Alabama Football: Path to Atlanta more demanding for Tide than Dawgs

(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
(Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

Alabama Football is a prohibitive favorite to return to Atlanta in December and then advance to another CFB Playoff final four. There are many reasons why the Crimson Tide is favored. One of them is a more favorable schedule than most teams in the SEC West.

Preseason strength of schedule rankings are broad guesses. A few weeks into the fall a more accurate picture will emerge. Until then one tool to assess schedule strength is the ESPN FPI. Pretty much everyone pokes fun at the ESPN algorithm. Even Joey Galloway and Kirk Herbstreit did while doing onfield coverage of the A-Day game.

ESPN’s defense is the tool is designed to self-correct as the season progresses. Until then, Alabama Football fans can scoff at Mississippi State being No. 8 in the FPI Team Rankings. Or jokes can be made the other SEC Bulldogs are only one place higher at No. 7.

Moving back to schedule strength, Arkansas has the toughest in the SEC West and South Carolina in the SEC East. The two easiest schedules (per the FPI) in the West belong to Mississippi State and Texas A&M. Getting the most schedule help in the East are Kentucky and Vanderbilt. The Dores will need all the help they can get. So will the Tennesee Vols, who have the second-hardest schedule in the East, with South Carolina having the toughest.

Based on multiple factors, not the least being Florida having to replace Kyle Pitts, Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney, the biggest threat to Georgia in the East could be Missouri. The Tigers are trending up and have a proven quarterback returning in Connor Bazelak. Eli Drinkwitz’s team has an easier schedule than Georgia and Florida, though they must travel to Athens. The Tigers get Florida and the Aggies at home.

Already there is debate over what SEC team is immediately behind Alabama Football as the SEC’s second-best. Georgia and Texas A&M are the favorites, with LSU maybe being the fourth-best. The Crimson Tide must travel to Gainesville and College Station but is expected to be the favorite in each game.

As an early talking point, Georgia looks to have an easier path to Atlanta than the Crimson Tide. The Dawgs will play in Jacksonville and at Auburn, Tennessee and Vandy. Three of those road games should be easy wins for the Bulldogs.

Ranking the 14 SEC teams by the FPI, the Crimson Tide is at No. 1 and plays road games against No. 6 Texas A&M, No. 8 Mississippi State, No. 14 Florida and No. 16 Auburn. The home SEC slate has No. 18 LSU, No. 22 Ole Miss, No. 29 Arkansas and No. 48 Tennessee.

By comparison, Georgia’s SEC schedule has No. 29 Arkansas, No. 34 Missouri, No. 39 Kentucky and No. 68 South Carolina in Athens. The Florida game as always is considered a neutral site, at least from a ticketing standpoint. The Georgia road SEC games are No. 16 Auburn, No. 48 Tennessee and No. 93 Vanderbilt.

The Alabama Crimson Tide has the tougher regular-season schedule.

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In my opinion, the FPI appears to have highly overrated  Auburn and Mississippi State. Despite last season’s carnage, LSU at No. 18 seems a bit low. If there is a gap between Florida and Missouri, it is not the 20 places shown in the FPI.