- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
It’s full speed ahead to the 2014 season now that spring practice has begun for everybody in the SEC but Kentucky, which cranks it up next week.
Which SEC team has the toughest season opener next season?
We’ve ranked them 1 through 14 with the first being the toughest and the last being the easiest.
Arkansas at Auburn, Aug. 30: One of the Hogs’ three games away from home in their first five outings, and the opener, against the defending SEC champs, figures to be the toughest of the bunch. Not only that, but Arkansas will be trying to snap a nine-game losing streak.
2. TEXAS A&M
Texas A&M at South Carolina, Aug. 28: The Gamecocks haven't lost a game at home since the midway point of the 2011 season (18 in a row), and the Aggies will be playing their first game without Johnny Manziel and with a defense that still has a ton to prove after last season's struggles.
LSU vs. Wisconsin, in Houston, Aug. 30: The Tigers will have to deal with Melvin Gordon, who’s back after rushing for 1,609 yards last season. The Badgers are always physical across the board, although they're replacing a good bit on defense next season.
Clemson at Georgia, Aug. 30: The Tigers will be without four players who are suspended for the opener, including starting defensive end Corey Crawford and starting offensive guard David Beasley. Even so, this is an old-school Southern rivalry that has produced some epic games.
5. SOUTH CAROLINA
Texas A&M at South Carolina, Aug. 28: Even though Johnny Football won't be working his magic for the Aggies, Kevin Sumlin's track record says that they'll still be plenty potent offensively, meaning the debut on the SEC Network has a chance to be a thriller.
6. OLE MISS
Boise State vs. Ole Miss, in Atlanta, Aug. 28: Seeing a Boise State team without Chris Petersen on the sideline will be odd, and even though the Broncos dipped to eight wins last season, they'll still be a tough out for the Rebels in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta.
Utah State at Tennessee, Aug. 30: Second-year coach Matt Wells has the Utah State program on the move after a 9-5 season a year ago. Quarterback Chuckie Keeton is one of 15 starters returning for the Aggies, who won't be intimidated when they waltz into Neyland Stadium.
Alabama vs. West Virginia, in Atlanta, Aug. 30: The Saturday version of the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game will give us the first glimpse of Alabama's new quarterback now that AJ McCarron is gone. The Mountaineers are always fun to watch on offense, but have to get a lot better on defense if they're going to have a chance in this one.
Arkansas at Auburn, Aug. 30: Opening with an SEC game can always be a little dicey, and Arkansas should be improved in Year No. 2 under Bret Bielema. The Hogs, however, won't be improved enough to go into Jordan-Hare Stadium and pull off the upset, and that's even if the 10-second rule goes into effect for this game.
10. MISSISSIPPI STATE
Southern Miss at Mississippi State, Aug. 30: The Golden Eagles snapped their 23-game losing streak by ending last season with a win over UAB. This has a chance to be Dan Mullen's best team at Mississippi State, and the whole novelty of this being the first meeting between these schools since 1990 shouldn't matter much once the game gets going.
Temple at Vanderbilt, Aug. 30: James Franklin made it clear before he left that the Commodores wouldn't be overextending themselves during the nonconference part of their schedule. The translation: They should have four built-in wins most seasons, and it all starts against Temple at home next season.
Idaho at Florida, Aug. 30: Second-year Idaho coach Paul Petrino is no stranger to the SEC. He has his work cut out for him at Idaho and brought in 16 junior college players in this most recent signing class, many of whom will no doubt be on the field against the Gators.
South Dakota State at Missouri, Aug. 30: Despite the loss of several key seniors, Missouri shouldn't have to break much of a sweat against the FCS Jackrabbits. The second week, though, could be tricky. The Tigers travel to Toledo.
Tennessee-Martin at Kentucky, Aug. 30: It's the first of two straight nonconference games at home for the Wildcats, who then get a chance to end their 16-game SEC losing streak the next week against Florida on the road.
9dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough