On Friday afternoon, the SEC announced the two additional opponents that each team will play in its modified 10-game, conference-only schedule.
The league would like you to not focus on the new opponents, instead directing your attention to a team’s complete schedule. Ignore the shiny new pieces and look at the entire puzzle. During a 15-minute unveiling on SEC Network, they beat it into our brains. The network and league are tight, as one might imagine. The curtain lifted showing each team’s new opponents along with their old ones for — remember! — a complete schedule. Think of it as a whole, Dari Nowkhah — God Bless him — kept saying over and over again.
Clearly, the conference used a team’s original eight opponents to craft the most fair and complete schedule as possible. Whether the league used a fancy computer program or confusing calculus metrics or just plain common sense, conference officials did attempt to strike a balance with each team’s 10-game schedule. But we’re not here to talk about all 10 games. We’re here to talk about two of them — the shiny new pieces of the puzzle.
If you’re LSU, Alabama and Georgia, your two new pieces are like cherries on a hot fudge sundae. If you’re Arkansas and Missouri, your two new pieces are like slugs in an ice cream sandwich.
New opponents for the nine other teams are, as a combination, pretty balanced. Florida, for example, hosts Arkansas and travels to Texas A&M. South Carolina hosts Auburn and travels to Ole Miss. Mississippi State hosts Vanderbilt and travels to Georgia. You get the point. There is balance. With five teams, there is not.
LSU (at Vanderbilt, vs Missouri)
The defending national champion Tigers get a second consecutive road trip to vaunted Vanderbilt Stadium, where they rolled up 66 points last season and drank Nashville nearly dry (no, seriously, they did). The Cajuns are coming back, with the same steel bellies and without the same fire-armed quarterback.
A text from an SEC staff member reacting to that news was quite precious. “I want to see the algorithm in that formula,” the assistant wrote.
And then there’s Missouri, with a brand new coach and all. Ed Orgeron began his head coaching tenure against the boys from Mizzou. In a home game back in 2016, Orgeron’s Tigers drubbed the other Tigers 42-7.
Alabama (vs Kentucky, at Missouri)
Wait, Missouri’s two new puzzle pieces are LSU and Alabama? Remember that “slugs on the sandwich” reference? Big slugs. Very big. (more on that later)
The Tide gets to welcome in a program in Kentucky that while on the rise under Mark Stoops is still, well, Kentucky. The Wildcats have and always will be better with the round ball than the one oblong shaped. And it really doesn’t matter what ball they use, the Tide will likely be a three-touchdown favorite, at least. If Alabama’s best 20 players opt out, Kentucky has a chance… to cover a 14-point spread.
Georgia (at Arkansas, vs Mississippi State)
There were rumblings last week that the SEC would determine its additional opponents by using a team’s previously scheduled rotational opponents for the next two years. Those rumblings came from one place: me. And it was only a suggestion, but people took it as Gospel and then I got yelled at by a few administrators. So it goes.
Welp. Georgia did in fact get its next two rotational opponents. So if you’re looking for some conspiracy theory formula, there’s not one here. The Bulldogs were scheduled to host Arkansas in 2021 and play at Mississippi State in 2022. The league swapped the sites and boom, Georgia ends up with a pair of teams that lost a combined 13 SEC games last season.
Arkansas (at Florida, vs Georgia)
It’s not enough that the Razorbacks’ schedule already featured its divisional foes of LSU, Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn, but now they get the two teams most likely to win the SEC East this year (if there is an SEC East this year, because there might not be a season this year).
“We already owned the nation’s strongest 2020 football schedule and with these additions to our SEC only schedule, we now own the most challenging schedule in the history of college football,” Arkansas AD Hunter Yurachek said in a statement after the pairings were announced.
When looking at the entire puzzle — it’s what the league wants you to do! — we don’t see the fairness in this decision at all. Arkansas got the shaft.
Missouri (vs Alabama, at LSU)
There’s winners, there’s Losers and there’s… Mizzou. League officials felt so badly about Missouri’s postseason ban last year that they handed them another postseason ban this year. Half of their 10-game schedule is Alabama, Florida (away), LSU (away), Georgia and a Tennessee (away) team that many expect to be much improved.
When Mizzou and Arkansas play as scheduled at the end of the season (the schedule date might change), they’ll both be so beaten and battered that they may need to switch to eight-man football rules.