What’s your opinion of Alabama’s 2013 team? Your answer will determine whether or not you agree with the SEC’s new scheduling format.
On Sunday night, the SEC announced it will retain its 6-1-1 scheduling format – where a team plays each of its six intra-divisional opponents, one permanent crossover game and one rotating crossover game – and require one non-conference game against a Power Five foe beginning in 2016.
Barring a historically down season, the SEC champion is guaranteed a slot in the upcoming four team College Football Playoff. But it’s whether it can get a second team into the big dance that Alabama’s 2013 season comes back into play. The Tide had a pair of good-not-great wins over LSU and Texas A&M, decent wins over Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Virginia Tech and Colorado State and… not much else. Alabama’s permanent crossover opponent – Tennessee – did nothing to bolster its strength of schedule, and its rotating opponent – Kentucky – did even less.
And this is really the crux of the issue. Not all SEC schedules are created equal. Alabama’s token Power Five opponent brought an impressive brand name, but Virginia Tech went just 8-5 last season. The Tide missed the top three teams from the SEC East, while the teams it did face went a combined 1-13 against every SEC team not named Tennessee or Kentucky.
So, in light of all above, does Alabama get that incredibly coveted fourth spot? Let’s assume Florida State, Auburn and Michigan State are in for the purposes of this discussion. Who are you taking – Alabama, 11-1 Big 12 champion Baylor, or 11-2 Pac-12 champion Stanford? Clearly, the SEC believes its brand is strong enough to merit inclusion above a one-loss Power Five champion.
“The existing strength of the SEC was certainly a significant factor in the decision to play eight games,” SEC commish Mike Slive said.
— Matt Murschel (@osmattmurschel) April 27, 2014
Ultimately, of course, our opinion doesn’t matter. Only 13 do, and they’ll all be sitting in a Dallas-area conference room on the first Sunday of December announcing the fates of the handful of teams who believe themselves worthy of a golden ticket.
While it’s impossible to know how the committee will think until they emerge from that room, here’s what they’ll have to go by:
Essentially, this is the defense resting before the trial even begins. Mike Slive’s league believes the very existence of those three letters you hear chanted in stadiums across the South are enough to box out a one-loss champion from a competing conference.
– The biggest loser inside the SEC here is LSU. The Bayou Bengals very vocally argued against the status quo, but clearly they were not persuasive enough. The Tigers campaigned to end permanent crossover games, but they survived by a 10-4 vote.
“I’m disappointed in the fact that the leadership of our conference doesn’t understand the competitive advantage permanent partners give to certain institutions,” LSU athletics director Joe Alleva told Nola.com. “I tried to bring that up very strongly at the meeting today. In our league we share the money and expenses equally but we don’t share our opponents equally.”
– Biggest loser, non-SEC edition: Boise State, BYU, Central Florida and any other non-Power Five team hoping to make a run at the Playoff. Last season, Central Florida put together an 11-1 regular season, and came three points shy of beating South Carolina, thus making things very interesting on BCS Selection Sunday. Now? The SEC has absolutely no incentive to play the UCF, Boise State, Fresno State or any other mid-major with a puncher’s chance of actually winning the game. By outright demanding one Power Five game, the SEC is admitting those other three games exist for no other reason than to guarantee a home game and a win for its 14 schools. Which means Boise State’s opener against Ole Miss this season will be the last of its kind for the foreseeable future.