How big a role did schedules play this past season in the SEC championship race?
Judge for yourself. But the two teams making the SEC championship game -- Alabama and Georgia -- both avoided the toughest teams in the other division. Alabama didn’t play Florida, Georgia or South Carolina in the regular season, while Georgia didn’t have to face Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M.
No wonder South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was advocating that only divisional games should count in a team’s conference record.
The 2013 season will feature a second straight year of “bridge” scheduling in the SEC to accommodate the addition of Missouri and Texas A&M. A long-term rotation won’t be in place until the 2014 season.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the schedules for the top six teams in our early 2013 power rankings:
Home games: 7
Non-league games: Virginia Tech (in Atlanta), Colorado State (home), Georgia State (home), Chattanooga (home)
SEC crossover games: Kentucky (road), Tennessee (home)
SEC no plays: Florida, Georgia, Missouri, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
Toughest games: Virginia Tech (in Atlanta), Texas A&M (road), LSU (home)
Verdict: It looks like two of Alabama's toughest games will be their first two games of the season. That trip to College Station the third weekend (following a bye week) will be one of the most anticipated games of the entire season. Getting Kentucky and Tennessee in the East is a huge break for the Crimson Tide. The Wildcats and Vols combined for just one SEC win this past season, and that one win came when the Vols beat the Wildcats. Alabama also gets six of its next seven games at home after the Texas A&M trip. In other words, if the Tide can get out of College Station unscathed, they're as good a bet as any to win it all ... again.
Home games: 8
Non-league games: Rice (home), Sam Houston State (home), SMU (home), UTEP (home)
SEC crossover games: Vanderbilt (home), Missouri (away)
SEC no plays: Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee
Toughest games: Alabama (home), Ole Miss (away), LSU (away)
Verdict: Similar to Alabama, Texas A&M avoids the big boys in the East next season and doesn't face Florida, Georgia or South Carolina. There's also not a marquee nonconference game on the Aggies' schedule, and being able to play eight games at Kyle Field is always a nice perk. Back-to-back road dates at LSU and Missouri to end the regular season will be challenging, but the Sept. 14 home game with Alabama is the one everyone has circled and will go a long way toward shaping the SEC and national race.
Home games: 7
Non-league games: North Carolina (home), UCF (away), Coastal Carolina (home), Clemson (home)
SEC crossover games: Arkansas (away), Mississippi State (home)
SEC no plays: Alabama, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Toughest games: Georgia (away), Florida (home), Clemson (home)
Verdict: The Gamecocks get the favorable draw in the West in 2013. They don't have to play Alabama, LSU or Texas A&M. The Georgia game moves back to the second week of the season, and yes, we all know what the Head Ball Coach thinks about playing the Bulldogs early in the season. There aren't a lot of cupcakes on the Gamecocks' nonconference slate, and that trip to UCF to end the month of September has danger written all over it. All in all, it's a much more manageable schedule for South Carolina than this past season, but don't dismiss the difficulty of having to go on the road in the SEC for three straight weeks -- Arkansas on Oct. 12, Tennessee on Oct. 19 and Missouri on Oct. 26.
Home games: 6
Non-league games: Clemson (away), North Texas (home), Appalachian State (home), Georgia Tech (away)
SEC crossover games: LSU (home), Auburn (away)
SEC no plays: Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Toughest games: Clemson (away), South Carolina (home), LSU (home), Florida (in Jacksonville)
Verdict: The "Palmetto State Invitational" to start the season will put Georgia's young defense to the test right away. Both Clemson and South Carolina will open the 2013 season ranked in the top 15. LSU also rotates onto the Bulldogs' schedule next season, but it helps that the game's at home. Four of Georgia's final six games will be played away from Sanford Stadium. But it's the first month of the season that will likely determine whether the Bulldogs will get back to the SEC championship game for a third straight year. In addition to the Clemson and South Carolina games the first two weeks, LSU comes to Sanford Stadium on Sept. 28.
Home games: 6
Non-league games: Toledo (home), Miami (away), Georgia Southern (home), Florida State (home)
SEC crossover games: Arkansas (home), LSU (away)
SEC no plays: Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Texas A&M
Toughest games: Miami (away), LSU (away), Georgia (in Jacksonville), South Carolina (away), Florida State (home)
Verdict: Right off the bat, the fact that four of the Gators' five toughest games are away from home jumps out at you. Obviously, one of those is the Georgia contest, which is played every year in Jacksonville. Still, it's an extremely challenging slate away from The Swamp, and the fact that Florida plays both Miami and Florida State next season is noteworthy. That five-game stretch from Oct. 12 through Nov. 16 will make or break Florida's season. Four of those games are away from home, and it starts with a trip to LSU and ends with a trip to South Carolina.
Home games: 7
Non-league games: TCU (in Arlington, Texas), UAB (home), Kent State (home), Furman (home)
SEC crossover games: Georgia (away), Florida (home)
SEC no plays: Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt
Toughest games: TCU (in Arlington, Texas), Georgia (away), Florida (home), Alabama (away), Texas A&M (home)
Verdict: Not only did LSU lose a ton of talent with all those underclassmen declaring early for the NFL draft, but the Tigers will tackle what appears to be one of the toughest schedules in the country next season. According to colleague Mark Schlabach's way-too-early top 25 for 2013, LSU will face five of the top 14 teams in the country. LSU plays both Florida and Georgia in the East next season. A trip to Alabama on Nov. 9 is followed by a home date with Texas A&M two weeks later. The Tigers do have a bye between those two games. There are also trips to Mississippi State and Ole Miss in October. Throw in the opener against TCU, and there aren't many off weeks.