Following Big Ten's lead, SEC chose smart path with schedule and protected its Playoff contenders
When the Big Ten announced that it was adopting a 10-game, conference-only schedule, the SEC waited. Ultimately, it took nearly a month for the SEC to decide to do the same thing.
When the Big Ten announced its schedule earlier in the week, the SEC waited again. Ultimately, it took 2 days for the SEC to follow suit again.
While many debated what system the SEC was going to use in order to decide how to add 2 games to everyone’s conference schedule, it seemed increasingly likely that the only system used would be the one we saw from the Big Ten — protect the contenders.
As we found out with Friday night’s SEC schedule reveal, that’s exactly what the league settled on. There are no additional matchups between the likes of Alabama, Florida, Georgia and LSU. It was eerily similar to the Big Ten East contenders like Ohio State and Penn State, which didn’t add any games against either Wisconsin, Iowa or Minnesota, all of which had double-digit wins last year.
It’s ironic, in a way. On a yearly basis, Big Ten coaches and administrators complain about the fact that it plays 9 conference games while the SEC only plays 8. People forget that the Big Ten had an 8-game conference schedule the last time it won a Playoff game in 2014, but it then switched to the 9-game conference schedule in hopes that the rest of the Power 5 would follow suit. The SEC and ACC stood pat. Why? Because this always has been and always will be about creating the best possible path to the Playoff.
The Big Ten’s switch to the 9-game conference schedule was made for “increased competition,” AKA they wanted another home game against a Power 5 team to boost attendance numbers and the TV rights package. And yet, while the Big Ten mocks the SEC for Cupcake Week, the SEC has sent its conference champion to the Playoff in 6 of 6 years, while the Big Ten finally ended a 3-year drought of that in 2019.
So why did this scheduling philosophy happen? And why did it take so long?
Well, there obviously wasn’t a protocol for this. Taking the rotating crossovers for the next 2 years and adding them to the 2020 slate didn’t make sense when you consider that it would have created tougher roads for contenders and repeated matchups for the next few years. That doesn’t make it any easier.
And let’s remember that every SEC team is facing 10 of a possible 13 conference opponents. Someone has to play Alabama. Is it more likely that a non-contender is going to draw a contender in a league that appears to be as deep as its been during the Playoff era? Of course.
Sorry, Arkansas and Mizzou. That’s brutal.
But you know what? Those 2 teams get to face each other annually. Arkansas’ rotating crossover this year was Tennessee, which is still searching for its first Top 25 finish since 2016. Mizzou’s rotating crossover was Mississippi State. I’d argue those teams were sitting pretty in the 8-game conference schedule. Yeah, the optics make it seem like they got a raw deal because each added the 2 toughest possible crossover opponents. But they were available for a reason.
As I always say, Alabama can’t play itself. It still has to play in the most difficult division in college football, and by the way, it already had a matchup with preseason top-5 team Georgia as its rotating crossover. Florida and LSU already face each other on an annual basis. That’s in a different galaxy than the annual pillow fights we’ve seen from Arkansas and Mizzou in recent memory.
Nobody is getting through the SEC by getting lucky, including the contenders. Look at the only teams that the SEC’s 4 contenders will miss this year:
- Alabama — Vanderbilt, Florida, South Carolina
- Florida — Alabama, Auburn, MSU
- Georgia — Ole Miss, LSU, A&M
- LSU — Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee
If it makes you feel any better, Alabama won’t play Vandy and South Carolina, which won 3 and 4 games, respectively. Instead, Alabama will face a total of 7 teams that won at least 6 games last year. By the way, 6 of those 7 teams were in the top 30 of the Coaches Poll (4 of them were in the top 13).
Nobody in the SEC avoided 2 of those 4 SEC teams (remember the contenders can’t face each other). Isn’t that crazy? Well, not really when you consider that every SEC team is only not facing 3 conference foes.
So Florida avoided Alabama, and Georgia voided LSU. Big deal.
The SEC found a way to actually end up with relatively even schedules that didn’t put any unnecessary pressure on its contenders. That’s the name of the game in 2020. The Big Ten did it. Shoot, even the ACC did it by not adding tricky matchups to Clemson’s schedule like UNC or Louisville, though it did keep Notre Dame.
Yes, it’s much tougher to be an SEC champion in a year like this than it’ll be to win any other conference. That was going to be the case regardless of how many conference games were added.
On Friday night, SEC fans got upset that the league balanced everything out in a way that appeared to help the contenders. Did it help avoid potential roadblocks to the Playoff? Sure, but look at this schedule in its entirety.
The SEC’s Playoff road isn’t for the faint of heart, no matter what the conspiracy theorists say.