings back stud running back Elijah Hood, who racked up 1,463 rushing yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in 2015. The Heels defense was iffy — it allowed 5.1 yards per carry — but their high-powered offense allowed them to reel off 11 straight victories last season.
8. Mississippi State at BYU
Oct. 14 — By the time the Bulldogs come to town in mid-October, the Cougars will have faced a murderer’s row: Arizona, at Utah, UCLA, West Virginia, at Michigan State. There’s a home game against Toledo in there, but Mississippi State looks like one of BYU’s easier games this season. Don’t count on the “SEC mystique” scaring this program, which has won at least eight games in five straight seasons.
7. Alabama vs. USC (Arlington, Texas)
Sept. 3 — Few expect the Trojans to topple the Crimson Tide on opening weekend, but USC is no pushover. Clay Helton’s squad is firmly entrenched in the top 25 picture, and preseason All-American wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster might be able to find enough holes in the defensive backfield to give the Tide trouble. If Alabama’s young offense sputters early, USC could shock the heavy favorite.
6. LSU at Wisconsin (Green Bay, Wisconsin)
Sept. 3 — This is technically a neutral-site game, but the Badgers are only a couple hours from Lambeau Field, while the Tigers will need to make a cross-country trip for opening weekend. Pundits consider LSU the better team, with Wisconsin hovering in or around the back end of the top 25. Les Miles’ teams perform extremely well in season openers, but this one will be against a physical Big Ten team in enemy territory.
5. Arkansas at TCU
Sept. 10 — The Horned Frogs have not lost a game in Fort Worth since 2013, and Arkansas doesn’t (currently) look like the team to break that streak. We’ll see if the Hogs can pull off an early-season upset, but much better squads — Alabama or LSU, for instance — would struggle to leave Amon G. Carter Stadium with a win.
4. Auburn vs. Clemson
Sept. 3 — Clemson might be the No. 1 team in the country when the season kicks off, but a game at Jordan-Hare Stadium will not be overlooked. The Battle of the Tigers will feature one team with hopes of returning to the national championship game, and another trying to prove that last year’s collapse was a mirage.
3. Ole Miss vs. Florida State (Orlando, Florida)
Sept. 5 — This contest will be telling for both sides, as a pair of potential top-10 teams will try to avoid losing this opener at Camping World Stadium near Disneyland. The loser will face a long road to the College Football Playoff, while the winner will be perceived as one of the country’s elite teams.
2. Florida at Florida State
Nov. 26 — Florida State has won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons, and likely will be favored when these teams clash in late November. The Seminoles have not lost at Doak Campbell Stadium in four years, but Florida knows how to pull it off; there are still fifth-year seniors on the Gators roster that were part of the last road team to win in Tallahassee (Nov. 24, 2012).
1. South Carolina at Clemson
Nov. 26 — This Palmetto State rivalry is a streaky one; there has not been a one-off winner since South Carolina sneaked past Clemson at Williams-Brice Stadium a decade ago. This year, there doesn’t seem to be much hope for the Gamecocks, as Clemson is expected to make another national title run while South Carolina will be trying to stay out of the SEC East cellar.
Honorable mentions: Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech (Bristol, Tennessee), Missouri at West Virginia, Kentucky at Louisville, Vanderbilt at Georgia Tech, Texas A&M vs. UCLA, Georgia vs. Georgia Tech