5 things I like and 5 things I don't like about the SEC's 10-game conference-only schedule
Let’s get weird.
The SEC is playing a 10-game conference-only schedule this year in an effort to have maximum flexibility during this pandemic.
We don’t know what the schedule will look like yet, but Ross Dellenger reported that it won’t be simply adding the 2 future nonconference crossover matchups to the 2020 slate, and that the added matchups will be based on strength of schedule.
The university presidents approved a season that will start Sept. 26 and the conference title game will be played on Dec. 18. The SEC was the 4th Power 5 conference to announce that it’ll be playing 10 league games, which was met with a variety of reactions.
Speaking of reactions, I had plenty. Here’s what I like and don’t like about this new conference schedule:
1. Hello, more SEC games!
Yes, I’d rather see Alabama face Florida than Charleston Southern. Does that make me weird? I don’t care. I realize I’m saying this as someone who doesn’t have a dog in the fight. I want to watch competitive football, and with a conference-only slate, that’s exactly what we should get.
This is fantastic news for everyone who ever complained about Cupcake Week. Embrace the fact that these games, COVID-19 pending, will be full of interesting matchups on a weekly basis.
2. I sort of don’t hate the idea of blowing up divisions in this weird year
When I saw the ACC scrap divisions for 2020, I’ll be honest, I got excited thinking about the idea of the SEC following suit. Yes, there’s an obvious competitive imbalance already in the East and West, which saw 1 division win 10 of the past 11 SEC titles. I’d love to see something that resembles more of a round-robin. Each SEC team would play 10 of the 13 league opponents.
If they did away with divisions and just stripped it all down like the ACC, we could actually see a more competitive system. Well, unless there was a team who missed out on playing LSU, Alabama and Georgia or something like that.
I know we all love traditions, but nothing is traditional about this year. Appreciate the competitive balance for what it is.
3. Yes, I actually think this could strengthen the SEC’s brand
You know how people in the Big Ten like to claim that the SEC takes it easy by only playing 8 conference games? The SEC has a chance to end that narrative for good. Why? If everyone plays the same number of conference games and the SEC still produces a national championship participant, that’ll speak to the strength of the league. It won’t just be that the league created the best possible path to the Playoff.
One year of this could kill this argument for the long-term, which is a good thing.
4. Do you really think the SEC is getting left out of the Playoff?
I don’t. Not in a year when there are fewer data points than ever.
This is, fair or not, going to be a year in which reputation matters. If I’m a Pac-12 team like Oregon, I’m worried about the fact that I don’t get to face anyone in nonconference play to show that I can compete with the big boys. The SEC’s elite have already shown that.
We could absolutely see the SEC have a 2-loss conference champion look more deserving of a 1-loss Pac-12 champion. The selection committee gave the SEC the benefit of the doubt because of the strength of the league throughout the Playoff era. Even if teams beat up on each other — something that’s inevitable — it could still play into the SEC’s hand of being a gauntlet.
5. The SEC is letting everyone else figure this out first
Lost in the shuffle of the 10-game conference-only schedule is the fact that the SEC won’t play until Sept. 26. That’s 4 weeks after Oklahoma is scheduled to play Missouri State. The ACC, on the other hand, is expected to start the week after Labor Day.
Just as commissioner Greg Sankey said throughout this process, the goal has always been to gather as much information as possible before making these decisions. The SEC didn’t push to have games played in August. This situation is fluid. Very fluid. The unknown of how this virus will spread when/if students to campus is one thing, but so is seeing how this thing is handled when players are actually in full contact at practice.
A Sept. 26 start gives the SEC time, which is something that it was lacking before making this decision.
1. Goodbye traditional nonconference rivalries
This bummed me out:
Last time we had a college football season without …
Florida-Florida State: 1957
Georgia-Georgia Tech: 1924
Clemson-South Carolina: 1908
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) July 30, 2020
Yeah, I was holding onto hope that we’d still get these classic games. Again, tradition is great, but nothing is traditional about 2020. I understand why the move was made, though. There were 10 other teams in those conferences that didn’t have those traditional intra-state nonconference rivalries.
It’s frustrating because Louisville-Kentucky was going to be sneaky-good and there’s something about Florida-Florida State that is must-see even when 1 team (Florida State) isn’t good.
For these fan bases, I truly feel sorry that they won’t have a year with these games. But on the bright side, some football is better than no football.
2. No LSU-Texas rematch or Tennessee-Oklahoma Part 1
Ugggghhhhh. I needed the LSU-Texas rematch in my life. Say what you want about the neutral-site kickoff games, but these home-and-home games just have a different kind of juice. Last year’s LSU-Texas game was an instant classic, and I can’t help but think that Sam Ehlinger’s trip to Death Valley would have been another must-see showdown.
Let’s also pour one out for Tennessee-Oklahoma, which was going to be super interesting on a variety of fronts. It would have been a fantastic test for Jeremy Pruitt’s defense against Lincoln Riley’s offense. That matchup in Norman would have been electric.
Oh well. The good news is that the 2020s are loaded with headliner home-and-homes.
Fingers crossed that we’ll have this thing figured out by then.
3. Evaluating rebuilding programs is going to be awful
Imagine being Sam Pittman or Eli Drinkwitz right now. You’ve had an offseason without actual spring practices that has been unlike any other. Now, you get to play not 8 SEC games, but 10 SEC games.
I mean, there are going to be some tough records at season’s end. Without those cupcakes, kiss that 6-win goal goodbye. There are going to be teams that might be lucky just to win 3 games. That might not sound like a big deal for programs that haven’t had much recent success, but another year of missing the postseason and having more frustration than actual building victories is a tough thing to sell a fan base and recruits.
Arkansas could be better than it was in the Chad Morris era and easily not have the wins to show for it. Every win will mean that much more.
4. The weird way we’ll have to look back on this for stats, records, etc.
Get ready for “win percentage” to become a big thing in 2020. Nobody is going to want to talk about the cumulative number of wins. Even the contenders will only be 8-2.
If you’re someone like Will Muschamp or Derek Mason, how do you show improvement in a year like this to save your job? I imagine those would be difficult conversations for an athletic director to have at season’s end. Firing a coach might be even more challenging.
On the flip side, it could expose some coaches who can’t handle the rigors of playing 10 Power 5 matchups. Maybe we’ll see a surprise 2-8 season from someone who annually reaches the postseason.
5. It’s still less football
Last I checked, 10 is less than 12. I’m excited for more conference games, no doubt. But these precious college football weekends will be fewer in 2020. That was inevitable.
Hey, if 2 fewer college football weekends is the biggest complaint at season’s end, I’ll take it.