SEC Football Schedule for 2012 Released: Georgia Wins, South Carolina Loses and Where are Arkansas and A&M Playing?

After weeks of anticipating and kvetching from fan bases expecting to be elated or upset when the expansionized SEC scheduled was going to be released -- it's finally been released. And, to much surprise, it is actually a schedule for football games to be played among members of the 14-team SEC.

We'll break down each team's scheduled a little bit more fully in short order, but here's the headlines that are likely to get some traction over the next few hours:

Georgia vs. South Carolina to October. This has already been discussed ad nauseum on blog both Dawg and Gamecock, but the two teams will take at least a one-year break from facing each other to begin the SEC season. Instead, Georgia will to go Columbia, S.C., on Oct. 6.

And while I'm sad to lose something approaching a tradition, I think this has been overblown by both sides over the years. I doubt that having the game early gives South Carolina even a marginal edge most years. The fact of the matter is that most of the seasons in which South Carolina beat the Dawgs and then swooned in November, there was a very good reason for it: South Carolina was playing teams that were superior to Georgia in November.

The only late October-early November loss to a team that did not end up ranked higher than Georgia in 2000, for example, was the defeat against Tennessee. In 2001, South Carolina lost to a Tennessee team that was in the national championship race until being upset in the SEC Championship Game and a Florida team that was in the national championship race until it lost to Tennessee late in the year. (The game had been moved from its traditional early spot because of Sept. 11.)

The only time the game being early really seemed to help South Carolina was in 2007, when South Carolina lost one of its best players against LSU and, a few weeks later, began one of the most epic collapses by a Top 10 team in college football history. Not that you can blame Georgia fans for being a bit bitter about that one -- it arguably cost the Dawgs a chance at a national title. But I have a problem whole-heartedly agreeing with even those Georgia fans who say it might have a marginal effect on the rivalry.

By the same token, South Carolina fans who present as a hallowed tradition the game being second on their schedule and the SEC opener are operating with something of a faulty memory. The Gamecocks have opened their conference schedule with another team twice in the Steve Spurrier Era alone -- in 2006, they opened the year at Mississippi State, and the second game and conference opener in 2008 was at Vanderbilt (to disastrous results). Three times in the last decade -- 2002, 2003 and 2008 -- the Gamecocks have played someone else on the second week of the season.

South Carolina still loses. That doesn't mean that moving the schedule around has no potential to hurt the Gamecocks. They now face an October buzzsaw that goes vs. Georgia, at LSU, at Florida, vs. Tennessee. If either of the last two improves significantly, that might be the toughest stretch for any team in the SEC East.

The upshot of that are cushy months to bookend the season. September features a tricky opening trip to Vanderbilt, but Missouri comes to South Carolina and the road game against Kentucky shouldn't be too bad unless Joker Phillips has discovered an offense in the interim. The only November SEC game is a home contest against Arkansas.

If South Carolina can navigate the October stretch and get to the SEC Championship Game, they'll have plenty of time to get things ready for the Georgia Dome in early December. But that's a big "if."

Ole Miss' schedule is pretty brutal as well. The Rebels' home games are Oct. 6 against Texas A&M; Oct. 13 against Auburn; Nov. 10 against Vanderbilt; and the Egg Bowl Nov. 24. That means a trip to Tuscaloosa in September, trips to Arkansas and Georgia in late October and early November and a road game against LSU on Nov. 17. Welcome to the league, Hugh Freeze.

Georgia wins. The Dawgs do indeed avoid a game against Alabama. They go to Missouri and get Vanderbilt and Tennessee at home in September; after the South Carolina game, they go to Kentucky and get the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party in October; and get Ole Miss at home and travel to Auburn in November to close out the slate.

If the 2011 conference schedule for Georgia was one of the easiest in SEC history, the Dawgs seem determined to challenge that mark. If they can win in Columbia, S.C., they should have staying power again in the SEC East race.

In the West, it's Arkansas. The Hogs are the closest thing to a winner in the West, getting home games against both of the other expected division contenders (Alabama and LSU) and only three true road games at the moment. (More on that shortly.) Alabama has to travel to both Arkansas and LSU, and its home games are mostly second-tier West teams and Auburn.

Arkansas' home games also include titanic struggles against Kentucky and Ole Miss, with only a road game against South Carolina really offsetting those. LSU gets South Carolina at home but has to travel to Florida. Alabama's interdivision opponents in Missouri and Tennessee are road games, but it's an open question how well Missouri will do in its first year in the SEC and Tennessee would have to improve dramatically to threaten the Tide.

Whither Texas A&M-Arkansas? It's no secret that Texas A&M wants to get out of the contract with Jerry Jones' Death Star in its series against Arkansas, for recruiting reasons. But the official SEC schedule still has the Sept. 29 game listed as "versus" -- suggesting a neutral site game. The smart money is that the conference doesn't want to jump the gun and will give the two schools a chance to work out the contractual issue first.

If the game is converted to a home-and-home, look for it to move to College Station in the first year. The Aggies would have just three home games under the current schedule. They will demand a home game and the rest of the SEC West will probably stand with them against giving the Hogs a fifth home game. If the Jerry Jones Death Star game goes away, it will be played in College Station is 2012.

Speaking of College Station ... If Texas won't play Texas A&M on Thanksgiving weekend, Missouri will. The upshot of that is that Missouri will play in College Station for a third straight year. Because of a Big 12 scheduling hiccup after the last round of conference realignment, the Tigers went to Texas A&M in 2010 and 2011. Now, they go there a third time.

Other bits. Florida will open conference play (as expected) against Texas A&M, upending its game against Tennessee as the traditional opener, though that game will still be on Sept. 15; Alabama at Tennessee will actually be the Third Saturday in October this year after missing the date for a few years; Florida and Alabama are the only teams to play both the newcomers, meaning Missouri will not have a game against neighbor Arkansas.

The whole schedule:

Aug. 30

South Carolina at Vanderbilt

Sept. 8

Auburn at Mississippi State
Florida at Texas A&M
Georgia at Missouri

Sept. 15

Alabama at Arkansas
Florida at Tennessee

Sept. 22

LSU at Auburn
Kentucky at Florida
Vanderbilt at Georgia
Missouri at South Carolina

Sept. 29

Ole Miss at Alabama
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M
Tennessee at Georgia
South Carolina at Kentucky

Oct. 6

Mississippi State at Kentucky
Arkansas at Auburn
LSU at Florida
Georgia at South Carolina
Texas A&M at Ole Miss
Vanderbilt at Missouri

Oct. 13

Alabama at Missouri
Kentucky at Arkansas
Auburn at Ole Miss
Florida at Vanderbilt
South Carolina at LSU
Tennessee at Mississippi State

Oct. 20

Alabama at Tennessee
Auburn at Vanderbilt
South Carolina at Florida
Georgia at Kentucky
LSU at Texas A&M

Oct. 27

Ole Miss at Arkansas
Texas A&M at Auburn
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Kentucky at Missouri
Tennessee at South Carolina
Mississippi State at Alabama

Nov. 3

Alabama at LSU
Missouri at Florida
Ole Miss at Georgia
Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Texas A&M at Mississippi State

Nov. 10

Texas A&M at Alabama
Arkansas at South Carolina
Georgia at Auburn
Mississippi State at LSU
Vanderbilt at Ole Miss
Missouri at Tennessee

Nov. 17

Arkansas at Mississippi State
Ole Miss at LSU
Tennessee at Vanderbilt

Nov. 24

Auburn at Alabama
LSU at Arkansas
Kentucky at Tennessee
Mississippi State at Ole Miss
Missouri at Texas A&M

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