The SEC may boast the nation’s best football conference by a wide margin (eight national championships since 2006), but that’s not why the league warrants a free pass on the so-called integrity debate of scheduling FCS opponents.
For starters, citing the Power 5 programs, only the SEC and ACC have eight-game scheduling models for conference play. This obliges both leagues to scrape the bottom of the well, in terms of filling every member schedule with four non-conference foes (at least during non-Notre Dame rotation years for the ACC).
Conversely, the Big 12 (round-robin play for 10-team league), Pac-12 and Big Ten provide nine-game scheduling models to fans and prospective recruits.
Also, the SEC does a phenomenal job of front-loading intra-conference games during September (more on that later). However, it’s invariably left with some noticeable scheduling gaps once the calendar hits October and November.
Therein lies the crux of the matter: College football fans admire the SEC for offering at least one conference matchup for all 13 weekends of the season. They might also appreciate how none of the 14 member schools has a ‘bye’ in September or November (new quirk).
Some notable examples of ultra-balanced scheduling include:
**Ole Miss has two crucial home games against Alabama and UGA within the season’s first four Saturdays.
**The same holds true for Auburn, which encounters Texas A&M (Sept. 17) and LSU (Sept. 24) in the opening weeks.
**LSU has Mississippi State (home) and Auburn (road) on the schedule before September ends.
**South Carolina launches the Will Muschamp era/rebuilding project with back-to-back road tilts (against Vanderbilt and Mississippi State). No other Power 5 program can match that road challenge to to open 2016.
**All told, nine of the 14 SEC schools have at least two conference outings during September. By comparison, at least five Big Ten teams (Ohio State, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Illinois) don’t have a single league game in the opening month.
(The Big Ten wants to eradicate FCS opponents from its schedules by 2019.)
Bottom line: For everything to come together in a manner that appeases SEC coaches, fans, players and the deep-pocketed, highly influential TV partners, some sacrifices have to be made … in the form of occasionally seeing the likes of Tennessee Tech, UT-Chattanooga, Presbyterian, Austin Peay, Tennessee State or Prairie View later in the year.
And if these cream-puff encounters should come before Iron Bowl Week (Alabama hosts UT-Chattanooga; Auburn has Alabama A&M), before ‘Florida State Week’ (Florida hosts Presbyterian the previous Saturday), before ‘Crimson Tide Week’ (Arkansas has Alcorn State sandwiched between games against Texas A&M, Alabama, Ole Miss) and before ‘Clemson Week’ (South Carolina takes on Western Carolina the prior Saturday) … then so be it.
It’s a small price to pay for having meat-grinder schedules throughout SEC play for 12 Saturdays a year.
Plus, we would be deprived of future ‘tin horn’ rants from head coach Nick Saban (above)… if Alabama never scheduled Charleston Southern again.
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.