Scheduling matters more than ever before in the College Football Playoff era. As we've seen in the history of the CFP, it's one of the most significant factors in deciding who gets a shot to play for a national title and who does not. It's not just whether you win your conference, but who you play along the way. It's also proven that it's not just about who you have beaten, but who you lost to during the regular season. We've already seen numerous examples of teams missing out on the playoff not just because of who they lost to, but which teams they never gave themselves a chance to beat.
So it only makes sense that we try to get an idea of which teams will play the more demanding schedules before the season even begins, and that's precisely what we've done. Now, it isn't a perfect process, but it's one I think gives us a good idea of what to expect. I'll explain.
Methodology: Essentially, what I do is look at which teams each program is playing and how strong those teams have performed in my ranking system in past years. The history of a program is a better indicator of its future success than just about anything, though I did make a change this season.
In previous years, I ranked programs based on how they fared the last five seasons. This year, I've changed it to the last three seasons. Yes, the sample size is smaller, but what I noticed is that it's typically the same teams performing well over the last three as it was the previous five. By changing it to three, it shows a bit more accuracy for the upcoming season. For example, playing UCF last season wasn't worth as much as it probably should have been when considering UCF's previous five seasons. Now, considering only the last three, UCF is much stronger. On the flip side, there's a program like Oregon, which is the No. 27 team overall over the previous five seasons but is only No. 47 in the last three. Considering the Ducks haven't finished any of the previous three seasons ranked in the AP Top 25, that No. 47 ranking better reflects their overall strength at present than the previous five seasons ranking.
Finally, I consider other factors such as where the game is played as well as when it's played. For example, if you're playing Boston College on the road and it's your fifth game in five weeks, that's more difficult than if you were playing Boston College on the road following a bye. The same can be said if your opponent is coming off a bye while you've played a month straight. There's also the issue of playing on a short week. I then crunch all the numbers, and in the end, I get something that gives us all a good idea of which teams are most likely to face the most difficult schedules in 2019.
Without further ado, here are your 2019 SEC strength of schedule rankings.
|South Carolina's schedule starts off a bit soft before kicking into high gear. North Carolina and Charleston Southern are the first two teams on the docket, and then it's Alabama in Columbia followed by Missouri and Kentucky. Then, after a bye week, the Gamecocks hit the road for Georgia, and follow that up immediately with Florida. They also play another tricky nonconference game against Appalachian State before finishing the season with a road game against Texas A&M and Clemson at home. There have been three programs to reach the College Football Playoff National Championship in the last two seasons, and South Carolina is playing all three of them this year.|
|The Bulldogs don't have things easy themselves. Murray State and Arkansas State shouldn't prove to be too difficult to deal with, but those games are followed by Notre Dame in Sanford Stadium. All of this comes after opening the season on the road against Vanderbilt. From the West, the Dawgs draw both Auburn and Texas A&M, and they will play them in consecutive weeks at the end of the season before finishing on the road against rival Georgia Tech. There's also the annual tilt with Florida in Jacksonville.|
|You know how South Carolina is playing the three teams to participate in the title games the last two years? Yeah, well so is A&M, and the Aggies are playing both Clemson and Georgia on the road. The reason for the (slight) difference in overall SOS here is that the Aggies will play Lamar, UTSA and Texas State in the nonconference along with Clemson.|
|Arkansas' schedule gets a slight boost because, unlike its SEC West counterparts, the Hogs don't have Arkansas dragging their SOS down a bit. Still, the nonconference slate isn't exactly terrifying, as Arkansas plays Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky. All of them are at home, too. Where things get difficult is in conference play as the Hogs get A&M at a neutral site and play both Alabama and LSU on the road this season. Drawing Kentucky and Mizzou from the East isn't a cakewalk, but it could have been a lot worse.|
|Ole Miss' nonconference schedule is mostly respectable, even if it doesn't feature any big-name opponents. The Rebels will play on the road at Memphis, and California will fly across the country to Oxford. Then there are your standard buy games against Southeastern Louisiana and New Mexico State. What separated Ole Miss from Arkansas, in the end, was that the Rebels get Vandy while Arkansas got a road game against Kentucky. They also get A&M in Oxford rather than at a neutral site.|
|The Vols play a nonconference schedule that's mostly harmless. BYU is the clear headliner of the bunch, while Georgia State, Chattanooga and UAB will also make a trip to Knoxville. In conference play, there's the annual tilt with Bama, which is in Tuscaloosa this season, and that gives the overall SOS a bump. The Vols will also play Florida in Gainesville before taking a week off and hosting Georgia.|
|The Tigers will hit the road to face Texas in Austin during the second week of the season, and that buoys their overall SOS. While Georgia Southern and Utah State are respectable opponents, they aren't juggernauts. LSU's SOS is also hurt a bit by drawing Vanderbilt as its road game against the East. Still, the Tigers have to play Florida, Auburn, Alabama and TAMU, and they also have tough road tests against Mississippi State and Ole Miss.|
|There's nothing wrong with Kansas State as your nonconference headliner, but compared to other nonconference schedules in the SEC, it doesn't carry a lot of weight. Nor do Louisiana, Southern Miss or Abilene Christian. Also, getting Kentucky and Tennessee from the East is favorable, particularly with Kentucky coming to Starkville. The Bulldogs also get both LSU and Alabama at home this season.|
|Florida opens the season with Miami in Orlando, but the rest of its nonconference slate features Florida State and two FCS teams in UT-Martin and Towson. That latter part hurts the overall SOS more than anything as Florida's SEC schedule is pretty tough. The Gators get both LSU and Auburn from the West, and they will have to play Kentucky, Mizzou and South Carolina on the road. And, of course, there's Georgia in Jacksonville.|
|The Tigers open the season at Wyoming, which is odd, to say the least. They then return home to face West Virginia, and their final two nonconference games are Southeast Missouri and Troy. The Tigers also get an extremely favorable draw from the West in Ole Miss and Arkansas. If you had to pick any two teams from the West to play right now, those are the two you're picking. And while they have to face Georgia on the road, South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee all make the trip to Columbia this year.|
|The season-opener against Oregon would have carried more weight if I was still using my five-year model instead of the three-year version. Still, it's a respectable game at a neutral site. The rest of the nonconference slate (Tulane, Kent State, Samford) is Charmin soft. Of course, considering the Tigers have road games against Texas A&M, Florida and LSU, and then have to contend with both Georgia and Alabama in Auburn as well, it's hard to blame them for taking it a bit easy in nonconference play.|
|Opening the season against Georgia won't be much fun, even if it's at home. Following it up the next week with a road trip to Purdue won't be a lot of fun, either. Then it's a bye week and hosting LSU before things get significantly less difficult the rest of the way. Northern Illinois, Eastern Tennessee and UNLV comprise the rest of the nonconference, and Ole Miss is the other team from the West the Commodores face. Still, while it's one of the easier SEC schedules, it's not the easiest. The final stretch of the season will see Vandy play road games against South Carolina, Florida and Tennessee, with a home game against Kentucky (as well as ETSU) sandwiched in between.|
|Kentucky's nonconference schedule includes Toledo, Eastern Michigan, UT-Martin and Louisville; that Louisville game would have been a lot more valuable two years ago than it is now. The Wildcats also benefit from a relatively soft draw from the West in Arkansas and Mississippi State, and while they get Georgia on the road, Florida, Missouri and Tennessee all come to Kroger Field.|
|Since 2010, Alabama's nonconference schedules have been headlined by Louisville, Florida State, USC, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Virginia Tech, Michigan and Penn State. This year -- it's Duke. I'm not knocking the Blue Devils, but compared to those other opponents, they don't carry that same kind of weight. The rest of Bama's nonconference slate is New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina. The Tide also avoid Georgia and Florida, but they do get South Carolina and Tennessee from the East. The toughest games will be on the road against Texas A&M and Auburn as well as at home against LSU. Oh, and Alabama doesn't get the SOS booster shot of playing Alabama. Still, while the schedule isn't easy by any stretch, compared to the rest of the SEC, it projects to be the lightest of the bunch.|