This is the SEC's "off-week", as I like to call it, with many of the league's top teams taking on out-of-conference cupcakes. Not all SEC teams play OOC teams this week, but many of them do and appear to do so every year (in other years it is much more problematic). I think this is a fundamentally unfair scheduling gimmick designed to protect the SEC's top teams from late season losses and thus enhancing their chance of getting a spot in the playoff.
Here's this week's slate of SEC games:
Mercer @ Alabama
Louisiana-Monroe @ Auburn
Kentucky @ Georgia*
UAB @ Florida
Wofford @ South Carolina
Rest of the conference plays each other.**
*I listed UGA here because they are a playoff contender even though they play a conference game this week. It should be noted however that UGA played UL-Lafayette and GA Southern the last two years in the 2nd to last regular season game. **Many other SEC teams played weak OOC teams (i.e. UL-Lafayette, Southern Miss, New Mexico, UMass) earlier in November.
I object to this for a number of reasons:
1) Losses are weighted in college football and a loss at the end of the season is far more damaging than one at the beginning or even a few weeks in. Since CFP spots are based entirely on ranking, a loss, especially a fresh loss in the second-to-last week will likely push that team out of the top 4 and severely jeopardize a playoff spot (see Ohio State's 2015 loss to Michigan State by a field goal. An also-undefeated Alabama team played Charleston Southern that day. They won 56-6). The later you lose, the harder you fall. Placing a soft nonconference opponent in this slot in the schedule protects them from suffering a loss.
2) Similarly, it also guarantees a home game during a tumultous stretch of the season. It ensures you will never go on the road in the second to last game of the year to take on a conference opponent. This is a treacherous time for teams at the top and the risk and pressure are heightened. It's nice to have a cushy home game to ensure an easy W.
3) The non-conference schedule is supposed to be at the beginning of the year for a reason. Early season OOC games are there to help teams get ready for the conference slate by playing (usually) weaker teams that they don't see very often. Powerful programs are also expected to schedule at least one game against another top team. Alabama did play FSU this year (unfortunately for them the Noles turned out to be awful) so I have to give them credit for that. However, you never see these SEC teams play USC, Oklahoma or Clemson in late November. They use this OOC game as a buffer.
Yes, I know, these teams' schedules are tough and the SEC is a competitive conference, and everybody has to play everybody at some point etc., etc. but see #1 above. This subtle wrinkle greatly helps the SEC usher its teams into the CFP by virtually guaranteeing they'll never lose in the second to last weekend. For most teams in the Big Ten, PAC 12, ACC and Big XII, conference play gets more brutal as the season wears on. Its unfair for the SEC to let its teams feast on weak opponents this late in the season.
Is this a legit problem? Should other conferences be concerned about this? Am I just being cranky and ridiculous? (Sorry - I hit a wall at work and had this on my mind). Nevertheless, DISCUSS.