1) at South Carolina
Look, I don't think the Cocks are going to be as good as last year. They are more than due for an 8-4 come back down to Earth type of season. Just look at the inexperience in the secondary, key departures on the D-Line (not just Clowney), new quarterback (though not a huge drop off), and loss or key offensive weapons. While Mike Davis may be the factor we're scared of, the factor I'm most scared of is playing week 2 on the road in WBS. Let's be honest, our last couple trips up there have been less than stellar. As much as you want to hate on the sandstorm pumping cheesiness of what happens there, you should realize that it's slowly evolving into one of the more formidable places to play in the SEC. It's week 2 and it's a huge test for an early season foe who may be your most important. A win in Columbia sets the tone for the Eastern race, but based on how UGA / SC games go and even more so on the road for us, this one ranks at the top of my list.
"Auburn overachieved last year and was two miracle plays away from losing two big games". This may be true, but if Gus is at the helm these boys are going to move the football. Hell, he did it with Chris Todd and he's got weapons now, continuing to build momentum with huge talent acquisitions on defense. It's at home which is nice, but I think we've learned to throw out preconceived notions when it comes to this rivalry. Their D will be solid, and the offense will surely move the ball. It will be one of those games where early mistakes could dictate the fate of a team very quickly allowing them to dictate the tempo of how the game will be played. Even if they are at the same talent level as last year without luck, they're still putting a pretty damn good team / scheme on the field. It comes late in the season when a good deal could be on the line, and Auburn's young D and offense has a chance to come into it's rhythm.
While they could potentially fall in a different spot regarding potentially being better or possibly even worse than another opponent, this is where I feel this game falls. On the difficulty side, it's Hutson's first big start knowing it's truly his team (not Aaron's remnants in a no pressure situation). On the positive side, most notably it's at home and Clemson's fresh QB gets his debut in Athens. Sure we can take note of notable departures on either side most notably for Clemson via departure to the NFL or suspension, but to me it comes down to the comfort of the QB's psyche. If we had to go back to back with Clemson, starting one game with veteran QBs and one with fresh ones, I'd much rather have the one with fresh ones between the hedges.
"Florida is coming back from a lot of injuries and gets Driskell back". You'll hear that all pre-season. Some of it rings very true. I don't think they'll be as bad as last year. There's till a ton of talent in Gainesville. This is more so a situational game. Even though we've won 3 in a row and feel we are a better team coming in, we've been UGA fans too long to start feeling overconfident heading into Jax. Just look at last year. It wasn't pretty and both teams were battered, but UGA clearly had an advantage. Plus it falls later in the season where Florida can start hitting their stride.
5) at Arkansas
That awkward middle of the year trip, to an awkward little city like Little Rock, against a team you really don't know much about yet. Furthermore it comes on the heels of a sneaky four game stretch the week after another road test. It seems like it sets up perfectly for one of those survive and advance games before a bye week. Who knows how battered we'll be or what holes we'll have. This is a clear case of a team that may rank further down the list from an overall talent standpoint, but it's place in the schedule makes it the number 5 toughest game.
Some people would maybe have this one higher up the list. UT has gained a ton of talent in the recruiting arena under Butch Jones. They like Florida are looking to restore their place in the SEC East. However I don't quite yet believe this is the year for the Vols. Further more we get them at home, which hasn't exactly been their best friend lately. I think we're due for a little exploitation after that gutcheck season draining somehow we won the game last year in Knoxville kind of day.
7) at Missouri
Mizzou is a big mystery this year. They may be the team that for their own purposes lost the most as far as departures for one reason or another in the offseason. New offensive weapons having to come into place and needing to replace key defensive holes they could be in for a rough year. However I think we're going to learn that this Columbia is going to be one of those places that isn't so fun to travel to thinking you'll get an easy win.
8) Georgia Tech
CPJ for all intents and purposes is on his way out, and only hasn't left because Tech has too much money to lose. Trust me, Tech people have grown very tired of that high school scheme. It's still a unique scheme and they'll be up for this game like they are every year (even though we don't tell them they probably rank #5 on our importance list). Very glad we get them at home which should handle the business needed by itself. At least a young defense gets a whole year to get it's act together, and the linebacking corps is our strongest unit (and the most important when facing Tech).
9) at Kentucky
The poor Cats just have too many other teams vying for their players to gain momentum in the SEC. New players, coaches, and schemes may have these guys a few years from making a small splash again. Never an easy trip to Lexington, and if Jefferson Pilot was still around you could assume we'd be in some ugly noon game where we underperform. Hopefully talent takes care of this one.
It's more than time for a little regression in Nashville. With Franklin's departure they will probably see the downturn we all expect. This game may rank a little higher if it was on the road, but it seems we usually are able to hold serve versus Vandy at home.
Not the weakest of smaller tier opponents for sure. You may remember having to pick for or against these guys in your bowl pool the last few years.
12) Charleston Southern
Not as good as Troy.