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5 Tweaks To Improve the SEC Schedule

By Matt Smith
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I have proposed five tweaks to the SEC scheduling format that would benefit the conference, the teams and the fans. Some are significant overhauls, while others are simple adjustments.

It’s February – a time of year when the college football can look at some big picture items and hypotheticals, prior to diving back into depth charts and schematics once spring practices crank up next month.

I have proposed five tweaks to the SEC scheduling format that would benefit the conference, the teams and the fans. Some are significant overhauls, while others are simple adjustments.

No need to bury the lede, so we’ll kick it off with the big one.

1. Eliminate Divisions

From 1966-2002, Georgia and Ole Miss played every season. Now, after Georgia’s trip to Oxford last season, the Bulldogs won’t return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium until 2028. Perhaps even worse, the teams won’t meet anywhere again until 2023. How can teams in the same conference go seven years between meetings?

The solution? Scrap the two divisions. Yes, current rules require a) two divisions or b) a full round-robin conference schedule, in order to hold a championship game, but with autonomy granted to the Power Five conferences in 2014, these rules can be amended if the conferences are in agreement.

With no divisions, every team would still play three rivals annually (see below). Each team would then play five other opponents in a home-and-home series over two years, and then the remaining five teams home-and-home the following two years. That way, every four-year player would play every other SEC team home and away.

The teams with the two best records would qualify for the SEC Championship Game, hopefully alleviating the recent trend of blowouts in Atlanta on the first Saturday of December.

Potential permanent opponents under a no-divisions format:

Alabama – Auburn, Mississippi State, Tennessee
Arkansas – LSU, Missouri, Texas A&M
Auburn – Alabama, Florida, Georgia
Florida – Auburn, Georgia, Tennessee
Georgia – Auburn, Florida, South Carolina
Kentucky – Mississippi State, Missouri, Vanderbilt
LSU – Arkansas, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Ole Miss – LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt
Mississippi State – Alabama, Kentucky, Ole Miss
Missouri – Arkansas, Kentucky, South Carolina
South Carolina – Georgia, Missouri, Texas A&M
Tennessee – Alabama, Florida, Vanderbilt
Texas A&M – Arkansas, LSU, South Carolina
Vanderbilt – Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee

Almost every game that comes close to resembling a rivalry is maintained, while allowing teams currently in opposite divisions to meet three times as often as they do now. With 14 teams, two divisions and permanent crossover opponents simply doesn’t work.

2. Move Florida-Tennessee to November

For years, Tennessee’s SEC schedule has been front-loaded. Annual games with Florida, Georgia and Alabama all take place by mid-October. That often leaves the Vols off of the radar after Halloween with a soft November schedule that generally includes Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina and Vanderbilt.

The Florida game, played in September in all but one year of the past quarter-century, should be moved to November. The game could be held two weeks after the Florida-Georgia game, and two weeks before rivalry week to ensure Florida’s big games are spaced out.

The SEC East champion is often decided in early November, which isn’t good for interest. By moving this game to mid-November, you increase the likelihood that the division title won’t be decided until the final week or two of the season.

3. No Group of Five/FCS Games in the Final Three Weeks

The Saturday before Thanksgiving has become an annual punchline for the SEC, as half of the league’s team feast on overmatched opponents while resting up for rivalry games. The league being rendered an afterthought nationally for a week at that time of year is unfortunate.

Teams do it because everyone else does it, and they don’t want to be subject to a disadvantage. But if the playing field is level, then it won’t matter.

For the final three weeks of the regular season, teams should only play Power Five opponents. Teams would still have 10 weeks to fit in their two or three cupcake games, before a busy final three weeks of conference games and non-conference rivalry games for Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina.

4. Move the top SEC Network game to Noon ET

As college football goes to more and more primetime kickoffs, the evening television window is often too busy to focus on all of the important games, because they are being played concurrently.

The SEC is very guilty here. Its two marquee games most weeks air at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS and at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. on ESPN. There’s often another SEC game on ESPN2 or ESPNU in primetime. Why then does the SEC Network, which generally gets the No. 4 game in the selection process, put the best of its three weekly games in primetime?

The Noon ET window is often blah, but the SEC should at least put a game of interest in that time slot. For instance, in Week 3 last year, both Texas A&M-Auburn and Mississippi State-LSU were airing on ESPN and ESPN2 respectively in primetime. instead of having Georgia-Missouri at 7:30 p.m. on SEC Network, while, why not move it to Noon ET?

At Noon, SEC Network aired an unattractive Ohio-Tennessee game, which was the only SEC game in that timeslot. Georgia-Missouri, which produced a phenomenal finish, got little traction in the loaded primetime window with so much else going on around the conference and nation.

Let’s make the Noon ET window great again. 

5. Rotate Black Friday

Arkansas-Missouri is a newly-created rivalry game that has been played on the day after Thanksgiving the past three seasons, replacing Arkansas-LSU as the traditional Black Friday SEC matchup.

With all due apologies to the Razorbacks and Tigers, that game doesn’t carry enough sizzle for a day that has become a very important one on the college football calendar. The Black Friday game should be rotated, with games such as Ole Miss-Mississippi State, Texas A&M-LSU (when in Baton Rouge) and Louisville-Kentucky (when in Lexington) taking their turn in certain years.

The Iron Bowl has probably gotten too big for Black Friday, but there are plenty of other options to mix in with Arkansas-Missouri. Ole Miss-Mississippi State and Louisville-Kentucky might not always feature two great teams, but at least you know you’re watching two programs that hate each other’s guts, which can’t be said about the infant “Battle Line Rivalry” between the Hogs and Tigers.

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.