OPELIKA, Alabama — Auburn’s SEC schedule is nothing short of loaded.
No, not that SEC schedule.
Before the conference announces the full SEC slates Tuesday evening for the 2023 football season, Bruce Pearl shared some of his reactions to what was unveiled three months ago: Auburn basketball’s path to defending its SEC regular-season title from last season. It’s another doozy of a schedule for Pearl’s program, against a league that’s mightily improved in recent years in both coaching and talent.
“Mike Burgomaster, he might need to be looking for work after this season,” Pearl joked about his assistant coach and head of scheduling during a conversation with a few reporters Monday before his Bruce, Barkley & Basketball golf fundraiser in Opelika.
But it starts with strong tests in nonconference play, where Auburn has seven home games between November and December but also makes a Pac-12 road trip to play USC and Washington. In this year’s Big 12/SEC Challenge, Auburn drew West Virginia on the road.
“At USC, at Washington, at West Virginia — you tell me one school in the league that plays three Power Five road games,” Pearl said. “And, then Memphis, at a neutral site. And St. Louis coming in here.”
2022-23 SEC road games at power conferences:
Auburn: USC, Washington, WVU
Florida: FSU, K-State
Georgia: GT, Wake
Ole Miss: Okla State
S Carolina: Georgetown*
— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) September 20, 2022
Last year, Auburn powered through its nonconference slate, with only one loss to UConn, en route to a 22-1 start on the year that was parlayed into the first No. 1 ranking in the polls in program history. Led by a pair of first-round picks in Jabari Smith and Walker KesslerAuburn went 15-3 in league play and won its second regular-season SEC crown under Pearl and earned a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.
After consecutive games at USC and Washington in mid-December, Auburn opens SEC play at home against Florida — which will serve as a homecoming for former Auburn assistant Todd Goldenwho now coaches the Gators and boasts who Pearl believes could be the best big man in the conference: Colin Castleton.
“Any time we play Florida with Todd Golden as a coach, it’s not gonna be a game I’m gonna look forward to,” Pearl said. “There’s a lot of other guys I’d rather beat more than I would rather try to beat him. Because he’s part of my family. And he’s really good. And so we’ll get that game out of the way. We’ve got to do a better job against Florida. That’s not one of the teams we’ve got a great record against. And they’ve got the best inside player.”
In its first Saturday game of the SEC season, Auburn hosts what is projected to be a top-5 Arkansas team Jan. 7. The standard opponents are there — two games against Alabama, Georgia and Ole Miss — with the Tigers also drawing double matchups with Texas A&M and Tennessee — in back-to-back games, on the road, no less.
“As far as the league schedule, catching Texas A&M and Tennessee twice — both of those teams will be picked in the top five or six of our league, Tennessee in the top four, Texas A&M in the top five or six, I would expect ,” Pearl said. “So the league is going to be challenging.”
There should be some breaks, though, especially considering the league is breaking in six new head coaches this season: (five if you don’t count Mike White at UGA): Chris Jans (Mississippi State), Dennis Gates (Missouri), Matt McMahon (LSU) and Lamont Paris (South Carolina).
But the last week of the regular season is the kicker: Auburn heads to Kentucky on the last Saturday of February, travels to Tuscaloosa in the midweek game, then closes the season at home against Tennessee.
“The way the schedule ends, it’s daunting,” Pearl said. “But look, that’s the league we live in, man. It’s the business we’ve chosen. Got to play them sometime.”
Auburn opens the season in less than 50 days, tipping off Nov. 7 at home against George Mason.
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