The SEC is a fun place to coach on Signing Day. The other 364 days? Not so much. Bret Bielema, Butch Jones, Mark Stoops and Gus Malzahn did, for the most part, admirable jobs salvaging recruiting classes for their respective schools. Come fall, though, these coaches must win games. Looking at some of the heinous schedules they face, that could prove difficult. All four might do well just to get to a bowl game.
Bret Bielema [Arkansas] Welcome to the SEC, Bret Bielema. With that big boy budget comes a big boy schedule. The Razorbacks ease into the season with their first four games: Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford, Southern Miss, at Rutgers. Then Arkansas has hell month: Texas A&M, at Florida, South Carolina, at Alabama. Following that is a brief respite before closing the season: Auburn, at Ole Miss, Mississippi State, at LSU. Woof. Playing Illinois, Indiana and Purdue every year does not sound so bad.
Butch Jones [Tennessee] Tennessee isn’t afraid to schedule tough non-conference opponents. That’s unfortunate for Butch, as it gives him an away trip to Oregon on Sept. 14. After that, the next four FBS games are: at Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, at Alabama. That could put the Vols at 1-5 vs. FBS heading into November (and that’s presuming they can beat Petrino). With two FCS teams on the schedule, Tennessee would have to sweep Missouri, Auburn, Vanderbilt and Kentucky to close just to reach the postseason.
Mark Stoops [Kentucky] Recruiting went well for Mark Stoops. His first season may be another story. Stoops opens with an irked, in-state Petrino. His third game is against a Louisville team some are touting for Top 10 status. He receives a spirited opening to the SEC with Florida, at South Carolina and Alabama. That schedule also includes road trips to Mississippi State, to Vanderbilt and to Georgia. Good luck with that.
Guz Malzahn [Auburn] The schedule is a bit kinder to Gus Malzahn, though still quite unkind. A retooled defense going against a second-year Mike Leach in the opener could get interesting. There’s no egregious stretch like some of the other schools face, but this is a slog from start to finish. SEC Home Games: Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Georgia, Alabama. SEC Road Games: LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Tennessee. Going 4-4 in conference next season would be a major coup.
[Photo via USA Today Sports]