The College Football Playoff committee’s inclusion of Ohio State at the expense of TCU and especially Baylor was a warning to teams with playoff ambitions. If you want to be in the playoff you better have some tough opponents on your out of conference schedule.
One of the main criticisms of the SEC West teams last year when it came to analysing the CFP rankings during the season was who they faced out of conference. The SEC currently only plays eight conference games while most of the other Power Five conferences play nine. This was coupled with teams like Mississippi State having weak non-conference schedules but still being ranked highly by the committee (The Bulldogs toughest non-conference game in 2014 was probably UAB who went 6-6 in Conference USA).
With the out of conference schedule clearly being a big part in the committee’s thinking, let’s take a look at who the SEC West faces in 2015.
2015 SEC West Out of Conference Schedules
Alabama Crimson Tide: Wisconsin (Neutral), Middle Tennessee (Home), ULM (Home) and Charleston Southern (Home)
Looking to make amends for their playoff semifinal collapse against Ohio State in 2015. Alabama start the year off with a tough matchup against Wisconsin in Arlington, Texas. After that it should be a formality in the three home match-ups. The game against Charleston Southern from the FCS comes one week before the Iron Bowl continuing the SEC tradition of scheduling late season cupcakes.
Arkansas Razorbacks: UTEP (Home), Toledo (Home), Texas Tech (Home) and UT Martin (Home)
The Razorbacks continue their series with Texas Tech but they are the only Power Five team on the list and arguably one of the weakest coming off of a 4-8 season in the Big 12. Toledo had an impressive season last year but the MAC West team are unlikely to trouble an improving Arkansas team.
Auburn Tigers: Louisville (Neutral), Jacksonville State (Home), San Jose State (Home) and Idaho (Home)
Auburn has a similar schedule to other SEC teams with a neutral field game against a strong opponent to start the year and an easy run after that. They face Idaho right before the Iron Bowl while San Jose State takes place after games against LSU and Mississippi State which helps to break up the SEC conference schedule.
LSU Tigers: McNeese State (Home), Syracuse (Away), Eastern Michigan (Home) and Western Kentucky (Home)
A genuine road game for LSU against a power five conference team is good to see. Nevertheless, Syracuse did go 3-9 last year so they are unlikely to be seen as a strong opponent on the LSU schedule which could be a real worry if they have playoff aspirations. Western Kentucky near the end of the year will be interesting as they are a strong team from Conference USA but shouldn’t trouble the Tigers too much in Baton Rouge.
Mississippi State Bulldogs: Southern Miss (Away), Northwestern (Home), Troy (Home) and Louisiana Tech (Home).
A tougher opponent has been added compared to last year but like many other SEC West teams they’re facing a big conference team who weren’t even bowl eligible last year. Unless Northwestern have a strong season then the Bulldogs will face the same criticism as last year about the difficulty of their schedule outside of the SEC.
Ole Miss Rebels: UT Martin (Home), Fresno State (Home), New Mexico State (Home) and Memphis (Away)
The Rebels are the only SEC West team with no Power Five conference team on their schedule. Memphis on the road represents the only real challenge here as the Tigers from the AAC did manage ten wins last year despite facing both Ole Miss and UCLA. But like their in-state rivals, they are reliant on the one strong looking opponent on their schedule outside of the SEC having a good season.
Texas A&M Aggies: Arizona State (Neutral), Ball State (Home), Nevada (Home) and Western Carolina (Home)
The Aggies beefed up their feeble out of conference schedule with a neutral site game against the Sun Devils. The game is being played at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas so it will probably still feel like a home game but at least against quality opposition. Nevada beat the likes of Washington State and BYU last year as well as losing by seven to Pac-12 runner-up Arizona on the road so might put up some resistance. Western Carolina is after a run of four straight SEC games in consecutive weeks against Alabama, Ole Miss, South Carolina and Auburn.
Realistically, none of the teams in this division has more than one tough opponent to face out of conference. Only Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M face really strong opponents while the rest all have a less challenging opponent from the big conferences. Currently the teams in the SEC have only three out of conference games agreed for 2016 so there is leeway for this to be improved in future years or even a ninth game added.
Next week we’ll look at the SEC East.