2013 SEC Schedule: Major Changes Coming
By Matt Smith
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SEC consultant Larry Templeton shines some light on what to expect out of future SEC schedules.
While engaged couples all across the South wait patiently for their favorite teams' football schedule to finalize the dates of their upcoming nuptials, the SEC is still hammering out the details of the new 14-team football schedule rotation that will take effect next fall. The conference agreed at its spring meetings in May to continue a 6-1-1 format that will have each team playing one permanent opponent and one rotating opponent from the opposite division.
The current year’s schedule was done strictly as a one-year model after the late additions of Missouri and Texas A&M to the league, with little bearing on future schedules. After doing some calculations and speaking to SEC consultant Larry Templeton, here’s a look what you can likely expect next season and going forward, including possibly the conference’s most-played rivalry being played in the same venue in consecutive years.
This season, Alabama has four of its six games against SEC West opponents at home. Texas A&M has just two. This was done (presumably) so that the Aggies would not have Alabama, Arkansas and LSU all coming to College Station in the same year. Templeton confirmed that going forward all teams will have three home division games and three away division games. How to correct the problem?
“There will be more than one repeat game,” said Templeton.
Any repeat games are expected to occur in 2013 and 2014 and will be avoided from that point on. The easiest solution is for either Ole Miss or Mississippi State to face Alabama on the road and Texas A&M at home for a second straight year in 2013, ensuring both the Crimson Tide and Aggies revert back to three home games and three away games within the division. This also would allow either Ole Miss or Mississippi State to avoid playing at Alabama and at LSU in the same season going forward, as they both currently do.
Templeton did not say whether this was the solution presented, but it is a simple and effective one. Texas A&M would then host Alabama, Auburn and one of the Mississippi schools next season, with road games at Arkansas, LSU and the other Magnolia State school.
This is where it gets interesting. Each team will retain one permanent rivalry game against a non-division opponent. South Carolina and Texas A&M will become permanent rivals, allowing Missouri and Arkansas, which share a border, to play annually. However, if all of the current permanent rivalry games simply flip to the opposite venue next season, it is not mathematically possible to establish a rotation where a team can cycle through all of the schools in the opposite division.
“Some interesting games will have to go back to a certain venue [two years in a row],” Templeton said.
To best establish a full rotation, all permanent rivalry games would have to be hosted by SEC West teams one year, and SEC East teams the next. In 2012, three of the five continuing rivalry games are at SEC East venues (Alabama-Tennessee, LSU-Florida, Mississippi State-Kentucky) and two at SEC West venues (Georgia-Auburn, Vanderbilt-Ole Miss). Therefore, the logical solution is for all permanent rivalry games, including South Carolina-Texas A&M and Missouri-Arkansas to be played in SEC West stadiums in 2013, so that three of the five rivalries can stay on their current rotation. Is it borderline criminal for the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to be played on The Plains two years in a row? Maybe, but so was expanding to 14 teams.
“Realistically that’s the way you want it to work,” Templeton said of the all-SEC West hosts for next year’s rivalry games, “but we’re still not sure if that’s how it will end up.”
In addition to Auburn and Georgia, Vanderbilt would have to travel to Oxford for the second year in a row. Mississippi State-Kentucky, which had to be played in Lexington in both 2011 and 2012, could revert back to its rotation with a game in Starkville next season. Auburn and Georgia have not played in Jordan-Hare Stadium in an odd year since the series moved to campus sites from Columbus, Ga. in 1959. Don’t be surprised if it happens in 2013.
There’s also a side benefit for the Bulldogs’ in-state rival. Georgia Tech has long been wanting to discontinue having to play at Virginia Tech, at Clemson and at Georgia in the same season. This could provide an opportunity to switch the Georgia Tech-Georgia game next year to Athens, so that the Yellow Jackets could have a more workable road schedule in even years, and so Georgia wouldn’t have to play at both Auburn and Georgia Tech, its two traditional late-season opponents, in the same year.
It was a disappointment to most SEC fans that Georgia’s scheduled trip to Tuscaloosa this fall was a casualty of expansion. The resumptions of the Florida-Ole Miss and Alabama-Vanderbilt series were also delayed. Rotating opponents for 2012 were done simply to fill in the gaps after slotting the six division games and the permanent rivalry game. Expect a similar methodology for 2013, with Templeton citing “the 56 [non-conference] games already on the chart” as a further complication.
With all permanent rivalry games potentially at SEC West venues, all rotating games would have to be at SEC East venues. Some potential matchups for 2013 would include, Alabama at Georgia, Arkansas at Florida, Auburn at Kentucky, LSU at Missouri, Ole Miss at Tennessee, Mississippi State at South Carolina and Texas A&M at Vanderbilt. Those, of course, are merely guesses at this point, based on openings and length of time between recent games.
There will not be home-and-home series in consecutive years for rotating opponents as there were up through 2011. However, seeing a team once every six year isn’t mathematically feasible either. The more plausible scenario is that it will be either five or seven years between games. I’ll spare you the details, but it would likely be 2020 before any of the 2013 rotating opponents meet again, and 2025 before they return to the site of next year’s games.
Dates, Byes, Etc.
Steve Spurrier quipped during the offseason that he would miss playing Georgia in early September due to the Bulldogs generally having a number of suspended players early in the season. While the date change didn’t hurt his team last Saturday night, it was an oddity to not have that seismic SEC East tilt in Week Two.
Other rivalries that have traditional dates that the league hopes to maintain, including Tennessee-Florida in mid-September, Alabama-Tennessee on the third (or fourth) Saturday in October, Alabama-Arkansas in September and Georgia-Auburn in mid-November. Templeton expects most of those dates to be maintained in future years.
The SEC has certain provisions that limit how many consecutive weeks teams can play conference games, road conference games and teams coming off of bye. Due to the complexities of a 14-team schedule, those won’t necessarily be abided by.
“All rules are off the table,” said Templeton.
Finally, what about a nine-game schedule? It’s not going to happen anytime soon. Most coaches (other than Nick Saban) are against it. The league will likely assess how much of an emphasis the selection committee places on schedule strength during the initial years of the playoff, which begins in the 2014 season, before deciding if a ninth game is necessary.
The 2012 schedule was released just before New Year’s Day. As far as a release date for next year’s slate, Templeton said they are further along than at this point last year but that it still could take until around that time this year before it is released. A release prior to the end of the regular season is still a possibility.