Tennessee Volunteers

Comparing Non-Conference Schedules in the SEC

Earlier this week we all went a few rounds on Tennessee’s non-conference scheduling habits; I argued if you don’t want to schedule the likes of Oklahoma but you don’t want to schedule the likes of Kansas, the Vols should look at short drives to non-Clemson ACC schools as well as teams like Washington, Michigan State, and Stanford we’ve never faced before. That conversation got me thinking about how Tennessee’s scheduling practices compare to the rest of the league.

Here’s a look at every SEC team’s biggest non-conference regular season opponent since expansion in 2012. Obviously Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina have annual rivalries that make up much of the list; kudos to the Dawgs for scheduling additional marquee games in four of the last six years.

Tennessee faced three ranked non-conference teams (on gameday) in the last six years, plus a Virginia Tech team in 2016 that finished the year that way. Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina all faced more than three ranked teams specifically due to their rivalries. Again, Georgia deserves credit for scheduling up outside of their friends from Atlanta: the Dawgs went home-and-home with Clemson in 2013 and 2014, played North Carolina in the Georgia Dome in 2016, and traveled to South Bend last year.

Outside of teams with annual rivalries, only Georgia, Alabama, and Auburn played more ranked non-conference teams in the last six years than Tennessee, at four each. Three of Auburn’s four came from Clemson. Alabama, who has played neutral site season openers only the last six years, faced ranked teams four times.

Where Tennessee’s non-conference schedule really carries weight is in Top 10 teams. The Vols traveled to #2 Oregon and #4 Oklahoma in Butch Jones’ first two years (then hosted #19 Oklahoma in year three, a future playoff team). That ties Tennessee with Alabama, Auburn, and Florida in having faced two Top 10 non-conference foes in the last six years; South Carolina leads by virtue of playing four Top 10 Clemson squads at the end of the year.

Additional notes from this exercise: Missouri has not played a ranked non-conference team in the regular season since joining the SEC. And Mississippi State has played only one in the last six years, #13 Oklahoma State in 2013.

Here’s the slate for 2018:

  • Alabama: vs Louisville (Orlando)
  • Arkansas: at Colorado State
  • Auburn: vs Washington (Atlanta)
  • Florida: at Florida State
  • Georgia: Georgia Tech
  • Kentucky: at Louisville
  • LSU: vs Miami (Arlington)
  • Ole Miss: vs Texas Tech (Houston)
  • Mississippi State: at Kansas State
  • Missouri: at Purdue
  • South Carolina: at Clemson
  • Tennessee: vs West Virginia (Charlotte)
  • Texas A&M: Clemson
  • Vanderbilt: at Notre Dame


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Isaac Bishopdaetilus Recent comment authors
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To be a big boy, you gotta play the big boys. Overall, I think the non-conference schedule should be pretty much balanced. We should keep having a marquee game most years and one cupcake, hopefully with at least an ounce of respectability. You have to have the marquee to not only get respect around the country, but to appeal to the committee choosing the playoffs (I realize this is looking way ahead), and to test your own team. Finally a pair of middle-of-the-road types. Ones that the Vols should expect to beat most times as long as the Vols play… Read more »

Isaac Bishop
Isaac Bishop

Personally I wouldn’t mind playing a Kansas, Oregon State or an Illinois instead of an FCS team every year. You get a second Power 5 non conference game with the difficulty of a mid major. Deceiving, but it would appear a lot better on paper.