The SEC has generally been criticized for its out of conference scheduling. Mid-season games against cupcakes and avoiding big games against other power five opponents are common critiques of SEC scheduling. But things are slowly improving in the playoff era. The SEC East out of conference schedules are certainly tougher on the whole than the SEC West.
2016 SEC East Out of Conference Schedules
So how strong is the out of conference schedule for the teams in the East in 2016?
Florida Gators: UMass (home), North Texas (home), Presbyterian (home) and Florida State (away).
Much like Mississippi State, the Gators face Massachusetts. Unlike the Bulldogs, the Gators host the Minutemen rather than travelling to Gillette Stadium. The three home games should give Florida three comfortable victories; Presbyterian is an FCS team and UMass and North Texas had four wins between them in 2015. A visit to Tallahassee to play Florida State at the end of the year will be different. Florida State is one of the national favorites and have CFP aspirations. This game could have big playoff ramifications.
Georgia Bulldogs: North Carolina (at Georgia Dome, Georgia), Nicholls State (home), Louisiana-Lafayette (home) and Georgia Tech (home).
The Bulldogs are one of the only SEC teams with two tough power five opponents in out of conference games this year. The season opener against North Carolina is probably going to have home game feel despite being in the Georgia Dome. Georgia Tech had a horrible year last season but have the potential to become bowl eligible again. Nobody can overlook the Yellow Jackets, who are just one season removed from an Orange Bowl victory. Louisiana-Lafayette is a struggling G5 team (4-8 in 2015) and Nicholls State is an FCS team. Georgia should handle both of these teams.
Kentucky Wildcats: Southern Miss (home), New Mexico State (home), Austin Peay (home) and Louisville (away).
2015 was the second consecutive season that a collapse in the season finale against Louisville denied the Wildcats a bowl game. They would love to avenge that defeat but the Cardinals look much improved in 2016 and the game is in Louisville. Southern Miss represents a good mid major program that Kentucky can’t sleep on if they are to avoid being upset at home. New Mexico State and Austin Peay should represent two wins though.
Missouri Tigers: West Virginia (away), Eastern Michigan (home), Delaware State (home) and Middle Tennessee (home).
Missouri faces West Virginia to open their 2016 season in Morgantown, which is always a tough place to win. The other three games are very manageable with one FCS opponent, Eastern Michigan who are regularly one of the worst teams in the FBS and Middle Tennessee who are a middling mid-major program.
South Carolina Gamecocks: East Carolina (home), UMass (home), Western Carolina (home) and Clemson (away).
Looming large for a rebuilding South Carolina program is a visit to Clemson to finish the year. East Carolina took a step back last year after losing some key talent but still pose a threat. UMass and Western Carolina can’t be taken for granted for a Gamecock team that lost to The Citadel last year. Every game is a potential defeat if they play poorly.
Tennessee Volunteers: Appalachian State (home), Virginia Tech (at Bristol Motor Speedway, Tennessee), Ohio (home) and Tennessee Tech (home).
Arguably the most exciting venue for a college football game in 2016 is Bristol Motor Speedway which hosts The Battle at Bristol between the Volunteers and the Virginia Tech Hokies. 160,000+ fans will see this game — the largest for any college game ever. Tennessee will be favorites over the Hokies who have a new head coach but their tough defense will present a tough challenge. Appalachian State are one of the best group of five teams heading into 2016 and Ohio are a good MAC program after a strong 2015 season culminated in a bowl game.
Vanderbilt Commodores: Middle Tennessee (home), Georgia Tech (away), Western Kentucky (away) and Tennessee State (home).
The home games against Middle Tennessee and Tennessee State are probably the only two games on the schedule for Vanderbilt where they’ll be clear favorites. Western Kentucky beat the Commodores last season in Nashville so a road game will be difficult. The Georgia Tech matchup on the road isn’t a game that looks particularly winnable for Vanderbilt unless their defense is stellar.