The SEC has mandated that each team in the conference plays at least one Power Five out-of-conference game per season, which is a big factor in determining the toughest schedules in the nation's best college football conference. Those games, coupled with the SEC's rotating cross-division games, home-and-away splits and where scheduled bye weeks fall can make or break entire seasons no matter how talented or well-coached a team is.
There are several intriguing games in 2021, starting with Georgia's neutral-site game vs. Clemson in the opener, Florida's early home test vs. Alabama and LSU's trip to Tuscaloosa in an attempt to repeat the 2019 thriller.
So what are the toughest and easiest schedules in the SEC this coming season? Let's break them down team-by-team.
|It feels like the SEC gives the Razorbacks a gauntlet every season that is nearly impossible to navigate, and the 2021 season is no exception. The Hogs draw Georgia on the road as their rotating cross-division opponent, have a four-game stretch that has Texas A&M, Georgia, at Ole Miss and Auburn in consecutive weeks and face back-to-back road games at LSU and Alabama. Oh, and their big out-of-conference game is vs. Texas. Good luck.|
|The Gamecocks have their typical end-of-the-season intra-state rivalry with Clemson to close things out, a date with Auburn as their rotating cross-division game one week before and road trips at Texas A&M and Georgia. First-year coach Shane Beamer might be the right man for the job, but it won't be easy for him to prove it during his first season at the helm in Columbia. Simply put: a bowl game would qualify as a minor miracle for the Gamecocks in 2021.|
|The Tigers go on the road to Penn State in Week 3 and have road games vs. LSU and Texas A&M -- two of the top three teams in the SEC West. On top of those nightmares they also have permanent cross-division rival Georgia one week after the LSU game and, of course, the Iron Bowl to close things out. Even if Auburn is vastly improved in 2021, it's hard to imagine first-year coach Bryan Harsin's record reflecting such improvement.|
|Kentucky draws LSU as its rotating cross-division opponent, and that home game is sandwiched between a home game vs. Florida and a road game between the hedges against Georgia; that's probably the toughest three-week stretch in the conference. Many of the other games on the docket are either toss-ups or likely wins, but winning every single toss-up game is nearly impossible in this day and age in the SEC. Kentucky will have to do just that if it wants to contend for the SEC East title.|
|The Rebels face road games at Alabama and Auburn, draw LSU in the Magnolia Bowl before traveling to the Plains and have a Labor Day night out-of-conference tilt with Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Oh, and there's that pesky little out-of-conference game on Nov. 6 against Malik Willis and Liberty in the game that will be known as the Hugh Freeze Bowl. Make no mistake, the Rebels are going to be extremely dangerous this season, but Lane Kiffin's crew elevating itself into a position of national relevance is too much, too soon.|
|Florida is replacing star quarterback Kyle Trask, enough production at wide receiver to solve the nation's labor shortage and draws Alabama out of the SEC West. The Gators also travel to LSU on the road and only have three SEC home games with the rivalry game vs. Georgia in Jacksonville serving as one of their "home" games this year. The intra-state rivalry with Florida State shouldn't be considered a pushover in Year 2 of Mike Norvell's tenure in Tallahassee. It'll be very hard for coach Dan Mullen's Gators to repeat as division champs.|
|Alabama's schedule features a tough out-of-conference tilt to open the season against D'Eriq King and Miami (FL), a Week 3 trip to Florida, road games at Texas A&M and Auburn (where it hasn't won since 2015) and a home showdown with an LSU team that will be vastly improved from last season. It's definitely fair to assume that the Crimson Tide are the favorites to win the SEC West again, but it won't be as easy as it was last season considering the massive roster turnover facing coach Nick Saban's squad -- especially on offense.|
|Mississippi State's cross-division slate doesn't look too sketchy considering it draws Vanderbilt as its rotator and has Kentucky at home in its permanent cross-division rivalry. But out-of-conference games vs. NC State and at Memphis more than make up for it. The two-game stretch vs. LSU and at Texas A&M is no joke, and that is followed up two weeks later by a home game vs. Alabama. The Bulldogs also have a road trip to Auburn on Nov. 13 which could decide a bowl game appearance for second-year coach Mike Leach.|
|It's going to take a long, slow reconstruction effort for first-year coach Clark Lea -- a Vanderbilt alum -- to get his alma mater back to contending for bowl games on an annual basis. The SEC didn't really do them any favors in 2021 thanks to a cross-division game at Ole Miss in the penultimate game of the regular season and an open date that doesn't take place until Nov. 6. The out-of-conference slate features a home game vs. Stanford and a road game at Colorado State. It'll be fascinating to see how the Commodores navigate through those choppy waters.|
|A home game vs. Ole Miss in Tennessee's rotating cross-division game immediately precedes its road trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium to take on rival Alabama. The Vols also have to travel to Florida in the last week of September and a road game against a Pittsburgh team that could be one of the surprise contenders in the ACC. With that said, the game vs. the Panthers should be considered a toss-up, as is the case for road games at Missouri and Kentucky. A .500 record in Josh Heupel's first season at the helm is a distinct possibility.|
|A road game in the Rose Bowl vs. UCLA to open the season should be a breeze, a rotating cross-division game at Kentucky won't be much of a challenge and the Tigers draw Auburn, Texas A&M and Florida inside the friendly confines of Death Valley. Yes, Ed Orgeron's crew does have to go to Bryant-Denny Stadium. But that will probably be the only time this season in which they'll be an underdog. Simply put: a win over Alabama should ensure the Tigers of their second SEC West title in three years.|
|It won't be easy for the Bulldogs right out of the gate, as they will travel to Charlotte to take on the mighty Clemson Tigers in what is the most heavily-anticipated game of Labor Day weekend. After that, it'll be smooth-sailing for Kirby Smart's crew. Arkansas is their rotating cross-division opponent, permanent cross-division rival Auburn is rebuilding under first-year coach Bryan Harsin and it's not like intra-state rival Georgia Tech has returned to bowl contention. Even with a loss to Clemson in the opener, Georgia should run the table and could be double-digit favorites from Week 2 through the SEC Championship Game (depending on what Florida looks like).|
|Eli Drinkwitz's second campaign in Columbia will feature home games vs. Tennessee, Texas A&M and Florida, a road trip to Boston College and the annual trip to Georgia serving as its only challenging SEC road game. Don't get me wrong, Missouri is still going to have its work cut out for it considering its overall team talent isn't good enough to win every toss-up game. But having a quarterback like Connor Bazelak -- who became a budding star as a freshman -- is a huge luxury in what's a relatively down year at the quarterback position in the SEC.|
|The out-of-conference road game vs. Colorado won't be too much of a challenge, and the Aggies draw Missouri as their rotating cross-division opponent. In addition to that, they get Alabama and Auburn at home, and will have plenty of time to answer roster questions before the second half of the season. Simply put, they should start the season 5-0 and rack up several more wins between Week 6 and the end of the regular season. The easy schedule is a big reason why Jimbo Fisher's squad is being looked at as a real contender to Alabama's SEC West throne.|