Let’s be honest.  For years, the SEC was not exactly known for scheduling premiere out-of-conference games at any point in their schedule.  Florida rarely ever left the state.  Same with Georgia.  Every now and then you would get some decent games (i.e. Alabama vs NC State in the mid-90s, Alabama at UCLA in 2000, Tennessee at UCLA in 1997), but it was few and far between, and it was rarely against the best teams in the country.

The adage forever has been the league schedule is too difficult.

That’s definitely not the case right now.

A few years ago, the SEC mandated that their teams have to play at least one team from a Power 5 league in their out-of-conference schedule – or they can play BYU or Notre Dame to count for that.  Hence why LSU and Mississippi St are playing BYU this year.

That requirement has upped the ante considerably, making for MUCH more interesting non-conference games.

So what does 2017 have in store for us?  These are in order by date, not by ranking:

Top 10 SEC Non-Conference Games for 2017

Sat, Sept 2: South Carolina vs NC State (in Charlotte)

Will Muschamp took South Carolina to a bowl game in his first season (2016) and it appears that he’s found his QB of the future in Jake Bentley.  NC State beat Vanderbilt pretty handily in the Independence Bowl to close out last year, and was only a missed field goal away from beating Clemson early in the season.

These are two mediocre teams that won’t get a ton of the spotlight, but they look to be incredibly evenly matched.  It should be a coin-flip kinda game, and those are always fun.

Sat, Sept 2: Florida vs Michigan (in Arlington, TX)

Michigan loses just about everybody, and Florida lost their defensive coordinator and a whole slew of talent from last year’s outstanding defense.

These two played in the Citrus Bowl on Jan 1, 2016, and Michigan trounced the Gators, 41-7.  This one should be much more evenly matched.

Can Jim McElwain beat Jim Harbaugh?  After two years, and two SEC Championship game appearances, Florida should be in a position to get this rolling.

Also – does Malik Zaire start this season?  This looked like a desperation move, but could it actually work?

Sat, Sept 2: Alabama vs Florida St (in Atlanta)

This game is the biggest game on the schedule for opening week, and possibly for the entire season.

It could possibly be #1 vs #2.

Saban vs his former assistant Jimbo Fisher.

These are two of the maybe 4 or 5 most talented teams in the country, and it’s going to be massive.  ESPN College Gameday will be there, and it’s the first game in Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, GA.  Be prepared for fireworks.

Sun, Sept 3: Texas A&M @ UCLA

Of course, the first game in the Rose Bowl every year is always a sight to behold, especially when it’s two big brands opening the college football season.

But this one is much bigger because both coaches, Kevin Sumlin for Texas A&M and Jim Mora Jr. for UCLA, are on the hot seat this season.

The return of Josh Rosen is also a pretty big deal, and this is one of only 2 games going on that Sunday night, with this one being broadcast on Fox.

Mon, Sept 4: Tennessee vs Georgia Tech (in Atlanta)

Ahhh yes.  A neutral site game between Tennessee and Georgia Tech… in Atlanta… where Georgia Tech is located.

Even still, the 2nd game in Mercedes Benz Stadium should be filled with orange.

If Butch Jones’s Vols lose this game, it’s likely they will open 2-3 in their first 5 games.  Then we start getting the questions about whether or not he will be fired mid-season.

To put it lightly, this game is huge for Tennessee.

Sat, Sept 9: Georgia @ Notre Dame

Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs open the season at home against a good Appalachian St team, and then travel to South Bend, IN to play the Fighting Irish.

Notre Dame went 4-8 last year and replaced, basically, the entire coaching staff.

But, honestly, anytime we get a matchup between Notre Dame and anybody from the SEC, it’s a fun watch.  Georgia should handle Notre Dame pretty easily… but you never know what will happen when SEC teams go on the road.

Sat, Sept 9: Auburn @ Clemson

Auburn played Clemson ridiculously close last year, missing out on a hail mary that would have setup a game-winning PAT on the last play of the game.  Clemson came away with a 16-10 win on the plains.

Auburn looks to have the better quarterback this year, but the game is in Clemson, and it’s at night on ESPN, which means it’s going to be absolutely crazy.

When I said Auburn looks to have the better quarterback… Jarrett Stidham, a transfer from Baylor, will be the starting quarterback.  We don’t know what he looks like with Auburn just yet, but we know what he looked like at Baylor.  Clemson will be starting a brand new quarterback after Deshaun Watson was selected #12 in the NFL Draft by the Texans a couple of months ago.

There’s gonna be a lot of orange in that stadium, and, if Auburn can pull of a win in Death Valley #2, it could setup a great season for Gus Malzahn’s crew.

Sat, Sept 16: Ole Miss @ Cal

Cal has a brand new coach – Justin Wilcox, former defensive coordinator at Wisconsin.  They’re in a transitional period.  He’s going to be right in the middle of changing mindsets and philosophies in Berkley, so there’s no telling what we’ll get out of this game.

Ole Miss was pretty bad at the end of last season, sans a surprise win in College Station over Texas A&M, and they couldn’t stop anybody on defense.  Cal has been known for their offense, and they’ve got speed, but Sonny Dykes, the offensive guru, is no longer the coach, so who knows what to expect from these guys.

Still… SEC teams going out West is always entertaining, and these two teams should have a pretty competitive game.

Sat, Nov 25th: Florida vs Florida St

Every. Single. Year. If Florida gets better quarterback play, they may be able to compete here.  Florida St is significantly more loaded with talent, but Florida has enough to make the ‘Noles pay for mistakes.  Florida has not been competitive in this game the first 2 years of McElwain’s tenure in Gainesville (lost 27-2 and 31-13), but this one that’s circled for the Gators this season.  This rivalry is always interesting, and there’s always NFL talent all over the field.

Florida has not been competitive in this game the first 2 years of McElwain’s tenure in Gainesville (lost 27-2 and 31-13), but this one that’s circled for the Gators this season.  This rivalry is always interesting, and there’s always NFL talent all over the field.

Sat, Nov 25th: South Carolina vs Clemson

Every. Single. Year.  This has turned into a great rivalry over the years, simply because of the hatred.

South Carolina looks like they might actually be in a position to compete this year, after losing 56-7 this year.  But, as I said with the Clemson / Auburn game – no more Deshaun Watson.  Clemson lost a ton of talent from their National Championship team, and South Carolina looks to be building something sustainable under Will Muschamp.

Clemson should be significantly more talented… but if they don’t hit on their new QB, we know Jake Bentley is good.  Look out for South Carolina here, hosting this game in Columbia.

Sat, Nov 25th: Kentucky vs Louisville

Every. Single. Year.  Another fun rivalry to watch.  It doesn’t get the same national press that other rivalries get, but both teams are getting better.

After Kentucky’s upset over the 9-2 Cardinals last season, this game has gotten even bigger for Louisville this season.

Lamar Jackson, last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, is back this year, and I could envision this being a shootout again.  Kentucky has more talent than they did, but does Bobby Petrino have more tricks up his sleeve?

Honorable Mention:

Sat, Sept 2: LSU vs BYU (in Houston) – another neutral site game on opening weekend, and the first game of the REAL Coach O era in Baton Rouge.  2 teams that count on defense and the running game.  The biggest question is how different will LSU’s offense look under Matt Canada?

Sat, Sept 9: Arkansas vs TCU – Sonny Dykes is now the OC for TCU, so look for the offense to be outta this world.  Arkansas needs to win this game at home and really pick things up in Bret Bielema’s 5th season.  I wouldn’t imagine either team will be ranked here, but it should be a fun matchup.

Sat, Sept 9: Mississippi St @ LaTech – I still don’t understand why Miss St has to take home-and-homes with non-Power 5 schools.  There’s no reason that MSU should be playing in Ruston, LA.  Either way, La Tech is a pretty good team under Skip Holtz, and you know they’re going to pull out all the stops to try and get a signature home win over an SEC team.

Sat, Sept 16: Missouri vs Purdue – Jeff Brohm is the new coach at Purdue, and that should mean instant offense.  Missouri showed last year, under new coach Barry Odom, that they’ve got this offense thing figured out.  Now, can the defense get stops?

Sat, Sept 16: Vanderbilt vs Kansas St – Vandy got hot late and beat Georgia, Ole Miss, and Tennessee en route to the first bowl game of the Derek Mason era.  They seem to have figured out their QB situation… will they be able to do anything about Old Man Snyder’s Wildcats?  If nothing else, it’s an intriguing matchup that we don’t get to see very often.

Sat, Oct 14: Miss St vs BYU – MSU lost in Provo at the end of the game last season, in a laaaaate game.  BYU returns the trip to Starkville this year.  Has State figured out the formula to beat a team in BYU that doesn’t make many mistakes?

Sat, Nov 4: Vanderbilt vs Western Kentucky – Western Kentucky lost their head coach, Jeff Brohm, to Purdue.  They still have a ton of offensive weapons… but do they have enough talent to be able to beat Vandy inside Vanderbilt Stadium.  That almost reads like satire, but seriously, this is a game Vandy has to have in order to get to another bowl game.

Sat, Nov 11: Ole Miss vs UL Lafayette – This should be a blowout… but I listed it because both of these schools are having to deal with NCAA issues that have to do with the same guy – David Saunders.  If nothing else, there will be plenty of storylines before the game.

Sat, Nov 11: Texas A&M vs New Mexico – New Mexico, last season, led all of college football in rushing yards per game with 350ypg.  A&M, the last few years, has not been able to stop ANYBODY in November.  Kevin Sumlin maybe should have schedule New Mexico St in this one.  Interesting matchup here… it should be a blowout, but something tells me something crazy could happen.

Sat, Nov 25th: Georgia @ Georgia Tech – Every. Single. Year.  Yes, the yearly rivalry, and there’s always something interesting that happens in this game.  Georgia has to travel over to Atlanta for this one, and it could be the week before an SEC Championship appearance for the Bulldogs (they’re projected to win the East right now).  Could Tech spoil a big season for Kirby Smart?