As we move toward our annual preview series -- which will this year be called "SEC 2013," because that's what it is, and will hopefully kick off next week -- I took some time over the last couple of days to start sketching out each team's season. And part of that is writing out each team's schedule, then figuring out which team is going to win each of those games.
This year, I noticed something as I started with Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, etc. (I started with the West.) Other BCS teams from outside the SEC started showing up. And not just of the first-week neutral site variety. Arkansas will travel to Rutgers for its fourth game. Auburn starts out playing Washington State. Ole Miss goes to Texas. Florida renews its on-again, off-again rivalry at Miami (FL). And I could go on.
That seemed to run a little bit counter to the constant refrain we hear from fans outside the SEC that our teams don't play the kind of stout nonconference competition that their teams play. So let's take a look at 11 schedules, arranged at random. There are four SEC schedules, two each from the B1G, Pac-12 and ACC (one per division), and one from the Big 12. I didn't make much of an effort to "find" these teams, just picked teams that could win each division or conference. See if you can guess which of the four are SEC teams.
|Team A||Team B||Team C||Team D||Team E||Team F||Team G||Team H||Team I||Team J||Team K|
|Mid||Mid||FCS||Mid||BCS NC||vs BCS NC||Mid||Mid||at Conf||vs BCS NC||vs BCS NC|
|Mid||at BCS NC||at BCS NC||Mid||at Conf||at Conf||Conf||at BCS NC||Mid||FCS||Mid|
|at BCS NC||Conf||BCS NC||BCS NC||Conf||Mid||Mid||Mid||FCS||at Mid||Mid|
|FCS||at Conf||Conf||FCS||at BCS NC||Conf||at BCS NC||at Conf||at Conf||Midm||Conf|
|Conf||Conf||at Conf||Conf||Conf||Mid||Conf||Conf||Conf||at Conf||at Conf|
|at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||vs Conf||at Conf||at Conf||Conf||at Conf|
|Conf||at Conf||Conf||at Conf||at Conf||Conf||at Conf||at Conf||Conf||Conf||Conf|
|Conf||vs Conf||Conf||Conf||at Conf||Conf||Conf||Conf||Conf||Conf||at Conf|
|at Conf||Conf||at Conf||at Conf||Conf||Conf||at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||FCS|
|at Conf||at Conf||Conf||Conf||Conf||at Conf||Conf||Conf||Conf||at Conf||at Conf|
|Conf||FCS||at Conf||at Conf||FCS||FCS||at Conf||Conf||Mid||Conf||Conf|
|at Conf||BCS NC||Conf||Conf||BCS NC||at Conf||at Conf||at Conf||at BCS NC||at Conf||Conf|
So, you got it? No peeking yet. The answers are the in the next paragraph.
The SEC teams are B, E, F and K. The entire list goes: (A) Ohio State, (B) Florida, (C) Oregon, (D) Nebraska, (E) South Carolina, (F) Alabama, (G) Oklahoma, (H) UCLA, (I) FSU, (J) Virginia Tech, (K) LSU.
The point of this exercise is not to say that the SEC's nonconference schedules are far superior to the other BCS leagues' nonconference schedules. Nor is it to say that the SEC's nonconference schedules are as strong as they should be. It is to say that there's not a great deal of difference between the conferences. There might have been at one time, but not now. Most teams do one or so BCS nonconference opponents, one or two midmajors and an FCS game.
In fact, if you count the Big East American Athletic Fighting for Its Existence Conference as a BCS conference -- and I will until they're no longer one of the AQ conferences -- every SEC team will play at least one BCS nonconference opponent this year. (Texas A&M is helped out by the fact that SMU is joining the American Athletic this year.) Three (Florida, Georgia and South Carolina) are facing two BCS schools from outside the SEC, and South Carolina will actually play three now that UCF has entered the American. And while it's still a MAC opponent, Vanderbilt will go to New England to play UMass this year.
So let's put the "SEC has weak nonconference schedules" meme to rest this year. It might have been true at one point and might yet be true in the future, but it's just not the case in 2013.