Fifty shades of football: Day 18

(We’re counting down to the first Saturday of college football, now 33 days away)

We looked at the most crucial early stretches in the schedule for teams in the SEC Eastern Division on Saturday, so now it’s time to do the same for the SEC Western teams.

Alabama: Sept. 1 vs. Michigan (at Cowboy Stadium), Sept. 8 vs. Western Kentucky, Sept. 15 at Arkansas. Defending national champs have won 13 consecutive openers, but it’s fair to say that not all of them were against a non-league BCS foe. The Tide is working on a 10-win streak in home openers, but don’t need to get caught looking ahead.

Auburn: Clemson on Sept. 1, at Mississippi State on Sept. 8. We’re going to quickly find out what kind of team Gene Chizik has this time around. Here’s a guess that he’s going to have more 8-win seasons at Auburn than 14-win seasons, but an 0-2 start will make it very tough to get to 8. LSU visits on Sept. 22.

Arkansas: After the Sept. 15 home game against Alabama, the Razorbacks play a good-on-paper Rutgers team on Sept. 22 before two road SEC games – at Texas A&M on Sept. 29 and at Auburn on Oct. 6. If Bobby Petrino had been in Fayetteville, you could see Arkansas going at least 6-1 through that stretch, but this team now has a lot to prove.

LSU: There doesn’t appea to be anything to fear on the Tigers’ September schedule, with four non-conference home games including a Sept. 29 mismatch against Towson. But Phil Steele points out that the visiting team in the LSU-Auburn series has won just once in the last 12 meetings. The path gets tougher in October, with back to back league games – at Florida (Oct. 6) and home against South Carolina (Oct. 13).

Mississippi State: Home against Auburn on Sept. 8 and at Troy on Sept. 15. Dan Mullen hasn’t beaten Auburn in three tries, so this one is crucial. But win that one and the next game looks trappy, in the fashion of the Bulldogs’ most recent games against UAB.

Ole Miss: The Rebels must win the three winnable early games – Sept. 1 against Central Arkansas, Sept. 8 vs. UTEP and Sept. 22 at Tulane. To do otherwise would be a disaster. That leaves the Sept. 15 game against Texas, and the No.1 task there is to play hard and leave it all on the field – the two home games last year against the highest-ranked teams resulted in two losses by a combined 104-10 margin. Such efforts for a new staff would be unacceptable.

Texas A&M: Aug. 30 at Louisiana Tech, Sept. 8 vs. Florida. I have expressed concerns about that opener already – this will be the Super Bowl for La. Tech. The SEC opener, played at home, will be emotional – but the Gators should be significantly better.