On Wednesday, friend of the blog and Roll 'Bama Roll majordomo Erik Evans took up for the SEC's teams — or most of them, anyway — in writing about the league's unfair scheduling practices.
The most relevant passage for Florida fans:
This year, there are two teams who again feel the brunt of the unequal scheduling (stop me if you've heard these names): Florida and Alabama, arguably the SEC's flagship brands and standard bearers of their respective divisions. Florida faces three SEC opponents coming off of byes. Alabama faces just two, but that is deceptive.
Florida plays Georgia, Missouri, and Arkansas off of byes. Florida, as does Alabama, takes its bye before the season's marquee game, a grudge match in the WLOCP versus Georgia. Alabama, meanwhile, faces LSU and Texas A&M off of byes. Moreover, it faces three other teams that may as well have had a bye, and the Tide play two of those on the road: Ole Miss hosts Wofford, Arkansas hosts Alcorn State, Auburn hosts Alabama A&M. Throw in USC, and again Alabama faces half a slate where opponents have faced zero (or qualitatively zero) competition the week before.
Florida seemingly has a similar or harder road with its three bye opponents. But, the Gators play only one team that has a patsy before meeting McElwain's squad, when the Vols host the Ohio Bobcats.
Erik goes on to write that Tennessee also faces a tough road, with a rugged four-game stretch bookended by Florida and Alabama, while Georgia's season is cleaved neatly into the same seven- and five-game segments that Florida plays, but does play all eight of its SEC opponents in a row.
And, er, I don't care? Not really?
The thrust of this post, which Erik notes is an annual tradition dating to the 2010 outrage ("outrage") that defending national champion Alabama faced six teams coming off byes, is that the SEC has its finger on the scale. You've heard the complaints forever: Georgia gets off easy, while Alabama, Florida, and LSU all get screwed.
There's some truth to those complaints, of course.
The best complaint is about Georgia's suspiciously fortunate scheduling. The Bulldogs' string of years without a regular-season matchup with newly dynastic Alabama may have finally ended in 2015, but it still hasn't traveled to Tuscaloosa since 2007, and won't go again until 2020. Florida, by contrast, has played three regular-season games against Alabama since 2010, and only one of them, a 2011 date, was at home, while Tennessee obviously plays Alabama every year. And Georgia's permanent SEC West opponent, Auburn, has been less frightening than LSU, the Gators' dance partner, more often than not — though that isn't really the SEC's fault, it's helped the Dawgs.
Most other SEC teams have gripes, too, some relative to their competition. Alabama, which has benefited significantly from Tennessee being down, has still had to deal with beastly stretches, like four road trips in five games in 2014 and three in four weeks in 2012. LSU plays Florida annually; its season-ending foe and rival, Arkansas, drew historically up-and-down Missouri as a new permanent opponent after many years of playing lesser South Carolina teams.
And while the SEC's permanent rivalries have allowed the Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia series to endure, and produced a fine, bonkers, new-ish rivalry in Florida-LSU, it's also patently unfair to both teams that play titans of equal historical prestige and fans hoping for annual grudge matches.
Mississippi's rival is, largely because of geography, Vanderbilt, a team it has lost to just 12 times since the end of the Korean War. Mississippi State's is, largely because relatively few fans care about either team, Kentucky, despite the teams meeting more often since the establishment of a 12-team SEC than before it. The storied South Carolina-Texas A&M series will have its third meeting in 2016; the most important performance by a player in that "rivalry" came from Kenny Hill, who didn't even finish that season as his team's starting quarterback.
But, well, this is just how the SEC's scheduling is going to work.
The league's teams, with the possible exception of Vanderbilt, have all been so good in either perpetuity or cometary stretches that year-to-year scheduling luck is going to be an issue for as long as money flows like water through program coffers. The current imbalance in the SEC's divisions has also posed a problem, one that has allowed some East teams (coughs, points at Athens) to win divisional titles with less resistance from Western foes than other schools meet yearly.
And there's no good way to fix that while also maintaining rivalries, though — as fans of an Alabama program that has strenuously defended permanent rivalries to keep its annual meeting with Tennessee should know well. Thus did we get this inherently unfair system, one that has been so thoroughly criticized that it is written in pen until 2025.
Fans will always be able to gripe, but teams will also always be able to overcome adversity plotted by Birmingham. Florida's played annual games against LSU and Florida State in each of its three national championship seasons. Alabama's 2010 came after one national title and before three more. Georgia's supposed lack of rigor still hasn't translated to a national title in the expanded SEC era, and the Dawgs have one fewer SEC crown than boom-or-bust Auburn has captured since the SEC Championship Game was instituted.
The simple truth is that the SEC's scheduling is unfair. We can repeat that as often as we want. But the more complicated truth is that, for a thousand reasons, it's not changing, leaving us powerless to do more than complain.