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 COUNTDOWN TO KICK-OFF "2019" GAMECOCK FOOTBALL

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Ranking every SEC team's nonconference schedule in 2019

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By Saturday Down South

 

SEC schools have plenty to consider when crafting their nonconference football schedules. They all have a gauntlet to run within the conference, so the out-of-conference schedule provides 4 opportunities for some less-challenging matchups, especially as tune-ups for the start of league play.

 

But the lure of big dollars, national-television exposure and strength of schedule that can impress the Playoff selection committee factor in as well.

 

Teams can play blockbuster neutral-site games against a ranked opponent in Week 1, accelerating their early-season development while allowing enough time to overcome a loss in the polls. They can drop down a notch and play bowl-quality teams to still get a good challenge while reducing the risk of defeat. They can play smaller FBS programs or high-quality FCS schools and accomplish essentially the same thing.

 

And there are the periodic really weak teams – both of the FBS and FCS variety.

 

A common formula is to play 1 ranked team, 1 bowl quality team and 2 lighter-weight teams. But everyone’s approach is a little different and schedules are made so far in advance that opponents sometimes will be better or worse than expected when the contracts were signed.

 

The 2019 nonconference schedules for the 14 SEC schools feature a variety of approaches. Here’s one ranking of their relative strength from the easiest to the toughest:

 

14. Arkansas

 

The Razorbacks might have a shot at bowl eligibility if they can run the table against a modest group comprised of Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky – all at home. Those 4 opponents were a combined 11-36 in 2018.

 

13. Kentucky

 

The Wildcats also get all of their nonconference games at home, featuring a marginally more difficult group – bowl teams Toledo and Eastern Michigan but also Tennessee-Martin and Louisville, both of which are coming off 2-win seasons.

 

12. Alabama

 

The Crimson Tide have become regular visitors to Atlanta on opening weekend. This year’s opponent isn’t a marquee one, but it’s still a potential bowl team in Duke. Then it’s home games against New Mexico State, Southern Miss and Western Carolina.

 

11. Tennessee

 

The Volunteers are also taking the all-home-game approach, hosting Georgia State, BYU, Chattanooga and UAB. BYU and UAB were bowl teams last season, and Jeremy Pruitt has ties to Birmingham, having started his coaching career at Hoover High before becoming an assistant at Alabama.

 

10. Vanderbilt

 

The Commodores certainly aren’t easing into 2019. They host Georgia in Week 1, then jump into the nonconference portion with a rare nonconference road game at Purdue in Week 2. The Boilers stunned Ohio State last season and return one of the nation’s most explosive playmakers in Rondale Moore. Home games against Northern Illinois, UNLV and East Tennessee State should be more manageable.

 

9. Mississippi State

 

The Bulldogs have a rare neutral-site, non-blockbuster opener as they meet Louisiana-Lafayette in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The other 3 games are in Starkville against Southern Miss, Kansas State and Abilene Christian.

 

8. Ole Miss

 

The Rebels open in the neighborhood but with a dangerous road game against Memphis. Many are predicting an upset. After that, they’re home to face Southeastern Louisiana, Cal and New Mexico State. Cal was picked to finish 5th in the Pac-12 North but did play in a bowl game last season.

 

7. Missouri

 

The Tigers visit Wyoming to start, then come home to face West Virginia, which is starting anew on offense, Southeast Missouri (No. 17 in the FCS poll) and Troy.

 

6. Auburn

 

These Tigers open with Oregon (No. 13 in the Coaches poll) in Cowboys Stadium, then host a Tulane team coming off a bowl win, Kent State and Samford. Auburn will be breaking in a new QB (Joey Gatewood or Bo Nix), but knocking off the Ducks could set the tone.

 

5. LSU

 

The Tigers get a tune-up at home against a pretty good FCS program in Georgia Southern before visiting Texas, which is No. 10 in the Coaches preseason poll. Then it’s back to Tiger Stadium to face Northwestern State and Utah State. Utah State finished 11-2 last season and nearly upset Michigan State. They return a dangerous QB in Jordan Love (3,567 yards, 32 TDs.)

 

4. Georgia

 

The Bulldogs ease their way into the season with home games against Murray State and Arkansas State before hosting preseason No. 9 Notre Dame and visiting Georgia Tech in the annual finale. This will be a new-look Tech team. Longtime coach Paul Johnson retired, which means Tech is transitioning from his triple-option attack. Geoff Collins, a former DC at Mississippi State and Florida, is Tech’s new head coach.

 

3. Texas A&M

 

The Aggies host Texas State before visiting defending national champion Clemson in a nationally-televised Week 2 test. They’ll also host Lamar and Texas-San Antonio.

 

2. Florida

 

The Gators have all their games at home or in not-too-far away Orlando, but they have multiple games against tough programs. It starts with Miami in Orlando on Aug. 24, followed by Tennessee-Martin, Towson (No. 11 in the FCS preseason poll) and Florida State.

 

1. South Carolina
 

The Gamecocks open with Mack Brown’s first game back as North Carolina’s coach (in Charlotte), then host Charleston Southern, defending Sun Belt champion Appalachian State and close with Clemson. If you’re looking for good news, the Clemson game is at Williams-Brice, but the Tigers have won 5 in a row, including the past 2 in Columbia.

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