Whose schedule are you calling weak again? - Michael Chang
Both Georgia and Alabama have faced some criticism for their weak schedules. They've got nothing on seven teams that took incredibly easy paths to the Georgia Dome
If you've been paying attention to the SEC at all this year, you've heard the complaints about Georgia's strength of schedule. And Georgia fans have countered that by pointing out (with some justification) that Alabama hasn't gotten as much attention for a schedule that's not a whole heck of a lot stronger.
All that might lead you to believe that these teams faced some of the easiest paths to the SEC Championship Game in the history of the event. You would be very wrong. At least seven teams in the history of the game have had arguably easier roads. Below are some of the weakest teams to ever play in the Georgia Dome at the beginning of December, at least when it comes to the teams they had to play to get there.
1993 Alabama (Final ranking: 14) (Real record: 9-3-1, 5-2-1) (Official record: 1-12, 0-8)
The Tide actually filled in this year for Auburn, which went 11-0 but was barred from the postseason for the Eric Ramsey mess. The best Alabama did all year was tying No. 12 Tennessee, 17-17, in the Third Saturday in October Game. It lost at Auburn, of course, and fell 17-13 to an LSU team that would end the season at 5-6. Alabama didn't play any other ranked teams until it lost to Florida, 28-13, though the Tide ended up ranked No. 14. Coincidentally, Alabama later had much of that season wiped out of the record books by the Antonio Langham investigation, meaning they were technically 0-11 and 0-8 in conference when they played Florida -- meaning this Alabama team would have the worst record in the history of the SEC Championship Game, at least according to the NCAA's version of history.
1995 Arkansas (Final ranking: NR) (Record: 8-5, 6-2)
The Razorbacks started out the season losing, 17-14, to an SMU team just a few years removed from the death penalty. The Mustangs promptly went on a 10-game losing streak to finish the season. Arkansas, meanwhile, was embarking on a seemingly endless string of close wins that would propel it to the SEC West title. The Razorbacks beat No. 21 Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 20-19. They edged No. 22 Auburn, 30-28. But Arkansas also got smashed by No. 3 Tennessee, 49-31, and crushed by LSU, 28-0. This in a year when LSU went 6-4-1, 4-3-1. Five of Arkansas' eight wins in 1995 came by one score or less. They were not as fortunate in the SEC Championship Game, when Florida overpowered the Hogs, 34-3.
1998 Mississippi State (Final ranking: NR) (Record: 8-5, 6-2)
Early in the season, the Western Division Bulldogs defeated Memphis by the rousing score of 14-6. The Tigers would finish the year 2-9. Mississippi State lost, 42-23, to an Oklahoma State team that ended up with a losing record. That was better than the 41-6 shellacking at LSU, which ended up going 4-7. By that standard, the 37-35 loss at Kentucky, which went 6-5 that year, was almost respectable. But the Bulldogs won a critical game against No. 16 Arkansas, 22-21, which allowed them to get to the title game. Tennessee, en route to a national title, won 24-14.
2002 Arkansas (Final ranking: NR) (Record: 9-4, 5-3)
Arkansas actually finished behind No. 11 Alabama in the division standings, but -- guess what! That's right, the Tide were banned from the postseason. As a result, an Arkansas team that lost 29-17 to Kentucky and edged Louisiana-Lafayette, 24-17, ended up in Atlanta. The Razorbacks did win at No. 14 Auburn, 38-17, in the only win that was of any real note. It was also, along with the one-point victory against LSU, the reason that Arkansas made it to the SEC Championship Game via tiebreaker. Georgia breezed by the Hogs, 30-3.
2007 Tennessee (Final ranking: 12) (Record: 10-4, 6-2)
Tennessee might not have been the worst team to ever play in the Atlanta event, but they were the luckiest. The Vols started out on the West Coast, losing 45-31 to Cal. Two weeks later, Florida annihilated Tennessee in a 59-20 blowout. The Vols rebounded nicely with a 35-14 win over No. 2 Georgia a couple weeks later, but also lost 41-17 to an Alabama team that ended up 7-6. They defeated South Carolina in overtime in a game that essentially came down to Tennessee drawing a penalty flag on a critical field goal -- you're not reading that wrong. At the time, the Gamecocks were in the middle of a five-game losing streak that would take them from the Top 10 to sitting at home for the holidays. The Vols beat Vanderbilt by one; the Commodores would go 5-7. It took four overtimes for Tennessee to beat Kentucky 52-50. Both season-ending rivalry games also featured kicking issues by the 'Dores and the Wildcats. It's mildly amazing that No. 1 LSU didn't win by more than 21-14 in the Georgia Dome.
2010 South Carolina (Final ranking: 22) (Record: 9-5, 5-3)
It wasn't all bad for this team, but the resume is probably a little weaker than you remember. The 35-21 win over No. 10 (and then-No. 1) Alabama is still impressive, but it's also the only win against a ranked team the Gamecocks had all year. They came close to defeating eventual national champion Auburn in the first showdown between the two teams, 35-27, but they also lost at Kentucky, 31-28, in the definition of a letdown game following the Alabama win. The Wildcats would finish 6-7, eligible for a bowl only (in a sense) because they beat South Carolina. No. 12 Arkansas slammed the Gamecocks by three touchdowns, and Auburn collected the largest margin of victory in the history of the SEC Championship, a 56-17 romp.
2011 Georgia (Final ranking: 19) (10-4, 7-1)
Come on, you knew this was coming. Georgia lost only to ranked teams last year; the problem is, they only lost to ranked teams. Not a single team the Bulldogs defeated on their road to Atlanta would end up in the AP survey at the end of the year. The two ranked teams that Georgia did face in the regular season -- No. 8 Boise State and No. 9 South Carolina -- both defeated Georgia in its own state, the Broncos doing so handily in the Georgia Dome. The return trip to Atlanta wasn't any better; LSU rolled in the second half for a 42-10 victory.
This year's Georgia team, of course, is more accomplished. It has a victory over No. 5 Florida and a win over a Vanderbilt team with an outside chance at being ranked. Its only loss is pretty hideous, the 35-7 dismantling by No. 11 South Carolina, but at least it makes Georgia no worse than .500 on the year against the Top 25 as they head into the title game. As for Alabama, it has wins over the No. 9 and No. 21 teams and a narrow loss to the No. 10 team in the country. They might not be the prettiest resumes we've ever seen in the SEC title game, but they're far from the worst.