Would you rather your college football team play Alabama or Ole Miss?
Though the question sounds almost ludicrous—because it is—it sums up the importance of cross-division scheduling: it can be the difference between a solid chance of winning and a high-percentage chance of losing.
While the SEC has set permanent, cross-division rivalries—which account for one such game each season— five other conferences with two divisions have yet to do so, meaning that members could draw any endless combination of opponent’s from the other side of the league.
Where one Pac-12 South team will pull Oregon, the other will draw Washington State. It’s yet another scheduling caveat that reminds us that one 8-4 record isn’t equal to another 8-4 mark, even among teams from the same conference.
Here’s a look at the 12 most difficult cross-division slates for 2014. These programs will all have a more difficult path to bowl eligibility, much less any sort of title.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Oregon (Saturday, Oct. 11), at Cal (Saturday, Oct. 18), at Washington (Saturday, Nov. 8) and vs. Stanford (Friday, Nov. 28).
Even though the Bruins have the benefit of drawing Cal—the Golden Bears went 1-11 last season—they also have the top three finishers from last year’s North division race. Oregon, Stanford and Washington combined for a 31-9 record last season and are all ranked in the preseason Coaches’ Poll this year.
UCLA has dropped five straight to Oregon and last beat the Ducks in 2007. It’s 0-6 in its last six tries against Stanford, last winning in 2008. The Bruins beat Washington 41-31 last season and are 8-2 in their last 10 games with the Huskies.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Nebraska (Saturday, Oct. 25) and vs. Wisconsin (Saturday, Nov. 1)
Whoever put together Rutgers’ “Welcome to the Big Ten” gift basket was thoughtful enough to make sure it played the two best teams from the new West division. Why play Illinois and Minnesota—like Ohio State will in 2014—when you can crank things up at Nebraska and vs. Wisconsin?
The only time the Scarlet Knights have ever faced the Cornhuskers was in 1920 in New York City, a game they lost 28-0. Rutgers has never squared off with Wisconsin in football.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Michigan (Saturday, Sept. 27) and vs. Ohio State (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Even though Michigan looks less intimidating after its 7-6 finish last season, the Wolverines have only lost two games in the Big House since Brady Hoke took over in 2011. Add in a home date with Ohio State and Minnesota’s East division games look way scarier than say, Wisconsin, who drew Maryland and Rutgers this season.
The Golden Gophers are 1-22 against Michigan since 1987 and last scored a win in 2005 when they won 23-20 in Ann Arbor. Minnesota is 1-24 against Ohio State since 1982 and haven’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2000 win they won 29-17 in Columbus.
9. Kent State
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Northern Illinois (Saturday, Oct. 4) and vs. Toledo (Tues., November 4).
Of the three winning teams from last season’s MAC West division, Kent State will play two in 2014. Northern Illinois and Toledo combined to go 19-7 in 2013, a fiercer duo than 8-16 Eastern Michigan and Central Michigan—Buffalo’s two West opponents this season.
Kent State has dropped seven straight to Northern Illinois, last winning in 2001. The Golden Flashes are 1-6 in their last seven games vs. Toledo, the most recent win coming in 2006.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Ohio State (Saturday, Nov. 1) and vs. Penn State (Saturday, Nov. 22)
Illinois improved from 2-10 in 2012 to 4-8 in 2013, any further progress will be made more difficult with games at Ohio State and vs. Penn State slated for this season. Add in road trips to fellow West members Nebraska and Wisconsin and the situation looks even more sinister.
The Illini haven’t won in Columbus since 2007, which also marked their only win against Ohio State in the last 10 tries. Illinois has only beat Penn State four times in history, the most recent coming in 2010.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. South Carolina (Saturday, Oct. 25) and at Georgia (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Auburn’s permanent, cross-division rival is Georgia, who it will have to deal with on a yearly basis. That leaves South Carolina as the “other” team it draws from the East in 2014. This shakes out to Auburn facing—along with the entire SEC West—the No. 9 and No. 12 ranked teams from the preseason Coaches’ poll.
The Tigers beat the Bulldogs 43-38 last season in Auburn and are 9-1-1 all-time against South Carolina. Their only loss to the Gamecocks came 81-years ago in 1933.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Georgia (Saturday, Oct. 18) and at Missouri (Friday, Nov. 28)
Arkansas’ permanent rival from the East is Missouri, which just so happened to go 12-2 and win the division last season. Other than that, the Razorbacks will have to try and improve on their 3-9 mark by welcoming Georgia to Little Rock in Week 8, just after hosting Alabama in Fayetteville.
Arkansas hasn’t won a game against an SEC opponent since beating Kentucky on Oct. 13, 2012. Its last win against Missouri came in the 2003 Independence Bowl and the Razorbacks last beat Georgia in 2010.
5. Texas A&M
2014 Cross-Division Games: at South Carolina (Thursday, Aug. 28) and vs. Missouri (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Texas A&M is permanently linked to South Carolina, even though the two teams have never met before in football. That leaves Missouri, which was supposed to be the Aggies intended, to complete A&M’s 2014 slate against the East. The Gamecocks and Tigers combined for a 23-4 record last season.
Though the Aggies pounded Missouri 59-29 in College Station in 2012, that was A&M’s only win in its last five tries. The Tigers won the most recent meeting—just last season—28-21 in Columbia.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Texas A&M (Thursday, Aug. 28) and at Auburn (Saturday, Oct. 25)
Other than its fixed date with Texas A&M, South Carolina’s other West game in 2014 is with Auburn, a team it’s only beaten once in nine tries.
The Gamecocks haven’t dropped a game to an SEC West opponent since 2012, when it fell 23-21 to No. 9 LSU in Baton Rouge.
3. Miami (Fla.)
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Louisville (Monday, Sept. 1) and vs. Florida State (Saturday, Nov. 15)
Florida State and Louisville only lost one game between them last season, a 38-35 Cardinal loss to UCF, who went on to finish 12-1 and beat No. 6 Baylor in the BCS Fiesta Bowl. If Miami is going to improve on its 9-4 record from last season under fourth-year head coach Al Golden, it will earn every bit of it.
The Hurricanes were 9-0-1 against Louisville until losing to the Cardinals during the 2006 regular season and then again in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl. Miami has dropped four straight to the Seminoles, last winning in 2009 in Tallahassee. Its last win at home against Florida State was a decade ago in 2004.
2014 Cross-Division Games: vs. Louisville (Saturday, Sept. 13) and at Florida State (Saturday, Nov. 8)
Virginia has posted a winning record only once the past six years and its 2-10 finish last season marked the Cavaliers worst performance since 1982. Virginia drawing Louisville and Florida State from the Atlantic seems grossly unjust, especially in light of Virginia Tech’s cross-division showdowns with Boston College and Wake Forest.
The Cavaliers have only played Louisville twice in history, in a 1988-89 home-and-home series it split 1-1 with the Cardinals. The Cavaliers are 3-14 all-time against Florida State but won two of the last four. The two teams last met in 2011, a game Virginia won 14-13 in Tallahassee.
2014 Cross-Division Games: at Alabama (Saturday, Sept. 20) and vs. LSU (Saturday, Oct. 11)
Since Florida and LSU are in an official, annual relationship, Alabama represents the team the Gators were lucky enough to draw from the West in 2014. No matter how you slice it, playing Alabama and LSU in the same year is no picnic. Especially when you’ve also got the entire SEC East and Florida State on your schedule.
The Gators haven’t beaten the Crimson Tide since the 2008 SEC title game when Urban Meyer was still running the show. The last win over LSU came in 2012 when Florida scored a 14-6 win in Gainesville.