Sly scheduling, Mike Slive: The brilliance of SEC football’s Cupcake Saturday Setup

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If you take a little looksie at the college football schedule this week, you’ll notice something missing: SEC games worth watching.

That’s right, one of the nation’s two most scrutinized conferences will spend the second to last full week of the season with four games against FCS competition and one against a team that has all of three full years of FBS football behind it. Six years ago, that team didn’t even exist.

Does it suck? Why yes, it does. Is it brilliant? Why yes, it is.

Look, this isn’t about ripping the scheduling of FCS teams. Almost everyone does it. The Big Ten has adopted a policy that will end the scheduling of the teams, and the CFB Playoff committee is supposed to use some sort of concoction of “strength of schedule” as a criterion for the playoffs, but so far scheduling FCS whipping posts hasn’t really caused anyone of substance to drop.

Mike Slive has maintained that unlike the Big Ten, the SEC will not disallow the scheduling of FCS teams, but the true brilliance of it isn’t the scheduling of them so much as when it’s scheduled. If scheduling was an art form, Slive would be Picasso.


Most teams fatten up on FCS fare in the beginning of the season. Meanwhile, the SEC opens up its conference schedule at that time, and as we all know, first impressions can be everlasting. So when your school is playing the Southwestern Montana State School of Numbers and Signs and winning 73-0, SEC teams are playing season-opening games against one another on Aug. 28 and 30, giving themselves that ideal chance to shoot up the polls because … well … they’re actually playing someone.

Just look at this season: the first weekend of the year saw SEC teams play only two FCS games and five Power 5 games, not to mention games against recently stout mid-majors such as Boise State and Utah State.

Even if you lose to someone … say Georgia loses to Clemson, or in this year’s big case, LSU to Wisconsin … people take a long look and say, “Well, at least they had the stones to play someone out of the gate. You can’t drop them too far for that.”

While you can debate the merits of the overall strength of the SEC and whether or not it’s oversold to us, you can’t discount the intelligence in the league’s scheduling.

The eight-game conference schedule further allows teams to be able to avoid one another, and that will allow potentially elite teams to miss one another and shoot up the rankings as they win, all the while the conference “cannibalizes” itself with ranked teams flogging ranked teams every week because of those week-one narratives.

First impressions, kids. If you go apply for a job, wear a suit. Not sweats. FCS teams out of the gate is essentially wearing a flat-billed hat cocked to the side and a tee shirt asking for a job application.

Now, on to this week.


Late in the season, it gets harder than Taco Bell steak to find out of conference opponents … and the SEC needs them badly with two weeks left in the season. So the “we can’t find anyone to play us!” thing is legit and works, because it’s undeniably true. Hell, most teams are done with the out of conference stuff by the second week of October, so anything after that you’re trying to schedule against a Power 5 team … good luck.

Would it be fantastic to see meaningful out of conference games late in the season at the expense of conference games earlier in the season? I’d take it. I’d sure like to see what Wisconsin and LSU do to one another now. You’d probably learn a lot in the process.

At any rate, the SEC can’t find anyone late, so it feasts on FCS appetizers. The brilliance off the field is already chronicled above. You’ve already written most of the opinion-book on yourself prior to letting Directional Kentucky of the Mines come for a fat paycheck and a probable beating.

On-field, you basically get a metaphorical bye week before your biggest game of the year … a rivalry game. That means your guys that haven’t gotten to play all year get their first tick since maybe early in the season. It means bodies that are worn and weary can either rest for a week, or play sparingly just to crack a sweat.

It means you get two weeks of prep on your rivalry opponent and a limited playbook with which to use and win one of the weeks prior. Ole Miss and Mississippi State got theirs out of the way two weeks ago.

At any rate, hanging 60 points on a victim knowingly walking to the gallows to this point hasn’t hurt anyone. Two weeks ago, Mississippi State popped Tennessee-Martin and came away from the rankings no worse for the wear, while Florida State defeated Virginia at home and dropped.

So, the early returns do not tell us that this type of scheduling will be punished. There has been talk that maybe these games are bad for the fans, but if you’re scheduling one regardless, I’m not sure it’s any more or less bad for the fans no matter where it is in the schedule.

Lastly, when placing these games in the last few weeks of the season, when losses can be deathly to chances at a title shot, you’re mitigating the damage for pretty much everyone late in the season, while other teams across the country are going into conference games against teams with a much better chance of pulling an upset.

The SEC does a lot well for itself. You can kick a can down an endless road debating conference strength; strength of schedule; the look of one team’s resume versus the look of another; ranked teams; and good wins versus “bad” wins and “good” losses. (For the record, all wins are good and all losses are bad. The end.)

What you can’t deny: the SEC schedules better than anyone else. Mike Slive has done some wonderful things for football in the South during his tenure as commissioner. If you’re ever around him, ask him to schedule your vacation plans. You can guarantee it’ll be the time of your life.

See, boring can be brilliant.