Mitchell: Deep Dive SEC Schedules, Part I
SC's Connor Shaw
SC's Connor Shaw
Posted Apr 4, 2012

Now that basketball has mercifully finished, and all eyes return to football (those that weren't there already), CFN's lead SEC Columnist Russ Mitchell takes a deeper look at the 2012 schedule to find the key stretch/game for each team. First, the East

By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb

SEC East:

Florida… No rest for the Gators. Florida opens with a home game against Bowling Green and then jumps right into the fray with back-to-back conference road games. The first is all the way out to College Station - with the associated distractions that a new city/team/stadium bring, not to mention it being A&M's first SEC game. After that, it's off to Knoxville for the always passionate rodeo with the Vols. The Gators better have their quarterback situation resolved by then, particularly since its likely both the Aggies and Tennessee will be offense-heavy. Otherwise, 2012 could pick up right where 2011 left off.

Georgia… It's been repeated often, but when your toughest game of the season might be Missouri on the road (given it's game two and the aforementioned distractions), you're living a charmed life. For the second year in a row, there's no LSU, no Alabama and no Arkansas. Like they did in 2011, Georgia could lose to the Gamecocks in Columbia and still back into the SEC Championship Game, given SC plays @ LSU and vs. Arkansas.

Kentucky… The road trip to Louisville to start the season will likely hand the Wildcats their first loss. This intrastate rivalry goes in streaks...only one time in its history has a team broken the other's streak and failed to win the next year. Kentucky won in 2002, after which UoL won four straight, then UK won four of its own. The Cards broke that streak in 2011, and they will likely be favored again in 2012. After the road trip to Louisville, the Wildcats start a absolutely brutal stretch that sees them playing every conference game but Tennessee before their bye week. Throw in @ Arkansas from the West, and hang onto your hat, Joker.

Missouri… Oh look...a new toy. The Tigers start with three games at home (including Georgia and what's likely to be an inexperienced Arizona State program), before traveling all the way to Columbia for their first conference road game. After that they fly home, only to fly back to the Atlantic seaboard the following Saturday to play UCF. Overall, Mizzou will make three trips to the ocean, as well as one to Knoxville. Moreover, the Tigers get their bye week after Bama and before Kentucky…ideally, you'd like that the other way around. Regardless, everything will be new for the Tigers this year – new stadiums, hotels, teams, players, coaches, reporters, schedules, teams… Even cheerleaders. Everything will be new. It's hard to execute on all cylinders when everything is new, and in the SEC - even the East - you better be operating at peak performance right out of the gate. Endless distractions...that's the toughest thing about this schedule, and it's why Mizzou will not win the East in 2012.

South Carolina… SC's schedule might be the second easiest in the East. The Gamecocks start with a road trip to Vandy, E. Carolina and UAB…all challenging, but games in which SC should be favored, which is exactly what you want as a coach. Vandy's run defense won't be anywhere near last year's Top 40 in the nation; if Shaw can get even a hint of a passing attack going we should get to see a lot of Marcus Lattimore, and whether he's recovered from late season knee surgery. After that it's Mizzou and @ Kentucky, followed by a difficult stretch of UGA, @ LSU and @ Florida. If SC can navigate that with only the one road loss to the Bayou Bengals, then it's a home game vs. Tenn followed by the bye week before Arkansas in Columbia. Just as it did in 2011, this game against Arkansas will likely determine whether the Gamecocks make it back to Atlanta. SC has three weeks at home heading into this November 10 game, while Arkansas has a bye week, Ole Miss and Tulsa.

Tennessee… Tennessee is perhaps the most difficult team to handicap when analyzing the 2012 schedule. All eyes are on Knoxville as Derek Dooley and his charges work to hammer out their many issues in Spring practice. The season opens vs. NC State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff, which will be a difficult game for the Vols. After that it's hot & cold up until Alabama comes rolling to Neyland Stadium the third Saturday in October: the lead-in to that game goes Georgia St (cold), Florida (hot – or at least warm), Akron (cold), @ UGA (hot), bye week (cold), @ MSU (road hot)…and then the Tide. After Alabama it doesn't get any easier for Tyler Ian Bray and the Vols, who must face SC in Columbia, Troy, and then Mizzou, before finishing up with the traditional @ Vandy and Kentucky. Out of that, Dooley needs at least six, maybe seven, wins, or Tennessee will have a new head ball coach come January. Somebody feed Bray.

Vanderbilt… The Fightin' Franklins will be underdogs against SC to start the season, but if Lattimore is rusty the 'Dores can win that game in Nashville. This first game might be the most important of the season in terms of setting the tone. After that it's a tricky but winnable game in Chicago against Northwestern, then Presbyterian (?) at home before what is likely to be a very passionate road game between the hedges. Let's call it 2-2. A week off for the bye is followed by a difficult but perhaps not overwhelming October of @ Missouri, Florida, Auburn & UMass. A lot of home cooking in the month of Halloween…let's call it another 2-2. Then it's @ Kentucky, @ Ole Miss, Tennessee and the rematch against Wake to close out November. Be still my beating heart... Dare I write it?? Even with all the turnover on defense and the loss of on-field leadership, could the return of former starting running back Warren Norman, with the rapidly improving backfield of quarterback Jordan Rodgers and running back Zac Stacy, be enough to get the ‘Dores to 6-6 and BACK-TO-BACK bowls?? My hands are trembling. Don't bet against James Franklin, y'all. This could prove to be an interesting sub-plot to the 2012 SEC season.

Follow me Twitter @russmitchellcfb

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