Last year, the SEC mandated that all of its member football programs, beginning in 2016, must schedule at least one out-of-conference power five opponent - that is, an opponent from the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, or Pac 12, along with eligible independents - every season. Almost right away, SEC athletics directors scrambled to schedule home-and-home or one-off neutral site games against other big conference opponents. This gave us some series and games that we wouldn't have been fortunate to look forward to otherwise, such as series against Pac 12 teams or the ever popular season opener in an NFL stadium. Some teams, such as LSU, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M, have this new conference scheduling requirement filled for most of the next decade, if not a bit longer. Others, such as Alabama and Auburn, are "behind" so to speak, but will likely pretty easily match themselves up with more high-profile games and series, because having them on your schedule helps you if you think you can beat them but is a complete waste of time otherwise (basically, Wake Forest and Purdue is skeered of Bama, Pawwwwll).
For reasons we can't explain other than by offering a dismissive "offseason," we decided to look at who has scheduled whom to meet the SEC's new power five scheduling requirement. Four SEC programs - Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina - already play non-SEC power five teams in annual rivalry games, so their respective regular dates against Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville, and Clemson aren't reflected in this work. Also, since the SEC is counting Notre Dame (makes sense), BYU (makes somewhat less sense, but is still sensible), and Army (lolwut) as Power Five opponents for the sake of scheduling, we've included them in this exercise as the eligible Division 1 Independents.
So here you go, the SEC's power five opponents from 2015 to 2028:
Who'da thunk that BYU would be the most common opponent for SEC schools? The Cougars are playing five games against SEC teams between 2015 and 2020, including neutral site games against LSU in Houston and against Mizzou at Arrowhead.
We're Getting Cozy with the Pac 12
It's not surprising to learn that there are 22 upcoming contests against the ACC, given the conference members' geographic proximity and long history of playing SEC opponents. It is surprising, given the same criteria, that the Pac 12 is right behind the ACC with 20 future games against SEC teams. Games against Cal, UCLA, the Arizona Schools, Stanford, and USC are all on future Southeastern Conference schedules.
Les Miles will Find You
LSU is just going around the country picking fights with people. They're the only SEC school with upcoming opponents from every other power five conference (and independents), and they're travelling to Syracuse, Green Bay, Houston, Arlington, Austin, Los Angeles, Tempe, and Norman to play these games.
Kentucky's Not in a Hurry
The teams with annual ACC rivalry games are, understandably, not in a rush to schedule additional power five opponents. There are some neutral-site games coming up; Florida has a season opener against Michigan in 2017, and North Carolina will open the 2015 South Carolina and 2016 Georgia seasons. To boot, Georgia's got a home-and-home with Notre Dame scheduled for 2017 and 2019. Kentucky, though, they're just perfectly fine with playin' Louisville.
Not this Season, but the Next
The 2016 season is loaded with excellent out-of-conference games for the SEC. We'll see Alabama play USC in Arlington, Georgia play North Carolina in Atlanta, Ole Miss play Florida State in Orlando, Tennessee play Virginia Tech in Bristol, and LSU play Wisconsin in Green Bay. To boot, Arkansas travels to TCU, Mizzou travels to West Virginia, Auburn hosts Clemson, and Texas A&M hosts UCLA.
Oh, and that Tennessee vs. Virginia Tech game will be played at Bristol Motor Speedway. During a race, that thing holds 160,000 people. For a football game, don't be shocked if that number's closer to 200,000. That's nuts.