Honestly, Steve Spurrier said, there’s a truth in college football that after six decades in the game he fully acknowledges: It’s not fair.
After discussing the merits of an early signing period -- “I’ve never been for that” -- and the tabled 10-second rule -- “If you don’t like somebody using the no-huddle offense, you should use a no-huddle defense” -- the head coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks was asked what’s next for the game.
“I don’t know what’s next,” Spurrier told ESPN earlier this spring. “We talked about not having a common opponent, but the commissioner [Mike Slive] wants Alabama and Tennessee to keep playing each other. ... That’s not really fair for LSU or Florida, I don’t think, because they’re annually two of the best in the conference.”
And this brings Spurrier to his own cold, hard truth. In typical Spurrier fashion, there was some dry wit to it.
“There’s nothing fair about college football. You know that, don’t you?” he asked. “If it was fair, Alabama would have to sit out a year of recruiting. They’ve had the No. 1 class five out of six years. That’s like giving an NFL team the first five picks in the first and second round every year -- almost.
“And some teams play eight home games.”
Spurrier noted how Texas A&M and Auburn both played eight home games last season. Florida, he said, played only six, and Georgia seven. South Carolina also played seven home games.
He's well aware of Florida's schedule, which includes Florida State as an annual nonconference opponent.
“To me, Florida’s got the toughest schedule of any of us,” he said. “That’s a tough deal for Coach [Will] Muschamp. He can’t complain about it and can’t say anything about it, but I’ll say something: He’s got the toughest schedule in the conference with only six home games. They’ve got Alabama and LSU next year. Did you know that? That’s brutal.”
It’s not fair, Spurrier said, but that’s how it fell. South Carolina will get Texas A&M and Auburn from the SEC West, which won’t be easy. And that’s on top of the annual rivalry game against ACC power Clemson.
Mississippi State, meanwhile, rotates Kentucky and Vanderbilt in from the SEC East. The Bulldogs’ big nonconference opponent is Southern Miss, which has won exactly one game in the past two seasons.
“It’s not exactly fair by any means,” Spurrier said. “But that’s the way we’ve always done it. We can still fill the ballparks and the interest is at an all-time high. We’ll worry about that fairness later on.
“In college football, you are whatever your schedule is. Nobody gave a dang last year that Texas A&M, their four out-of-conference games were Texas El Paso, Sam Houston State, SMU and Rice. That was their four out-of-conference games, and I think all four of them were at home. ... They gave up Texas to pick up Sam Houston State, and nobody said a word about that.”
Don’t worry, South Carolina-Clemson isn’t going anywhere. “I would not do it,” Spurrier said of even considering taking Clemson off the schedule.
But while we’re talking about schedules, who does have it worst? South Carolina's schedule is no cakewalk, but Spurrier might be right that Florida’s is a proverbial murderer’s row. Here’s a look at the three toughest and three easiest schedules in the SEC in 2014:
Florida: It’s going to be an uphill climb from last year’s 4-8 debacle. Florida draws the two toughest crossover games of anyone with Alabama and LSU, and then has to close the regular season on the road at defending national champion Florida State. Mix in games at Tennessee, at a neutral site against Georgia and at home against South Carolina, and the Gators’ schedule is just as brutal as Spurrier described.
Tennessee: You think someone at Tennessee would have seen Oregon come off the schedule and decided to make things a little easier this season. Nope. As if Butch Jones wasn’t getting enough favors with Utah State and Arkansas State, the Vols scheduled Oklahoma. And that’s just the first three games of the season.
Auburn: The way the Tigers start the season with Arkansas and San Jose State at home isn’t going to knock your socks off. But playing Kansas State on its home turf isn’t something many SEC schools would even consider. If Gus Malzahn hopes to reach the SEC title game again, not only will he have to go through a Louisiana Tech team that won nine games last year, but he’ll also have to face South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Georgia and Alabama in the final six weeks of the regular season.
Vanderbilt: Nonconference games against Temple (4-7), U-Mass (1-11), a new FBS program in Old Dominion and FCS Charleston Southern shouldn't provide the stiffest of competition for a Vanderbilt team looking to rebuild under new coach Derek Mason.
Alabama: To be fair, the Crimson Tide scheduled West Virginia when things were looking up for the Mountaineers. But after a 4-8 record last year, a neutral-site game in Atlanta should favor Alabama by three touchdowns or more. Mix in nonconference games against Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss and Western Carolina, and it spells a cakewalk. Crossover games against four-win Florida and five-win Tennessee don't appear to be much of a challenge, either.
Mississippi State: The stars have aligned for coach Dan Mullen as his Bulldogs have three winnable nonconference games (Southern Miss, UAB, South Alabama) before going to LSU. Getting Texas A&M and Auburn at home is a huge boost, as are crossover games against Kentucky and Vanderbilt.