We are entering a new era with the four-team College Football Playoff, and now more than ever, strength of schedule will be an important factor in determining who is selected.
Heading into the season, the SEC is well-positioned to make itself look attractive to voters based on last year's opponent winning percentage.
According to the SEC Network, eight of the toughest 22 schedules in the country heading into 2014 belong to SEC teams.
Toughest SEC schedules pic.twitter.com/wQ9TlaNdZj— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) April 25, 2014
Noticeably absent from that graphic are the Alabama Crimson Tide, who are all the way down at 95th in FBS, according to FBSchedules.com. They have the easiest schedule in the SEC.
If you're going to criticize Alabama for its schedule, just stop.
Consider this an offseason talking point, and not one that carries any real weight.
First and foremost, strength of schedule heading into the season is based on last year's results. And if we learned anything from Auburn's ascent to the top of the SEC mountain and Florida's descent into the valley, it's that fortunes of SEC powers can change in a hurry.
Because of that, the talking point that Alabama's schedule is weak should disappear once toe meets leather. Changing an opinion is sometimes difficult, but the season should be judged for the season itself. Don't be stubborn.
Even if Alabama's schedule—which features an out-of-conference game versus West Virginia in Atlanta, a permanent cross-division rivalry with Tennessee, a rotating cross-division visit from Florida and road games on Rocky Top, at LSU, Ole Miss and Arkansas—does live up to its lackluster expectations, don't blame Alabama.
Head coach Nick Saban was at the forefront of lobbying for not only a nine-game SEC schedule, which didn't happen, but also at least one mandatory "Power 5" out-of-conference matchup per season, which did.
On top of that, Alabama's schedule in 2014 is supposed to be stout.
|Aug. 30||West Virginia||Atlanta, Ga.|
|Sept. 6||Florida Atlantic||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Sept. 13||Southern Miss||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Sept. 20||Florida||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Oct. 4||Ole Miss||Oxford, Miss.|
|Oct. 11||Arkansas||Fayetteville, Ark.|
|Oct. 18||Texas A&M||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Oct. 25||Tennessee||Knoxville, Tenn.|
|Nov. 8||LSU||Baton Rouge, La.|
|Nov. 15||Mississippi State||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Nov. 22||Western Carolina||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
|Nov. 29||Auburn||Tuscaloosa, Ala.|
The out-of-conference game versus West Virginia was announced on May 17, 2012. At the time, West Virginia was coming off a 10-3 record, a 70-33 thrashing of Clemson in the 2012 Orange Bowl and was making the jump from the then-Big East to the Big 12.
This was supposed to be a big-time out-of-conference game dripping with not only national storylines, but local flavor for Saban, who's a native of West Virginia. It's not Alabama's fault that West Virginia has lost 14 of its last 20 games. Alabama had nothing to do with it.
Tennessee is Alabama's permanent cross-division rival. Not Kentucky or Vanderbilt. Tennessee. When they're cooking at the level in which they're supposed to, the Vols should be a perennial SEC East title contender.
The Vols haven't made a bowl game since 2010 and have been outscored by Alabama 126-29 over the last three seasons. Aside from those three games, though, it's not Alabama's fault that Tennessee has tanked.
When all is right in the world, Alabama's permanent cross-division rivalry with Tennessee is something that should be unfair to Alabama, not to everybody else.
The SEC announced the 2014 football schedule on Aug. 21, 2013. At that time, Florida was coming off an 11-2 season and a berth in the 2013 Sugar Bowl—which it lost 33-23 to Louisville in a game that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
Will Alabama's schedule finish in the top 30 in NCAA strength of schedule following the 2014 season?
It's not Alabama's fault that, since that announcement, Florida won only four games, lost at home to Georgia Southern and had wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison block each other in one of the most comical moments in recent college football history.
But this is still a talented Florida team that should be a challenge.
Don't fall into the trap of buying into preseason storylines once the season starts. There's potential for Alabama's schedule to be tougher than it appears on paper right now.
Even if it's not, don't blame Alabama. Blame West Virginia, Florida and Tennessee for not living up to their ends of the bargain.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All scheduling information is courtesy of FBSchedules.com unless otherwise noted.