Last week in Atlanta, a diehard Georgia friend was complaining about the lack of official starting times for the Bulldogs’ home games — even though the season launches in less than four months.
When pressed for a reason why starting times should matter in May, especially since Dawgs fans will likely carve out an entire day of tailgating for home games, my friend quickly offered this grumpy response:
“Because nobody gets excited for early-morning tailgates, when there’s a noon kickoff.”
This conversation soon had me thinking about the on-field product, as well, particularly in the SEC. In recent years, the college football TV consumer has been subtly brainwashed by the following narrative, when reacting to weekly schedules affecting schools east of the Rocky Mountains: Any games with a kickoff time around noon EST/11 a.m CST hour are low-energy afterthoughts, mere appetizers to the more attractive games later in the day.
SEC’S FIVE MOST MEMORABLE NOON-HOUR GAMES SINCE 2011
2012: LSU 24, Texas A&M 19
Tigers defense clamps down on QB Johnny Manziel, surrendering zero touchdowns to the future Heisman Trophy winner
2015: Arkansas 54, Auburn 46
Hogs rally from fourth-quarter deficit, then register 30 overtime points in 4-OT thriller against the Tigers
2014: UGA 34, Missouri 0
Freshman tailback Nick Chubb rushes for 143 yards, one TD in the Dawgs’ road rout of the eventual SEC East champs
2012: Missouri 51, Tennessee 48
Tigers, Volunteers account for 1,000-plus total yards in Mizzou’s 4-OT road win; Dorial Green-Beckham scores twice on only two catches
2014: TCU 42, Ole Miss 3
Note: Horned Frogs dismantle the Rebels in the Peach Bowl — now part of the ‘New Year’s Six’ major bowl lineup
SEC’S FIVE BIGGEST NOON-HOUR UPSETS SINCE 2011
2013: Vanderbilt 34, Florida 17
Conservative Commodores notch only 183 yards on offense, but still spank Gators by 17 on the road
2013: Missouri 41, UGA 26
Defensive end Michael Sam enjoys a breakout performance for Mizzou, positioning the Tigers for their first of back-to-back SEC East titles
2013: Vanderbilt 31, UGA 27
Tailback Jerron Seymour tallies two TDs in the Commodores’ program-defining victory over the Dawgs
2014: Mississippi State 48, Texas A&M 31
QB Dak Prescott (5 TDs) and the Bulldogs collect the second of three straight Mississippi State victories over top-10 teams — an apparent SEC record
2015: Memphis 37, Ole Miss 24
QB Paxton Lynch tosses three TDs for Memphis; this loss essentially knocked Ole Miss out of College Football Playoff contention
Is this true? And if so, are the SEC powers-that-be, and the television networks, consciously spreading this message?
Well, since 2010, the year after Nick Saban captured his first national championship with Alabama, the Crimson Tide have played in a grand total of four noon-hour games.
And in that same time span, LSU has only been obligated for five midday kickoffs.
By comparison, when charting the last five seasons, six SEC schools have been assigned to the 12 noon/11 a.m Central window at least 15 times:
UGA (24 early kickoffs since 2011)
South Carolina (21)
Granted, Alabama and LSU are the unrivaled TV darlings of the SEC right now, and it makes good business sense for CBS (3:30 p.m. time slot — first choice among networks) and ESPN/ESPN2/ABC (two or three prime-time games every Saturday, on average) to campaign to air the Crimson Tide and/or Tigers every week–minus cannon-fodder matchups with FCS schools).
But even with the ascension of the SEC Network, which serves as a game-changing revenue source for the SEC, the conference schedule-makers still favor the seemingly unlimited notion of putting Kentucky, Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina or Georgia in the early kickoff slot.
By extension, they’re implying the above schools don’t necessarily have the juice to provide CBS with good ratings in the 3:30 p.m. window.
Speaking of which, the Bulldogs own a five-year record of 20-4 when placed in the noon-hour TV window. So, it’s not like these early kickoffs have been a deterrent for UGA — minus the back-to-back defeats against Missouri and Vanderbilt in 2013.
Here are the SEC-affiliated team records when playing in the noon hour, collected over the last five seasons:
South Carolina (14-7)
Ole Miss (9-5)
Mississippi State (7-6)
Texas A&M (5-2)
You may notice that Alabama and LSU are absent from the listing above, for substantial reasons:
a) Coach Saban hasn’t lost a noon-hour kickoff time with Alabama in eight years (his lone early defeat: Mississippi State in 2007);
b) LSU head coach Les Miles, despite the occasional coup attempt to remove him from office, has never lost a noon-hour game in 11 glorious seasons with the Tigers.
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.