Within moments of the 2012 SEC football schedule’s release, Twitter went ka-boom with SEC fans crowning Georgia as the East Division favorites. Columnists quickly followed suit. Take this nugget from David Paschall of The Chattanooga Times Free Press:
“Don’t bother penciling the Georgia Bulldogs as favorites to win the Southeastern Conference East Division again next football season.
The SEC did that Wednesday.”
Indeed, based on the win totals for each SEC program over the last four years, the Bulldogs will have the easiest 2012 schedule. On paper. But Georgia AD Greg McGarity doesn’t think the term “easiest” should be applied to any SEC docket:
“I don’t think any of our 14 schools has an easy schedule. No one really know what teams are going to be like. A lot of information is based on this year, but I think you can ask any conference schools and they’ve got tremendous respect for all the other institutions. … If you start trying to put things together based on this year’s performances, there would be no way to have a schedule for all teams the same way. I just know we’re going to have our hands full every week, especially the opening week fo the year (at Missouri).”
“Humbug!” cry thousands of South Carolina fans.
But like it or not, McGarity is correct. We grade schedules based on past performance, but that’s rarely a solid indicator of who’ll face what a year from now.
Step into the WayBack Machine and rewind to this date a year ago. Last December 29th, who would have predicted that Florida would need a bowl win to avoid its first losing season since 1979? Who would have projected six wins and a bowl trip for Vanderbilt’s new unknown coach James Franklin?
Who would have guessed that Auburn would lose half its roster to the NFL and slide to 7-5 (in a year that could have actually been worse)? Or that Mississippi State would fall from 9-4 to 6-6? Or that LSU — with a killer schedule and Jordan Jefferson at quarterback — would go 13-0 and win a showdown with West Division favorite Alabama in Tuscaloosa?
There’s truly no telling who’ll be up or down 12 months from now.
On paper, Georgia looks to have an easier path than South Carolina to the East Division crown. But what if the Bulldogs lose a number of underclassmen to the NFL while the Gamecocks manage to keep theirs in the flock? What if it’s a Georgia star who goes down to a season-ending injury in 2012 the way that Marcus Lattimore was lost to Carolina in 2011?
The SEC worked through numerous permutations to come up with a schedule that met as many needs as possible. Regardless of how the league handled things — and remember that each school was represented in the process — there were going to be complaints.
But complaining too long and too loudly about schedule strength eight months before the first kickoff is a waste of energy. Carolina Steve Spurrier has it right when he says breaks in scheduling are just “the rub of the green.” More of us outside the lines need to take the same attitude. Because as of right now, we don’t know who’ll leave early for the NFL, who’ll come aboard on signing day, who’ll get into off-field trouble, or who’ll be bitten by the injury bug.
There are pluses and minuses on each schedule — and we’ll break those down shortly — but to think we can predict next year’s division champions with only a look at next year’s schedule is laughable. Remember, the media get their SEC champion pick on Media Day wrong darn near every year. And that vote’s cast in July, not December.