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Grading the SEC Football Non-Conference Schedules

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Thou Shalt Schedule UP!

Alabama v Florida State
Crimson Tide will face the Seminoles in Atlanta.

This past week, Alabama coach Nick Saban made waves as only he can with the edict that Power 5 teams should only play Power 5 teams. The proclamation may have sounded a bit drastic and it caught some criticism from the talking heads who felt good about themselves for having an opportunity to publicly disagree with the living legend (I am not going to link it but just know there is Scarbinsky article out there that his mommy is real proud of). However, we need to remember who we are talking about here. Nick Saban never says anything that is not well-thought out and calculating. He realizes that here in 2017 that if he wants to get something changed in college football, he has to overstate it so the the rest of CFB world can reel it back and come up with a “compromise” that Saban probably wanted all along.

Saban does not like playing games against the Georgia States and the Mercers of the world, but he certainly is not going to exchange them for a TCU or a Wisconsin the week before Iron Bowl while Auburn plays Alabama A&M. Thus, we are stuck with these cupcake games... for now.

In the spring of 2014, then-SEC commish Michael Slive made one of his final master moves requiring that all SEC football teams schedule at least one Power 5 team every season, beginning in 2016. This was a step in the right direction but Saban wants stronger competition league-wide and P-5 wide. Since invertebrate pencil-pusher Greg Sankey is not going to step up and lead CFB, Saban will have to be the voice of the SEC.

Last season was the first in which SEC member schools were required to play at least one team from one of the other Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12, with Notre Dame and BYU also in play). This year, a few teams are playing two games against P5 teams. Maybe we are heading down Saban’s path already.

WEST

ALABAMA:

  1. Florida State (in Atlanta) - Major points for this match-up. This is probably the best regular season game of the year. A+
  2. Fresno State - Not an exciting opponent but I guess it’s different (first-ever meeting) and it’s not FCS. D+
  3. Colorado State - This matchup is the second of a two-game deal Alabama agreed to way back in December of 2012 as a favor to former Bama OC Jim McElwain who had been named head coach of the Rams. The first game was played in 2013. It was scheduled with good intentions but... C-
  4. Mercer - Most Tide fans abhor these games against FCS teams. The Bears have only been around in this incarnation since 2013. F
    OVERALL: Extra credit for Game 1 pushes the Tide up to a C+.

ARKANSAS:

  1. FAMU (Little Rock) - 15 wins in the last five seasons, one of the worst FCS team. F
  2. TCU - Horned Frogs rematch. A
  3. New Mexico State - Probably the worst FBS team with no winning seasons since a 7-5 campaign in 2002. D-
  4. Coastal Carolina - A 14-year old program trying their first season as an FBS team (Sun Belt). F
    OVERALL: The TCU game cannot save the lameosity of scheduling a bad FCS team and a rookie FBS (who they thought to be a FCS team when they scheduled them). D

AUBURN:

  1. Georgia Southern - The honeymoon is over for the Screamin’ Eagles. They are now a known product. The Tigers have all summer to prepare for the triple option. C-
  2. at Clemson - With a better game plan last season, Gustavo Malzahn coulda-shoulda-woulda won this game. With Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams and so many others off in NFL training camps, there is another opportunity here for the Lee County Tigers. A
  3. Mercer - Same grade that Alabama gets. F
  4. ULM - The lesser of the two ULs. D
    OVERALL: Aubie has been following Alabama’s lead in scheduling one big P5 game but the other games are pretty awful. C-

LSU:

  1. BYU (at Houston) - The Coogs are rich in tradition but if the Bayou Bengals want to be among the elite, they should aim higher. C-
  2. Chattanooga - Might as well give every I-AA/FCS opponent a big fat F.
  3. Syracuse - The Orange were LSU’s big P5 game for 2015 and they only won by 10. This is a return trip. A perennial doormat. D+
  4. Troy - D
    OVERALL: LSU should be playing a big non-conf game every year. This is not one of those years. D

MISSISSIPPI STATE:

  1. Charleston Southern - F
  2. at Louisiana Tech - LaTech is no slouch with three straight nine win seasons and three straight bowl wins. Not sure why MSU agreed to play in Tech’s house. They may regret this home and home. B-
  3. BYU - Dan Mullen finally came around to dipping his toes in the water last season with a road game at BYU. The Cougs make a return trip this fall. B-
  4. UMass - There is no reason for this team to be FBS. D-
    OVERALL: Typical Mullen scheduling. C

OLE MISS:

  1. South Alabama - No offense to Jags fans. D
  2. UT-Martin - F
  3. at Cal - This is a pretty lame choice for the SEC-mandated P5 opponent. C
  4. UL-Lafayette - This UL is slightly better than the other UL. For that, they get a C-.
    OVERALL: Huh. It’s almost as if they saw all this turmoil coming. D+

TEXAS A&M:

  1. at UCLA - The Bruins are the TAMU of the PAC-12! B+
  2. Nicholls State - Can I give an F-- ? Yeah, I think I can. F--
  3. UL-Lafayette - Meh C-
  4. New Mexico - Another team that should be FCS. D-
    OVERALL: Will the Aggies ever take that next step? C-

EAST

FLORIDA:

  1. Michigan (Arlington) - Following Alabama’s lead, the Gators are quickly becoming the second most respected forward-thinking team in the league. A
  2. Northern Colorado - Who? F
  3. UAB - They’re ba-a-a-ack. F- cuz the Blazers are going to be awful and everyone knows it.
  4. Florida State - Kudos to Florida for not shying away from this great traditional rivalry. Only an A because unlike Bama, the Gators are forever tied to playing the ’Noles.
    OVERALL: Two great tradition-rich national powers and two pillow-soft fluffy cake desserts. B

GEORGIA:

  1. Appalachian State - Appy is not sneaking up on anyone anymore. C-
  2. at Notre Dame - Props to UGA for putting this home and home together. With the Irish wilting, it is a winnable game for the Dawgs. A
  3. Samford - F
  4. at Georgia Tech - The phrase “you can throw the records out the window” is no more apt than in this series. These two teams will always close the season against each other with some Good Ol’ Fashioned Hate. B
    OVERALL: Two P5 games make up for the two cupcakes. B-

KENTUCKY:

  1. at Southern Miss - If Mark Stoops is trying to build this program up to national prominence, taking a road trip to Hattiesburg is not the right way. D+
  2. Eastern Kentucky - UK commits one of the Cardinal sins of scheduling a game with a smaller school within your state, bringing attention to their program and school. F-
  3. Eastern Michigan - Did you even realize that EMU is D-1/FBS? F
  4. Louisville - The one saving grace in this quartet. B+
    OVERALL: This scheduling comes across as desperate to get to six wins (or 5 nowadays!) D

MISSOURI:

  1. Missouri State - Srsly? Are y’all not getting the memo on playing kid brother? F
  2. Purdue - This is just embarrassing. Mizzou is pretty much aligning themselves with the worst team in the Big 10. Ben Franklin said it best: "He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas." D+
  3. Idaho - This is the Vandals’ last season in FBS as they move down a division. D-
  4. at UConn - The Huskies should join Idaho. D-
    OVERALL: A dreadful lineup for a team that once upon a time won back-to-back SEC East titles. F+

SOUTH CAROLINA:

  1. NC State (Charlotte) - A good exposure game for the Gamecocks against a beatable team. B+
  2. Louisiana Tech - Mad respect for the Bulldogs ambitious scheduling. They also play MSU and K-State. This is no gimme for SC. B-
  3. Wofford - F
  4. Clemson - Another great southern traditional game. A
    OVERALL: Two P5 games for the ‘Cocks. B-

TENNESSEE:

  1. Georgia Tech (Atlanta) - This is the Vols big P5 game that will be played in the shadow of another game played in Atlanta two days earlier. Have you heard about this other game? C+
  2. Indiana State - Who knew the Fightin’ Larry Birds had a football team? F-
  3. UMass - C’mon, Butch. Really? F
  4. Southern Miss - Meh C-
    OVERALL: A very weak non-conference slate for a team trying to get back to the elite level. Getting into Mercedes-Benz Stadium saves them from a failing grade. D-

VANDERBILT:

  1. at Middle Tennessee - A double whammy: playing a smaller in-state school in their stadium. You are SEC! Act like it! D+
  2. Alabama A&M - F--
  3. Kansas State - This is probably as big as Vandy wants to get. B
  4. Western Kentucky - It’s probably not wise for the ‘Dores to schedule an up and coming program that is an hour’s drive from their campus. D+
    OVERALL: What do you expect? It’s Vandy. And Vandy’s gonna Vandy. C-