|NEWBERRY ON FOOTBALL: SEC scheduling leaves a lot of be desired|
|Written by Admin|
|Wednesday, 07 November 2007 12:18|
A quick glance at Arkansas' schedule might lead one to think the Razorbacks were making a run at the Sun Belt Conference championship.
And what about Troy? The rural Alabama school has played enough teams in the big, bad Southeastern Conference to qualify as a junior member.
The SEC calls itself the toughest football league in the country, a claim that largely goes unchallenged in these parts and is certainly hard to dispute in a year when 11 of the 12 teams might wind up being eligible for bowls.
Still, a closer look reveals another, less-flattering explanation for all those gaudy records: SEC teams rarely venture away from home for non-conference games or play schools from other BCS leagues.
To put it bluntly, they've scheduled a bunch of patsies, a factor that should be taken into account at bowl time. Certainly, it's a lot easier to become eligible for the postseason when you have a 4-0 head start and six wins is enough to get in the mix.
``The reason we like to have at least seven home games is we sell all our tickets and we've got real big ballparks and we can make a lot of money,'' said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, one of the few who'll concede a less-altruistic motive in SEC scheduling.
For the most part, coaches and players toe the company line: The conference is so strong that it's impossible to schedule the sort of intersectional, home-and-away series that are popular with fans.
``You know you're going to have a top 10 schedule with the SEC teams you play,'' Georgia cornerback Asher Allen said. ``The SEC is already tough enough.''
So, the schools are content to load up their non-conference schedules with surefire wins against teams from conferences like the Sun Belt, which is sort of like the SEC's Second Division.
Each of the eight Sun Belt schools played at least one SEC opponent this season, led by Troy, which only moved up to the top division in 2001. The Trojans faced Georgia, Florida and Arkansas, picked up big paydays at each stop, and left each with a loss.
In fact, Arkansas played three of its four non-conference games against Sun Belt teams (Troy, North Texas, Florida International), winning by a combined score of 170-43. The Razorbacks' other sacrificial lamb was Chattanooga, a member of the former Division I-AA.
Auburn is one of just three SEC teams that played at least two non-conference games against other BCS affiliated schools. Of course, both were at home, against Kansas State and South Florida.
This past weekend, the Tigers romped to a 35-3 win over Tennessee Tech, which normally plays schools such as Austin Peay and Cumberland. The Golden Eagles plummeted to 0-19 against major college teams.
``You'd be absolutely crazy to play four good non-conference games with the schedule we already play,'' said Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who can't help but wonder if it was worth it playing South Florida.
The Bulls pulled off a stunning 26-23 upset in overtime, which is probably still keeping the No. 17 Tigers down in the rankings.
``If we had played a team that we could have beaten pretty easy, we'd probably be ranked in the top five or six right now,'' Tuberville said. ``But we chose to play a team that was a little more difficult because our fans want to see it.''
Next year, he pointed out, the Tigers open against Big East power West Virginia. However, they won't be playing anyone else of that caliber.
``Most teams like to have one very competitive non-conference game,'' Tuberville said. ``With the other ones, unless you've absolutely lost your mind, you need to get teams that will play at your home and allow you to get guys healthy and play a lot of people.''
A nice way of saying pushovers.
Nobody in the SEC played it safer with its out-of-conference schedule than Arkansas, though embattled coach Houston Nutt said it's an anomaly the way things worked out. The Razorbacks recently played home-and-home against Southern Cal, and they've signed on for a two-year series with Texas beginning next year.
``It's just a one-year deal,'' Nutt said of this year's weak schedule, which could help the Razorbacks (6-3) land a bowl game even though they're just 2-3 within the SEC.
Whatever the circumstances, there's no getting around the fact scheduling has a lot to do with the SEC already having nine six-win teams and two others (Vanderbilt and Mississippi State) that are one win away from the magic bowl-eligible cutoff. Only Mississippi (3-7) is completely out of the postseason picture.
Even with the addition of a 12th game to the schedule, the SEC is playing only 14 of its 48 non-conference games (29 percent) against other BCS schools. The Big 12 is the only major conference playing less (11 of 48, or 23 percent).
By comparison, the Atlantic Coast Conference leads the way with 46 percent (22 of 48) against BCS opponents, followed by the Big East (15 of 40, 38 percent), the Pac-10 (11 of 30, 37 percent) and the Big Ten (13 of 44, 30 percent).
No one comes close to playing as many out-of-conference games at home as the SEC, which has seven stadiums seating at least 80,000 and likes to use them as much as possible. The conference has 40 of 47 non-SEC games at home (85 percent), the other being a neutral-site game between Alabama and Florida State in Jacksonville, Fla.
The remaining BCS conferences benefit far less from the home-field advantage: ACC (60 percent), Big East (65 percent), Big 12 (67 percent), Pac-10 (70 percent) and Big Ten (77 percent).
Another stat you won't hear the SEC touting is its 5-5 record against BCS opponents, with four such games remaining. That trails the Big Ten (9-4), ACC (9-8) and Pac-10 (6-4), and is just ahead of the Big East (7-8) and Big 12 (5-6).
Delving a little deeper, the SEC's five BCS victories have been against teams with a combined 25-20 record. No. 11 Virginia Tech (7-2) is the only currently ranked team outside the conference to lose to an SEC school, falling 48-7 at No. 2 LSU early in the season. The five BCS losses have been to teams that are 33-11.
The SEC is 31-0 against everyone else, a major reason its rate of non-conference wins (88 percent) is first among the BCS leagues.
``I can understand the reluctance to schedule other national powers, because week in and week out this conference is very competitive,'' said LSU coach Les Miles, whose team will face out-manned Louisiana Tech on Saturday. ``Sometimes if you play an early opponent that's a national team, it requires every effort to get a victory and it may well slow the momentum of your season if you misfire.''
Then again, if the SEC is indeed the strongest conference in the country, shouldn't it savor those challenges?