As we inch closer to the start of the season, it’s time to review the schedules of every SEC team.
Whether it’s home vs. road, nonconference matchups or potential trap games, there is a lot to get into.
We continue the series with the LSU Tigers:
Nonconference opponents (with 2015 record)
Sept. 3: Wisconsin at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis. (10-3)
Sept. 10: Jacksonville State (13-2)
Oct. 15: Southern Miss (9-5)
Nov. 19: South Alabama (5-7)
SEC home games
Sept. 17: Mississippi State
Oct. 1: Missouri
Oct. 22: Ole Miss
Nov. 5: Alabama
SEC road games
Sept. 24: Auburn
Oct. 8: Florida
Nov. 12: Arkansas
Nov. 24: Texas A&M
Gut-check time: LSU plays the three teams that it lost against in 2015 -- Ole Miss, Alabama and Arkansas -- in consecutive games again this fall. Ole Miss and Alabama will visit Tiger Stadium on Oct. 22 and Nov. 5 (with an open date between), with a road date against Arkansas to follow on Nov. 12. The Tigers’ record against those opponents over the past three seasons is 2-7: 0-3 against Alabama, and 1-2 against both Ole Miss and Arkansas. Though there are big games earlier on the schedule -- namely Wisconsin, Mississippi State, Auburn and defending SEC East champion Florida -- these three games are the enormous measuring stick for a program that expects to contend for a College Football Playoff spot this season. Alabama, in particular, seems like the make-or-break game for the Tigers. These two programs played for a BCS title in 2011, but Alabama has taken the upper hand in the rivalry, winning each of the past five meetings as well as three national titles since LSU last beat the Crimson Tide in the 2011 regular season.
Trap game: The opener against Wisconsin represents an interesting challenge for the Tigers. The Badgers will play a brutal schedule this fall, but they’ll be fresh and on home turf when they face LSU at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. Rabid Tigers fans will surely travel to this game by the thousands, but this will hardly be a neutral site. Of greater concern than the location, however, is the presence of three talented backs -- Corey Clement, Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale -- in the Wisconsin backfield, running behind an offensive line that returns a wealth of experience. With LSU breaking in a new 3-4 defense (led by former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Dave Aranda), the Tigers can’t afford many communication breakdowns or the Badgers could make this a long day for Les Miles’ club.
Final analysis: By the SEC West’s lofty standards, LSU faces an extremely manageable schedule this season. ESPN’s Football Power Index shows that the Tigers will face the 10th-most-difficult schedule in the FBS, but that ranks fifth in the West behind Ole Miss (second nationally), Alabama (fourth), Auburn (sixth) and Arkansas (seventh). Obviously getting to the CFP will be no cakewalk for Miles’ team. None of the road games are obvious gimmes, and even though the Tigers get Alabama at Tiger Stadium -- where LSU has blown leads in the final minute of the past two meetings with the Tide -- getting the Nick Saban monkey off their backs will not be easy. LSU was undefeated and sat second in the CFP rankings last season before hitting the skids against Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas in November. It would be no surprise to see that stretch once again determine whether the Tigers are legitimate SEC West contenders this season.