SEC beefing up schedules, moving away from early cupcakes

Sep 8, 2021, 2:39 AM | Updated: 2:52 pm

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Southeastern Conference is moving away from early season cupcakes. It’s been years in the making and probably long overdue.

The powerhouse league still has a few teams lagging in the scheduling department, seemingly not quite ready to go all in for competitive reasons. But beefing up schedules is clearly on the horizon for everyone, especially once the SEC adds Oklahoma and Texas.

“You can’t just open the gates and give people a 12-inch piece of wood to sit on anymore,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said.

Stricklin called the shift in philosophy “market driven,” pointing to fans, players and television partners wanting better matchups on a weekly basis.

It’s hardly unique to the SEC, especially since strength of schedule plays a role in determining which teams make the College Football Playoff. And with the CFP planning eyeing expansion, there’s even more reason for some of the nation’s top programs – those expecting to vie for coveted playoff spots – to add more challenging games.

While fans may have gotten spoiled watching last season’s all-SEC slate of games because of COVID-19 concerns, it would be hard to complain about much of the league’s 2021 schedules.

Top-ranked Alabama thumped Miami. No. 2 Georgia edged Clemson. Mississippi routed Louisville. LSU lost at UCLA. And that was just Week 1.

This weekend’s slate includes Pittsburgh-Tennessee, Colorado-Texas A&M, Texas-Arkansas and North Carolina State-Mississippi State.

And then Auburn plays at Penn State and Vanderbilt host Stanford in Week 3, followed by Missouri at Boston College.

“It means a lot for confidence,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Confidence can help. Can overconfidence hurt? Yes, but there’s a line there. The experience of the environment is what I value. Win, lose, or draw, the experience of that environment was going to make us better, and that is what I gain from it.

“Does it give some of the players more confidence? Yes, it gives them more confidence. It does, but it better not give them overconfidence because humility is one week away.”

Alabama and LSU have led the league’s push to strengthen schedules. The Crimson Tide have opened each of the last 10 seasons with a Power Five opponent – and won them all. The Tigers, meanwhile, have scheduled similarly for nine straight years.

The rest of the league is catching up.

“One of the harder things to do is to judge what the future of college football is going to be,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his 17th year in the SEC. “If you look and say, ‘OK, six years ago, we’re going to have a playoff and this is how they’re going to judge it and evaluate the playoff.’ It’s hard to judge that in the future, that far.

“And scheduling is tough. As you call people, there are a lot of people who are booked out way into the future. And then you get into the issue of how is the SEC schedule going to work four and five and six years ago from now? I know what our position is right now as a league.”

Four SEC teams – Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina – have permanent, non-conference rivalry games against the Atlantic Coast Conference that they insist make scheduling a bit more difficult. The Gators play Florida State. The Bulldogs play Georgia Tech. The Wildcats play Louisville. And the Gamecocks play Clemson.

When those SEC teams are on the road every other year, they have one fewer home game that affects the bottom line.

“Our strength of schedule is kind of built in,” Stricklin said. “You want to have six, preferably seven home games a year. And when you start doing home-and-homes or start giving away neutral-site games, that eats into how many home games you’re going to have.

“Knowing the value of the home game to our campus and to the city, I don’t know that we want to be there. We might end up being there one day, but we’ve not taken that approach.”

Adding Oklahoma and Texas should change everything. The SEC is expected to revamp its scheduling model once the Big 12 juggernauts arrive, whether it’s in 2025 as currently planned or sooner, in hopes of everyone playing each other more often.

“Scheduling is just a challenging deal and we’re going to continue to work at it,” Stricklin said. “We do want to look for opportunities where we can make it more interesting for our fanbase.”


AP Sports Writers Brett Martel, Charles Odum, Teresa Walker and John Zenor contributed.


More AP college football: and Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter:

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak celebrates with teammate Pavel Zacha (18) after scoring a g...
Associated Press

Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season. They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up. “We’re still in a good position […]
1 day ago
FILE - Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt holds the Super Bowl trophy during a rally in Kansas Cit...
Associated Press

Chiefs’ Hunt, Eagles’ Lurie behind Super Bowl-winning teams

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Clark Hunt proudly held aloft the AFC championship trophy bearing his father’s name, the one signifying that his Kansas City Chiefs were headed back to the Super Bowl for the third time in four years, and reflected that not so long ago, success seemed elusive. It had been 50 years […]
1 day ago
Atlantic Division's Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning (88) and Aleksander Barkov, of th...
Associated Press

Panthers hope All-Star weekend showcased team’s investment

SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Matthew Tkachuk is under contract to the Florida Panthers for much of the next decade. So is fellow All-Star Aleksander Barkov. And right there are two compelling reasons for players to join the Panthers in the coming years. The last few days might have helped the recruiting pitch, too. Many of […]
1 day ago
FILE - North Texas football coach Todd Dodge, left, speaks to the media in Denton, Texas, Tuesday, ...
Associated Press

Mahomes, Hurts latest Texas prep QBs on Super Bowl stage

DALLAS (AP) — Texas high school quarterbacks guru Todd Dodge got what he wanted when Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes and Jalen Hurts of Philadelphia won their conference championship games. “I really like Joe Burrow,” Dodge said with a chuckle in reference to Cincinnati’s star quarterback, “but I’m not going to root for Joe Burrow over […]
1 day ago
Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, right, drives to the rim as Atlanta Hawks forward Onyeka Okongw...
Associated Press

Nuggets beat Hawks 128-108, tie Boston for NBA’s best record

DENVER (AP) — Jamal Murray scored a season-high 41 points, Nikola Jokic had his 18th triple-double of the season and the Denver Nuggets won their third straight game, beating the Atlanta Hawks 128-108 on Saturday night. Jokic finished with 14 points, 18 rebounds and 10 assists and recorded the 94th regular-season triple-double of his career. […]
1 day ago
Dallas Mavericks guard Spencer Dinwiddie (26) drives to the basket against Golden State Warriors gu...
Associated Press

Curry injures left leg leading Warriors over Mavs 119-113

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Stephen Curry went down and the Golden Warriors once again had to fight like crazy to close out a game. Curry had 21 points, seven assists and six rebounds before injuring his left leg defending a drive late in the third quarter, and the defending NBA champions defeated Dallas 119-113 on […]
1 day ago
SEC beefing up schedules, moving away from early cupcakes