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Tony BarnhartTony Barnhart

Who’s playing the toughest road schedule in the SEC?

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The Associated Press preseason media poll was released Sunday. Now I know many of you don’t put a whole lot of stock in human polls. And with the arrival of the first College Football Playoff and its selection committee, the traditional polls simply don’t mean as much as they did during the BCS era (1998-2013).

But what the preseason polls can do is give us a place to start the conversation, knowing fully that where we start and where we end up could likely be the difference between night and day.

Still, it gives us a metric for today’s topic: Which SEC team is going to play the toughest road schedule this season?  I have always believed there are two critical elements to evaluating the relative strength of SEC schedules year in and year out: 1) Who do you play in the other division? 2) Who do you play on the road?

There are a lot of different ways to measure the strength of a road schedule.  Here’s mine: First I determined how many of the AP Top 25  each team played among their five games away from home. Then, how many of those ranked opponents are in the Top 10? I counted neutral-site games as road games.

That’s my methodology. If you don’t agree, come up with your own. I’d love to read it. You may believe that Tennessee’s four ranked road opponents with two Top 10s, trumps Texas A&M’s three ranked opponents, all in the Top 10.

But using my system and the rankings from the AP poll,  here is how I ranked the road schedules for 2014:

1. Texas A&M: Three ranked teams but all three are in the Top 10 — No. 9 South Carolina, No. 2 Alabama, No. 6 Auburn.

2. Tennessee: Four ranked teams — No. 4 Oklahoma, No. 12 Georgia, No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 9 South Carolina — with two in the Top 10.

3. Florida: Three ranked teams — No. 2 Alabama, No. 12 Georgia (Jacksonville), No. 1 Florida State — with two in the Top 10. Only school in the country that plays both Nos. 1 and 2. And both games are on the road. Ouch! I could be talked into moving the Gators to No. 2.

4. Auburn: Four ranked teams — No. 20 Kansas State, No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 12 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama — with one in the Top 10.

5. Mississippi State: Three ranked teams — No. 13 LSU, No. 2 Alabama, No. 18 Ole Miss — with one in the Top 10.

6. LSU: Three ranked teams — No. 14 Wisconsin (Houston), No. 6 Auburn, No. 21 Texas A&M — with one in the Top 10.

7. Arkansas: Three ranked teams — No. 6 Auburn, No. 21 Texas A&M, No. 24 Missouri — with one in the Top 10.

8.  South Carolina: Two ranked teams — No. 6 Auburn, No. 16 Clemson — with one in the Top 10.

9. Missouri: Two ranked teams — No. 9 South Carolina, No. 21 Texas A&M — with one in the Top 10

10. Georgia: Two ranked teams — No. 9 South Carolina, No. 24 Missouri — with one in the Top 10.

11. Alabama: Two ranked teams — No. 18 Ole Miss, No. 13 LSU — with none in the Top 10.

12. Ole Miss: Two ranked teams — No. 21 Texas A&M, No. 13 LSU — with none in the Top 10.

13. Kentucky: Two ranked teams — No. 13 LSU, No. 24 Missouri — with none in the Top 10.

14. Vanderbilt: Two ranked teams — No. 12 Georgia, No. 24 Missouri — with none in the Top 10. Vanderbilt is the only team in the conference that plays eight home games.

Those are my road rankings. What are yours?

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