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They Play Who? A Look at the Best and Worst of the SEC West's Non-Conference Football Schedules

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SEC teams get plenty of tough competition when conference play starts up. Outside of the league? Well, competitive games are tougher to come by. Here's the best and worst of the SEC West's non-conference schedules for 2014.

The Warhawks make several appearances on these lists.
The Warhawks make several appearances on these lists.
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, we lamented Vanderbilt's cupcake-filled non-conference schedule and then justified the team's slate by comparing it to their rivals in the SEC East. It turns out that the West may have the biggest bakeries in the league.

Alabama, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M all have schedules that should give them a four-game head start to bowl eligibility. Other teams like LSU, Ole Miss, and Auburn will face off against top 40 opponents before fading back to handle their business against the Louisiana-Monroes and Idahos of the college football world. Of these seven teams, only four would meet the league's upcoming requirement that every team schedule at least one team from a major conference in their non-SEC travails.

With wins at a premium and plenty of FBS programs who are willing to cash a fat paycheck in exchange for a humbling loss, teams in the West have stocked up their shooting ranges with plenty of slow-moving targets. Here's a brief look at the few high points and many lows of the SEC West's out-of-conference scheduling for 2014:

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Alabama

Best Opponent: West Virginia

2013 Ranks: 74th (Sagarin), 98th/126 (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: 78th/128

Worst Opponent: Western Carolina

2013 Ranks: 218th (Sagarin),  NA/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128

Cupcake rating: Delicious Dark Chocolate and Peanut Butter. This...will not be a challenge for the Tide. To Nick Saban's credit, he found one of the few AA teams (Western Carolina) that was worse than Southern Miss last season. The Crimson Tide will get glorified scrimmages against a pair of programs (see above) who won three games last season and have a combined Sagarin ranking of 417. At least Florida Atlantic is there to reel in the elusive retiree fanbase that has made Boca Raton the 27th largest city in the Sunshine State.

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Arkansas

Best Opponent: Texas Tech

2013 Ranks: 117th (Sagarin), 107th/126 (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128 (at least top 45)

Worst Opponent: Nicholls State

2013 Ranks: 195th (Sagarin),  NA/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128

Cupcake rating: Margarita (seemed like a good idea at the time, but the execution is lacking). Bret Bielema gets a sneakily solid out-of-conference duo to face while he tries to win Arkansas's first game since Mrs. B decided to run her mouth on Twitter. Texas Tech and Northern Illinois are lower profile teams who have a strong record of beating teams that they're favored against - a role the 3-9 Razorbacks may fill in 2014. If they can't steal an extra win in September then it may be another long season for the former Wisconsin turncoat.

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Auburn

Best Opponent: Kansas State

2013 Ranks: 23rd (Sagarin), 30th/126 (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128 (at least top 45)

Worst Opponent: Louisiana Tech

2013 Ranks: 166th (Sagarin),  108th/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: 80th/128

Cupcake ratingCarrot Cake. K-State finished the season on a 6-1 run and made Michigan fans unhappy with a 31-14 bowl win, so the sins of an early season loss to North Dakota State were all washed away. They'll try to ride that momentum into a September win over Gus Malzahn in one of the league's most underrated OOC showdowns.

Samford is probably a worse opponent than Louisiana Tech will be, but Sagarin hated the (LT) Bulldogs and I imagine this is as good a time as any to see if Karl Malone reads Anchor of Gold.

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LSU

Best Opponent: Wisconsin

2013 Ranks: 18th (Sagarin), 27th/126 (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128 (at least top 45)

Worst Opponent: New Mexico State

2013 Ranks: 191st (Sagarin),  120th/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: 115th/128

Cupcake rating: Dark Chocolate Bacon (i.e. something trendy). The Mad Hatter mixed things up by scheduling a tough Wisconsin team for a marquee early-season showdown on a neutral field in Texas. The Tigers deserve some bonus points for that. They get negative points, however, for scheduling New Mexico State; a school whose football now ranks below methamphetamine when it comes to Google's autocomplete search terms for the state. Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe (3 SEC opponents this year!) round out an otherwise boring schedule that will be made entertaining by Les Miles's clock management.

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Mississippi State

Best Opponent: South Alabama (!)

2013 Ranks: 90th (Sagarin), 72nd/126 (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: 72nd/128

Worst Opponent: Southern Miss

2013 Ranks: 199th (Sagarin),  119th/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: 113th/128

Cupcake ratingAn Entire Sheet Cake. The Bulldogs' 2014 schedule features two of the worst teams in I-A from 2013 - UAB (5-19 in their last three years) and Southern Miss (1-23). They bolster that with a Sun Belt team that didn't exist six years ago (South Alabama) and the fourth-best team in the Ohio Valley Conference. If Mississippi State can't win the SEC West this season they'll at least have a strong argument for taking the Conference-USA crown.

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Ole Miss

Best Opponent: Boise State

2013 Ranks: 47th (Sagarin), 55th/126 (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128 (at least 45th)

Worst Opponent: Presbyterian

2013 Ranks: 231st (Sagarin),  NA/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128

Cupcake ratingLemon Cake, No Frosting. Roping in the Broncos looked much more intimidating when they were still Chris Peterson's team. Facing Boise on a neutral field won't be an easy out, but it should be a manageable one for Bo Wallace and company. Beyond that, their toughest challenge will come from a Louisiana team that won nine games last season. A better than expected Ragin' Cajuns team probably cancels out a recovering BSU squad, and that should be enough to make this schedule a bit less sweet in terms of cupcake status.

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Texas A&M

Best Opponent: Rice

2013 Ranks: 69th (Sagarin), 107th/37th (NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: 86th/128

Worst Opponent: Lamar

2013 Ranks: 186th (Sagarin),  NA/126(NPI)

2014 USA Today Projected Rank: NA/128

Cupcake rating: A Boston Cream Pie, Eaten in its Entirety. A&M's 2014 schedule will ease Kyle Allen (or Kenny Hill) into Johnny Manziel's former spot thanks to a foam-soft stretch after opening the season against South Carolina. The Aggies get Lamar, Rice, and SMU in a three-week span that will gravitate the state's two-star prospects towards College Station. They'll move outside of the Lone Star State for a game with Louisiana-Monroe, but not even the mighty Warhawks can make this non-conference schedule seem like a legitimate threat to TAMU's record.