This weekend’s SEC lineup doesn’t hold much national appeal, unless the nonconference scheduling backfires.
After opening with some made-for-TV games, the Southeastern Conference’s Week 2 lineup is more like made for practice with several games that shape up to be lopsided mismatches.
No. 9 Texas A&M vs. Lamar doesn’t hold quite the same appeal as the Aggies’ inaugural SEC Network game with South Carolina.
The list goes on: Auburn-San Jose State, LSU-Sam Houston State, Arkansas-Nicholls State, Alabama-Florida Atlantic, Mississippi State-UAB. The only league game is No. 15 Mississippi versus Vanderbilt.
To Nick Saban, anyone writing these games off as cakewalks is missing the point.
No. 2 Alabama’s coach bristled at a question about the message to his team when facing a nonconference opponent like Florida Atlantic, and then Southern Mississippi. Saban said it’s all about “who you are” and getting better whoever you’re playing.
“If you’re challenged by that, then why is it so important?” he said. “Why is the external factor of who you’re playing have anything to do with how you play? That means if we’re playing against Michael Jordan, we play our best game. If we’re playing against another old basketball player, then we play just like another old basketball player. Is that your thinking on this because it’s not mine.
“If it’s our players’ thinking, I can tell you right now I’m going to be pretty (ticked) about it.”
Then again, convincing 19- and 20-year-olds to really get up for a Florida Atlantic team coming off a 55-7 loss to Nebraska is a challenge even for a master motivator like Saban.
Four games involving SEC teams opened the week with point spreads of 29-plus points. Oddsmakers didn’t bother posting a line for the Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU games against FCS opponents.
The SEC’s efforts to beef up nonconference schedules is clearly a work in progress. All but four teams will play against one team from another power five league this season, something that will be mandatory starting in 2016.
They all play a lower-division opponent also.
The premier nonconference game this week goes from Wisconsin-LSU or Alabama-West Virginia to perhaps South Carolina versus East Carolina. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier put that matchup in a little perspective last month, riling some in Big Ten country in the process.
“Playing East Carolina is maybe a little bit better than playing one of those bottom-tier Big Ten teams,” Spurrier said.
The SEC is responsible for where conference games fall in the schedule while schools fill in the other slots, said Mark Womack, SEC executive associate commissioner. He said it’s probably no coincidence that the tough openers are followed with presumably lesser opponents.
“If you look at the number of good games that we had on Week 1, it was probably a factor in what Week 2’s schedule looks like,” Womack said.
TV partners like ESPN, who have a huge stake in the SEC matchups, have been understanding about the scheduling issues, Womack said.
He said the SEC’s goal for the future is to try to spread out some of the less high-profile nonconference games so there are strong conference contests to televise each weekend.
“I don’t know that we’ll get it accomplished, but it’s certainly a goal,” Womack said.
In the meantime, SEC coaches and players have to try to be at their best without some of the limelight.
Struggling Arkansas has a chance to “feel good about something when you’re coming off the field,” Razorbacks coach Bret Bielema said.
No. 12 LSU has beaten its six FCS opponents under coach Les Miles by a total of 232-64. He said Saturday’s game “is really about us improving” while pointing out that Sam Houston averages 613.5 yards through two games.
“Whether you guys believe it or not doesn’t make any difference, because all we have to do is see the film and we find that they’re very talented,” Miles told reporters.
SEC players don’t want to create negative memories. LSU defensive back Jalen Mills still remembers a late 9-yard touchdown pass he allowed against “one of the littler schools.” It was Towson two years ago.
“It was late in the fourth quarter,” Mills said. “The game was almost over. I was just out there not really playing my technique and not really playing the coverage I was supposed to be playing and I got scored on. I remember that.”
SEC teams don’t want these games to be memorable for the wrong reasons.