Sep 28, 2013; Athens, GA, USA; Georgia Bulldogs safety Tray Matthews (28) tackles LSU Tigers wide receiver Odell Beckham (3) during the second half at Sanford Stadium. Georgia defeated LSU 44-41

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Around the SEC, Week 7 - Conference scheduling remains a broken mess

LSU-Georgia highlights the weekend's conference slate

Seth Dunlap
October 10, 2018 - 7:37 pm
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College football uses an incredibly outdated, and terrible, system for determining its best teams, and eventual champion.  Over 100 teams from coast to beyond-coast compete in a dozen or so regular season games which, supposedly, give an elite group of men and women enough information to decide which four best (or is it most deserving?) teams will get a shot to compete in the postseason.  

Imagine the NFL implementing a system with a panel of former coaches, players, general managers, and sportswriters to decide the four best teams in the league.  Records wouldn't really matter.   Neither would winning your division.  Instead, they tell us about using objective analysis (Spoiler alert: it's never truly objective) to decide which teams deserve to play for a championship.   

Now, imagine the torches and pitchforks that would show up at the league offices should such a system ever exist.

We live in that very-imperfect college football world, and there's no reason conferences shouldn't try to maximize their clout and sway with the selection committee to get as many of those precious bids over time as possible.  In the SEC's infinite wisdom they decided to implement an eight game conference schedule, even after expanding to 14 teams, seven each in two divisions.  That system, first implemented in 2014, is still in place today.

SEC football teams play each team inside their division every year, six games rotating home and away each season with those opponents.  Teams also play two inter-divisional games, but with a huge catch -- one of those games will be against the same school every year.  Those games were given a cool marketing friendly name: Cross-Division Rivalry.  Sounds nice, but is Texas A&M-South Carolina really a 'rivalry'?  What about Mississippi State-Kentucky, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt?

This in turn means that teams would play the six remaining teams in the other division only once every six years.  Once every dozen years at home.  LSU plays Georgia this season, the first time the two schools have met since the new system was implemented.   Last season, four-year seniors at LSU graduated having never played Georgia.  

If that sounds absurd, it is.  In an effort to maximize teams' college football playoff chances, the SEC has discarded logic and, with it, scheduling credibility.  

LSU and Florida, two of the conference's long traditional football powers play each other every season.  Meanwhile, Mississippi State gets an annual date against behemoth Kentucky.  Ole Miss plays Vanderbilt.  Alabama gets Tennessee.

The imbalanced SEC conference schedule was always a farce, and now it's becoming an increasing indelible stain on conference credibility.  There's no reason Florida should have to travel to Tiger Stadium every other year, one of the toughest places in the country for opponents to win a football game, while Georgia must do it only once every dozen.  Alabama is the best college football program in America, so why should they play Florida or Georgia only once every six seasons?

Right now LSU, Florida, Auburn, and Georgia are at a serious disadvantage to Alabama or any other SEC contender.  No wonder Jimbo Fisher decided to take his talents to College Station.  Texas A&M's schedule looks a lot more appealing with an annual date against South Carolina than does, say, LSU's with the annual bloodbath against Florida or Auburn, who plays Georgia every season.  

The Pac-12, Big 12 and Big Ten all play a nine game league schedule, plus a conference championship game.  Are the suits in the SEC league offices worried they'll be exposed in a nine game schedule?  We hear all the time that the SEC is the best college football conference in the country.  It's time to start acting like it.  Go either to a nine game conference schedule, or get rid of the absurd Cross-Divisional Rivalry games.   

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As we look ahead to this weekend's games, SEC will start separating the chaff from the wheat this week, when current conference (and Playoff) contenders LSU and Georgia meet on a sultry Saturday afternoon in Death Valley.  The Tigers (5-1) will try to rebound from their first defeat of the season last week on the road in The Swamp, while Georgia tries to maintain pace with the favorites in a very top-heavy race towards the College Football Playoff.

There's also the intriguing middle-tier clash between Texas A&M and South Carolina, but beyond that it's a less of a marquee week around the SEC.  

The SEC West continues to be the best division on college football with five teams ranked in the AP Top 25, and six teams with at least four wins.  The self-cannibalizing began last week for the conference and will continue through thanksgiving.

 

SEC WEST

#1 Alabama (6-0, 3-0 SEC) – To say Alabama has had a cupcake schedule is an offense to cupcakes.  The analysts saying this may be one of the greatest college football teams ever assembled may be right, but if that's the case it'd be great to see them against more than Arkansas State, ULL, The Citadel a terrible Louisville team in the non-conference.  At least Nick Saban has billboard material from the Alabama student section.  LAST WEEK – W @ Arkansas 65-31, THIS WEEK - vs. Missouri

# 13 LSU (5-1, 2-1 SEC) –  The Tigers finally has a reversion to expectations in their loss to Florida, with suspect offensive line play, a complete lack of pass rush, and struggles from quarterback Joe Burrow.  Still, if you asked any LSU fan two months ago if they'd be happy with a 5-1 Tigers' team entering Georgia week and they'd have assuredly nodded and smiled.  LAST WEEK – L @ Florida 27-19, THIS WEEK – vs. Georgia

#22 Texas A&M  (4-2, 2-1 SEC) –  The Fighting Jimbos escaped Kentucky in overtime last week, but they've still be outscored in conference play this season.  Now they're a surprising, perhaps, road favorite against South Carolina, the first of three straight contests for the Aggies away from The 12th Man.  LAST WEEK – W vs. Kentucky 20-14 (OT), THIS WEEK – @ South Carolina

#24 Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2 SEC) –  Just when it looked like the Bulldogs season was headed towards full collapse, they impressively dominated Auburn to get their first home win of the season.  Now, they get a bye before a huge road test against LSU.  LAST WEEK – W vs. Auburn  23-9, THIS WEEK – BYE

#21 Auburn (4-2, 1-2 SEC) –  Is there any coach that's been put on, then off, then back on, then off the hot seat again over the last few years more than Guz Malzahn?  Whispers around War Eagle show the natives are restless once again as pre-season hopes of Playoff contention have vanished and now as Auburn tries to claw back to .500 inside the conference.  LAST WEEK – L @ Miss St. 23-9, THIS WEEK – vs. Tennessee

Ole Miss (4-2, 1-2 SEC) –  The Rebels took our their Louisiana frustrations by trouncing UL-Monroe in the wake of their disastrous effort against LSU.  They get what looks like a gimme this week against Arkansas.    LAST WEEK – W vs. ULM 70-21, THIS WEEK – @ Arkansas

Arkansas (1-5, 0-3 SEC) –  I'm not sure we've seen a worse Power 5 team since Tyrone Willingham's masterpiece at Washington in 2008.    LAST WEEK – L vs. Alabama 65-31, THIS WEEK – vs. Ole Miss 

 

SEC EAST

#2 Georgia (6-0, 4-0 SEC) –  There a growing number of people who think this Georgia team isn't quite as good as people think.  This author isn't one of them, but we're about to find out if Georgia is a true playoff contender as they travel to LSU to play in front of what could be the largest crowd in Tiger Stadium history.  With the Playoff Selection Committee's likely reluctance to put two SEC teams in the Playoff again, this battle is critical for the Bulldogs.  LAST WEEK – W vs. Vanderbilt  41-13,  THIS WEEK – @ LSU

#18 Kentucky (5-1, 3-1 SEC) –  One of the feel-good stories in college football, the Wildcats are an overtime away from being a Top 10 team and a legitimate playoff contender.  Alas, they were done in by the Fighting Jimbos and the 12th Man last week.  Now they get an extra week to think about it.   LAST WEEK – L @ Texas A&M 20-14 (OT) THIS WEEK – BYE

#14 Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC) –  With their early season loss to Kentucky looking ever-more understandable, the Gators are once again cemented in their usual place as East Divsion contenders.  Some fans are already clearing space for Dan Mullen's statue after last week's dominating win against LSU.  LAST WEEK – W vs. LSU 27-19, THIS WEEK – @ Vanderbilt

South Carolina (3-2, 2-2 SEC) –  The Gamecocks held on for dear life at home against Mizzou last week and assuredly stopped (more) Fire Muschamp websites from popping up.  Are you missing the Ole Ball Coach yet, Columbia?  LAST WEEK – W vs. Missouri 37-25, THIS WEEK – vs. Texas A&M

Missouri (3-2, 0-2 SEC) –  The bad news?  The Tigers squandered a chance to upset South Carolina and win their first SEC game of the season.  The good news?  They get the obligatory week of free publicity on their way to the Alabama Slaughter House.   LAST WEEK – L @ South Carolina 37-35, THIS WEEK – @ Alabama

Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-2 SEC) –  It wasn't that long ago Vandy was 2-0 and five points away from stunning Notre Dame in The House that Rudy Built.  Now, they'll try to somehow save their bowl chances over the next month.    LAST WEEK – L @ Georgia 41-13 , THIS WEEK – vs. Florida

Tennessee (2-3, 0-2 SEC) –  How many people think Phil Fullmer still secretly toasts his ego with a nice Tennessee whiskey after every Volunteers loss?  LAST WEEK – BYE, THIS WEEK – @ AUB

 

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