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SEC Could Be All Alone With 8-Game Schedule

The Pac-10 is playing nine conference games per season.  Ditto the Big 12 this year.  The Big Ten will do the same beginning in 2017.  And according to this report, the post-expansion ACC will likely be a nine-game league, too.  (Virginia Tech AD Jim Weaver would actually like to see a 10-game in-conference schedule.)

If the Big 12 sticks with a nine-game plan, that would leave four of the current six BCS conferences with nine-game conference schedules, one — the Big East — on life support, and the SEC all by its lonesome with an eight-game schedule.  So would the SEC stand pat?

League coaches would campaign for the status quo.  When the league went from six to seven to eight SEC games per year, coaches moaned.  When the SEC Championship Game was added, coaches moaned.  In a league as tough as the SEC — they claimed — no one could win a national title when having to play so many conference rivals.

We know now that that was faulty thinking.  The SEC has won more titles post-expansion than it had in the 20 years prior to expansion (and the championship game and the eight-game schedule).

The SEC has been given the benefit of the doubt by pollsters time and again because of its perceived mini-NFL toughness.  Florida was pushed into the BCS title game over Michigan at the end of the 2006 season.  LSU landed in the BCS title game with two losses in 2007.

If history is a guide, a nine-game schedule would be unlikely to hurt the SEC in its pursuit of national crowns.  And it may save one of the league’s biggest rivalries as well.

If Missouri eventually joins the SEC, it’s believed by most that Auburn will shift from the West Division to the East Division.  AU president Jay Gogue has even okay’d just a move publicly.

If moved, the Tigers would then become the permanent protected rival of Alabama.  Currently, Alabama’s protected rival is Tennessee.  If Auburn moves and an eight-game schedule is kept, the Third Saturday in October game could lose its annual slot on the schedule.

Alabama and Tennessee are one-two on the SEC’s all-time standings board.  They have won more league crowns than any other programs (Tide 22, Vols 13).  For a league located in a region that takes its history and traditions just a shade more than seriously, it’s hard to imagine the SEC allowing a classic rivalry like Alabama-Tennessee to go by the wayside.

Especially if the solution is a nine-game league schedule.  A nine-game league schedule that every other major conference might wind up using.

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UGA’s Sack-Leader Will Miss 2 Games Due To DUI

After an 0-2 start and numerous calls for his scalp, Mark Richt had begun to turn things around at Georgia.  His Bulldogs had rolled off three straight wins — two of them conference wins — and had found themselves right back in the heat of the East Division race heading to Tennessee on Saturday.

And then the team’s best pass-rusher went and got arrested for a DUI early Sunday morning.

“It’s a setback,” Richt said of linebacker Cornelius Washington’s arrest.  “But I don’t know if it’ll deter us from playing hard and playing well.” 

Indeed, it might not keep UGA from playing hard and playing well.  But facing the SEC’s top-rated gunslinger Tyler Bray, the Dawgs’ chances would be vastly improved if their sack leader could play this weekend.  At Georgia, a DUI arrest results in an automatic suspension of a minimum of 20% of the season (which is a very good, cut-and-dried rule, by the way).  Twenty percent equals two games and Vanderbilt follows Tennessee on UGA’s schedule.

Washington had two sacks against Mississippi State on Saturday and 1.5 against Ole Miss the previous week.

“He’s sick,” Richt said of Washington.  “He feels awful.  He knows that he let the team down, let his coaches down, let his family down, and the Bulldog nation in general.  He understands that there’s going to be a price to be paid.  He’s going to take his punishment like a man and come back and finish strong for us.”

Unfortunately, Richt and his staff could pay a greater price should Georgia lose it’s East Division showdown on Saturday.  Georgia’s coach likely needs to win eight games to keep his job for another year, but some of those wins need to come against his squad’s East Division foes.

The loss of Washington will likely have some impact on the field Saturday… and that could lead to a bigger, longer-lasting impact on the UGA program moving forward.

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How To Schedule A 13-Team SEC Football Season; And Have You Noticed That The SEC Hasn’t Officially Released Next Year’s Schedule?

If Texas A&M is voted in as a member of the Southeastern Conference and begins competing in football next fall, it appears that the league will have to figure out a way to squeeze 13 teams into its current divisional format.

Why keep divisions?  As we’ve already stated once today, in order to hold a championship game, the NCAA requires a league to have at least 12 teams split into divisions.  Unless the SEC wants to petition the NCAA to change that rule, there’s little chance of having one big free-for-all league.  In the current set-up, if you want a title game, your league has to be split into divisions.

If divisions are a must, would the SEC just place A&M in the West Division?  Makes sense.  But we can’t imagine West schools would like the idea of having a harder road to Atlanta than their neighbors in the East Division.  Also, under the SEC’s current scheduling format, schools play every other team in their own division.  Would the league force West Division teams to play more league games than East Division teams.  It’s hard to imagine anyone in the West signing off on that even for a year.

Eventually, if the league does go to 14 schools, you can expect a nine-game conference schedule to emerge.  Coaches would howl.  Those of us in the media would shout that no SEC team would ever win another national title.

We’ve lived through that scenario once before.  In 1992, when the SEC split into divisions, went from six conference games all the way to eight, and added an SEC title game, league coaches suffered a collective conniption.  (Correction: SEC coaches complained as the league went from six to seven games in 1988 and then from seven to eight in 1992.)

“There’s no way we’ll ever win again with such a brutal schedule!”

And Alabama promptly went undefeated and won the national title in Year One of the new set-up.  Matter of fact, in 19 seasons of eight-game, divisional play the SEC has won nine national crowns (handed out to five different schools).  In the 19 seasons prior to 1992, the SEC had won just four national titles (and three of those went to Alabama).  The SEC went 11 seasons without a title before the tougher set-up.  It’s since won nine in 19 years.  The tougher schedule gave the league more credibility.

At any rate, the SEC currently uses a 5-1-2 format.  Each school plays five divisional foes, one permanent foe from the other division, and two rotating foes from the other division.  If the league were to expand to 14 schools and bring in another Western team, Auburn would likely move to the East and that would require the league to go to a 6-2-1 format.  Doing so would enable the league to preserve some longtime rivalries — namely Alabama-Tennessee — that might otherwise disappear.  If, however, a team is added from the Eastern part of the US, the league could go to a nine-game schedule and use a friendlier 6-1-2 format.  It all depends on who School #14 turns out to be (if there is one).

To recap:

1.  It’s unlikely the league would do away with divisional play.

2.  It’s also unlikely that West Division schools would agree to put themselves at a disadvantage by adding a team to their side of the ledger.

So how can the SEC add Texas A&M to the 2012 football schedule?

The best possible fix might be a single “transition” year schedule for the Aggies.  The key would be finding eight league schools — four from the East and four from the West, if the league wanted to keep things balanced — that would be willing to schedule the Aggies in what would amount to “non-conference” conference games.  A&M would get a full schedule and full share of SEC money, but they wouldn’t be eligible for a trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  They would, however, be eligible for an SEC-connected bowl trip.  (And, yes, new bowl contracts will have to be drawn up once the league expands, too.)

Arkansas already has Texas A&M on the books for their rivalry game in Arlington, Texas next year.  That means the league would need to find just three teams in the West and four in the East willing to schedule A&M.  Sounds easy enough.

But what about the non-conference foes already locked on to SEC schedules next fall?  The schools adding A&M in this scenario would each have to buyout one non-conference foe from next year’s schedule.  Would they be willing to do that for the good of the league?  Would the SEC office be willing to kick in the cash to cover seven buyouts (a figure that would probably total about $7 million)?

Also, most SEC schools play the majority of their non-conference games early, leaving one spot later in the season for a homecoming dud (in most cases).  Could A&M find seven SEC dance partners and make sure all those games fell in such a way that the Aggies would have 12 games spread neatly over the NCAA’s 13-week season?

We wanted to examine next year’s schedules to determine which schools might best be able to finagle their schedules.  So we grabbed this year’s SEC Media Guide.  Usually one can find the current year’s schedules as well as upcoming year’s schedules right there in the guide.

But…

This year the SEC has not officially released its schools’ 2012 schedules yet.  Not in its media guide.  Not on its website.  Not on its schools’ websites.

In addition, every 10 years the SEC re-examines — and possibly re-works — the schedule rotation for non-division games.  This is the final season of the current 10-year rotation.  But to date the SEC hasn’t announced a new rotation of non-division foes either.

Why is all this interesting?  Because Texas A&M and the SEC have said that the Aggies first made contact with Mike Slive in late-July.  Yet the SEC has — for some reason — not released its 2012 schedules or even set its non-divisional rotations.

Again, it’s pretty standard for the SEC schedule to be put to bed early enough that it’s listed in all of the media guides and on all of the league’s websites by mid-July.  But that’s not the case this year.

Why it’s almost as though league officials knew that something might change.

Now, do we find it odd that in a year when the SEC looks to be bringing in a new school, the league has coincidentally been historically slow in its schedule-setting?  Uh, yeah.  We do.  (We’re sure the SEC will provide a perfectly good explanation for the delay, however.)

We also believe that it’s likely the league is — and has been — prepared to take the path of least resistance with regards to A&M’s 2012 schedule.  And that’s most likely an eight-game SEC schedule for A&M that doesn’t figure into the league’s standings at all.  For a year.  And that’s if the SEC doesn’t surprise us all with the announcement of a 14th school (or 15th or 16th) in the next few days.

After 2012, however, all bets are off.  Whatever the league does schedule-wise next season — with presumably a 13-school conference — will not be perfect.  It will be makeshift.  It will be a case of making lemonade out of lemons.  Or chicken salad… well, you get the picture.

If the SEC doesn’t have School #14 lined up for entry by the 2013 football season, then Slive’s office will have a bigger problem on its hands.  At that point, A&M will surely want a shot at Atlanta.  At that point, current league schools surely won’t want to play in a division that has seven teams when the other has but six.

For a 13-team 2012, there appears to be a solution.  Beyond that, who knows?

Good thing the SEC just happened to take such an unusually long time to announce its 2012 schedule.

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Report: SEC Would Be “Comfortable” With 13 Schools

From Day One of all this Texas A&M hubbub, our Southeastern Conference sources have told MrSEC.com that if the league were to add a 13th school, it will need to grab a 14th, too.  Other sources have said much the same thing to outlets ranging from CBSSports.com to The New York Times.

Now, the folks at OutkickTheCoverage.com said early on that the SEC would be okay with adding A&M as a stand-alone 13th school (and we’ll credit them if that turns out to be the case).  We disagreed with that assertion because we had been told the complete opposite.  And many respected Southern writers who have their own SEC sources have told us that they, too, have heard a totally opposite story.

Enter Thomas O’Toole of USA Today who writes today that “conference and league school officials, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, have said they would be comfortable with 13 teams.”

Last season, the Alabama administration had a hissy fit — and rightly so — over the fact that the Tide had to play six league opponents that were coming off open dates.  But now we’re supposed to believe that six West Division schools are onboard with the idea of having a 1-in-7 shot at Atlanta while their East Division neighbors enjoy 1-in-6 odds?  All to add a school that business analysts and ex-TV executives now say won’t add very much value to the league’s media contracts anyway?

Sorry, we’re not buying.  Not the idea that the SEC is welcoming A&M with no incentive.  And not the idea that the SEC is comfortable sitting at 13 schools.  It may have to for a year — because there’s apparently been less interest than anticipated from schools that were expected to want to join Team Slive — but we don’t see the league surviving long-term as a 13-school entity.

And before you ask, the NCAA requires conferences to field two divisions of six teams or more in order to hold a league championship game.  It’s possible the SEC could petition the NCAA to waive that rule, but it seems far-fetched — at this point — to be talking about one, grand 13-school league without divisional play.

There’s no question that Mike Slive and the SEC can still pull a total shocker of a move for School 14.  But judging by the silence and lack of leaks from potential members — the SEC is always quiet — it doesn’t appear as though the SEC is quite as sexy as it might have thought a month ago.

For that reason, a 13-team football season might be a necessity next year.  But we still don’t believe SEC officials are “comfortable” with the idea of a 13-school league in the long run.

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Carolina’s Star Pass-Rushing Duo Injured At Practice

South Carolina’s pass-rushing duo of Melvin Ingram (9 sacks last year) and Jadeveon Clowney (the top signee in the nation) were both felled by injuries during practice yesterday.  Luckily for the Cocks, it sounds as if those injuries are relatively minor.  Both defensive ends left the field without assistance.

Ingram suffered a left thigh contusion, according to The Charleston Post & Courier.  Clowney sprained his left ankle.  Steve Spurrier talked about Clowney’s injury first:


“The doc doesn’t think it’s too bad.  He went in and put a little ice on it.  So two of our D-linemen had a minor nagging little thing.  Hopefully, if it had to happen, it happened 10 or 11 days before the game, so they should be OK.  Definitely both of them will be out a couple of days.  Hopefully they’ll get well by next week.”


South Carolina opens against East Carolina next Saturday in Charlotte.  The following week, they travel to Georgia for a matchup of the two East Division favorites.

With injuries and suspensions already taking a toll in the Gamecocks’ secondary, USC can’t afford to lose either of their star pass-rushers for any extended length of time.

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Meyer Thinks Florida Can Win The East

Up to now, Will Muschamp had caught a pretty big break.  The expectations at Florida — while always high — haven’t been quite as high as usual.  Fewer Gators have been listed on preseason All-SEC squads.  And very few pundits have picked UF to win the East Division and reach Atlanta.

But Muschamp’s predecessor is raising the bar on expectations this week.  Speaking with Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun, Meyer made it clear he feels the Gators he left behind are being underestimated:


“I’ll be rooting extremely hard for the Gators.  I love Florida and I always will.  It’s amazing to me that so many people don’t think they will win the East.  I think they have a great shot at winning the East if the offensive line comes through.”


Just as old coaches never like new coaches downplaying the level of talent they’ve inherited, new coaches most often don’t like old coaches saying that a division title is within reach.

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SEC Headlines – 3/3/11 Part Three

1.  With a six-man rotation, Kentucky would benefit from landing the East Division’s #2 seed and the bye that goes with it… which is still possible.

2.  Thanks to a tight win over Vanderbilt on Tuesday, John Calipari believes his team will now feel it can win a tight game at in Knoxville on Sunday.

3.  Darrin Horn says South Carolina will have to focus on defense and rebounding to beat Tennessee in Columbia tonight.

4.  Hard work has paid off for the Cocks’ Sam Muldrow.

5.  Tennessee won’t have starting big man Brian Williams when they visit the Gamecocks tonight.

6.  The Vols need for Cameron Tatum to shoot his way out of a lengthy slump.

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Calipari Wants His Team To Toughen Up

No one — no one outside the Bluegrass State anyway — expected Kentucky young team in 2010-11 to duplicate the amazing feats of UK’s young team in 2009-10.  But most didn’t expect the kind of struggles these Cats have endured either.

UK is 16-5 overall but just 4-3 in the SEC.  They have lost three out of four on the road in the league and a game-and-a-half behind Florida in the East Division standings.  And now they will enter the toughest part of their schedule: at Florida, Tennessee at home, at Vanderbilt.  That as the Cats come off a shocking road loss at Ole Miss.

“… If you think this stuff’s hard, wait until you see what we’ve got coming up.  We’ve got a tough road.”

Calipari wants to see his team display more toughness in adverse situations as they move down that road.  “We’ve got to want it worse than the other team, and if we do that, we’re a pretty good team,” the coach told The Louisville Courier-Journal.  “We’re a step ahead.  If they want it worse than us, and they’re more physical and they’re grabbing and holding and we’re not fighting back, then we’re what you saw today.”

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UM Upsets UK; UF Tops Vandy

Wanted to knock out some news before diving into our signing day coverage this morning.  For those who weren’t watching SEC basketball last night, the West pulled yet another upset over the East and Florida inched a bit closer toward the East Division title.

Last night in Oxford, Kentucky dropped its third SEC road game in four contests.  The Ole Miss Rebels “battled and wanted it more” according to John Calipari.

Credit Rebel guard Chris Warren who capped a 22-point night with a 25-footer with 2.9 seconds remaining to give UM the 71-69 victory.  For Ole Miss, it was just the second win in seven SEC games overall. 

The win was also just the 13th all-time for UM against the Cats in 109 games.  And it was the West’s fourth win over the East since Saturday.

In the nightcap, Florida took care of business at home with a 65-61 win over Vanderbilt.  The Gators’ Kenny Boynton knocked down a corner jumper with just over one minute to play in overtime to put the Commodores ahead for good in the back-and-forth game.

Vandy’s John Jenkins got a good look on the other end of the floor but put up an air ball.  Kevin Stallings made it clear that he thought the refs missed a foul on the play.

“He doesn’t shoot many air balls.  I’ve watched him play for a long time and I haven’t seen many air balls come off that kid’s hand.”  VU’s coach likely avoided a fine with his careful wording.

Indeed, there did appear to be contact on the play, but it’s not often the road team gets a call like that in the game’s final seconds.  (It should be noted that Vandy sent the game into overtime when they were given foul shots with less than 25 seconds to play in regulation)

In the East race, Florida is now in first place with a 6-2 record trailed by Tennessee (4-2), Kentucky (4-3), South Carolina (3-3), Vandy (3-4) and Georgia (3-4).

The Commodores have now dropped two games in a row following a Saturday loss at home to Arkansas.  For the Gators, last night’s win was its third overtime victory over an East rival on the season.

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Taking Care Of Business: Breaking Down The SEC East Race

The East is a beast and the West is a mess.  Such is the state of SEC basketball in 2011.  For that reason, we’ll take a closer look here at the East Division only.  (Handicapping the West seems unfair as that division is handicapped enough as is.)

Last night’s win by Florida in Athens was the second road game the Gators have stolen from an East rival this year.  First Tennessee, then Georgia, both in overtime… which says something for the Gators’ maturity. 

For an up-and-down team, Billy Donovan’s squad seems to have hit a prolonged up.  It looks like they’re in the driver’s seat in the East Division.  But are they really?  Here are the current division standings:


School
Overall Record
SEC Record
Games Back
Florida
16-4
5-1

Kentucky
15-4
3-2
1.5
South Carolina
12-6
3-2
1.5
Vanderbilt
14-4
2-2
2.0
Tennessee
12-7
2-2
2.0
Georgia
14-5
3-3
2.0



Now let’s look at each squad’s remaining games:

Florida 5-1
SEC Games Remaining: 10
Against SEC West: 3
Home Games: 5

Kentucky 3-2
SEC Games Remaining: 11
Against SEC West: 3
Home Games: 6

South Carolina 3-2
SEC Games Remaining: 11
Against SEC West: 4
Home Games: 5

Vanderbilt 2-2
SEC Games Remaining: 12
Against SEC West: 5
Home Games: 6

Tennessee 2-2
SEC Games Remaining: 12
Against SEC West: 5
Home Games: 6

Georgia 3-3
SEC Games Remaining: 10
Against SEC West: 4
Home Games: 4


Tennessee and Vanderbilt still have five West teams remaining on their schedules.  That’s a big plus.  Kentucky and Florida only have three games each remaining with West foes.  And that’s a minus.

To break things down further, let’s take a closer look at the games against the West and the remaining home games for each East Division team.  Any East team hoping to win the division title in 2011 needs to avoid losses to the weaker teams from the West.  Also, any team aiming for the division crown can’t afford to lose at home to their East Division rivals.  Consider those two areas to be a simple matter of “taking care of business” or “TCB” as Elvis would have said. 

The East championship will be decided by those two factors:

1.  Who slips up against the West?

2.  Who slips up at home against East foes?

If we count each team’s remaining West Division games as victories, the standings board looks like this:


School SEC Record (+ West wins)
Games Back
Florida
8-1

South Carolina
7-2
1.0
Tennessee
7-2
1.0
Vanderbilt
7-2
1.0
Georgia
7-3
1.5
Kentucky
6-2
1.5



Now let’s go ahead and hand out wins for each SEC East game a team has remaining in its own gym, too.

East vs East home games remaining:

Florida (4) — Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia

Kentucky (5)
– Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Vanderbilt

South Carolina (3)
— Florida, Georgia, Tennessee

Vanderbilt (4)
— South Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Florida

Tennessee (3)
— South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky

Georgia (2)
— Vanderbilt, South Carolina


Clearly, Kentucky holds an advantage in this area as all five of its home games against East foes still lay ahead.  South Carolina and Tennessee have already played two East opponents at home and each lost one of those games.  That hurts.  But Georgia is in real trouble in this area.  The Bulldogs have just two more East Division games at home this year… and they’ve already lost two of the three East home games they’ve played.

Let’s go ahead and count each team’s East Division home games as victories and look at the updated standings:


School
SEC Record (+ West Wins, Home Wins)
Games Back
Florida
12-1

Kentucky
11-2
1.0
Vanderbilt
11-2
1.0
South Carolina
10-2
1.5
Tennessee
10-2
1.5
Georgia
9-3
2.5



So what does all this tell us?  It tells us that based on the games already played plus the remaining games versus the West and the remaining games at home versus East foes…  Florida is in the driver’s seat in the SEC East.  Kentucky and Vanderbilt are just a game back — waiting for a Gator slip-up — if they handle matters as they should.

The climb is a bit more steep for South Carolina and Tennessee.  And Georgia — having lost two East battles at home already — will have to do some serious road work to capture the division title this season.

If you’re a betting man, you might want to drop a couple of bucks on the Gators in the East.  The remaining schedule is setting up pretty nicely for Donovan’s crew.

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