As if simply navigating the SEC wasn't tough enough, the conference unveiled plans to add a strength-of-schedule component to the football season that will force its 14 teams to up the difficulty on their respective nonconference slates by 2016.
The SEC detailed the biggest changes in a press release on Sunday evening:
Each SEC team will continue to play eight conference football games per season, to include six games against division opponents and two games against non-division opponents. One of the non-division opponents will be a permanent annual opponent and the other non-division opponent will rotate each year.
In addition, at least one opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12 must be scheduled by each SEC school on an annual basis beginning in 2016, with assistance from the conference office.
Commissioner Mike Slive said:
The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games. Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.
Listed below are the six inter-division matchups that will feature on an annual basis:
- Alabama vs. Tennessee
- Arkansas vs. Missouri
- Auburn vs. Georgia
- LSU vs. Florida
- Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt
- Mississippi State vs. Kentucky
- Texas A&M vs. South Carolina
Dan Wolken of USA Today reported that the SEC was unlikely to tweak the usual eight-game conference schedule because Alabama head coach Nick Saban was the only major proponent of the change:
One of the biggest knocks on SEC teams in the past is that they took it easy with their nonconference games, which is a somewhat understandable reaction to counter what is the overall strength of the conference.
The new plan forces the schools to schedule at least one big-five conference opponent every season, as Yahoo!'s Pat Forde mentions:
Bruce Feldman pointed out that four schools would fail to meet that requirement if it were put into place this year:
CBSSports.com's Tony Barnhart considers the SEC's plan the best possible resolution to accommodate what is a growing conference with important non-conference games. Whatever the SEC decided was bound to upset some fans, but this is arguably the fairest plan one can expect to see:
While the likes of Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida and Georgia among others will still schedule one or two easier schools to get what is essentially a week off, the strength-of-schedule component no doubt forces them into taking on one or even two more marquee matchups each year. Not many are going to complain about that.
Basically, this takes everything that has been fun and exciting about the SEC and made it better. There will be fewer cupcake opponents, and down the road, teams might be more pressured to take on a tougher early-season opponent in order to keep up with the competition.
The only bad part of this plan is that fans will have to wait another two seasons before this goes into effect. Still, knowing that this format is in place is a promising sign and certainly something to look forward to in the coming years.