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July 4, 2012

Easy, Peasy... Is Georgia's schedule really THAT Measly?

Although Georgia's schedule appears to be
only this difficult, there seemingly have recently
been others in the SEC even easier. 
Even more so than Georgia returning maybe one of its best defenses in history, Aaron Murray as a darkhorse Heisman Trophy candidate, or the Bulldogs possibly being in the running for a national title by season's end, the chatter about the team's upcoming and supposedly simple schedule has mostly been the talk of the preseason by the pundits.

We've all heard the same ole babble: the Dogs face lowly non-conference foes Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, and Georgia Southern.  They avoid having to play LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas out of the SEC West, while the East division appears to be "down" for another season.  Recently, ESPN's and UGA alum Mark Schlabach went as far as declaring he was "on record" for asserting the Bulldogs had the "easiest schedule in the history of the SEC."

Wow!  The "easiest schedule" ever, while having to face Missouri on the road in the Tigers' first SEC game in history, South Carolina at Columbia, and Auburn on the Plains.  Tennessee and Florida aren't the Vols and Gators of the 1990s, but they are both evidently going to be better than they were a year ago.  While Georgia Tech is one opponent Georgia should certainly defeat but, as has been the case of late, is a reputable foe.

Beginning with last season and going back, I decided to go on an SEC schedule search, of sorts, to discover if Georgia was indeed about to play the easiest opposition in the history of a conference that will be celebrating its 80th year.  In reality, I only had to go back a handful of seasons before uncovering several schedules of SEC members which appeared as manageable as the Bulldogs' upcoming slate, if not easier:

(Only regular-season opponents are considered and, when ranked teams are mentioned, recognized are AP-ranked opponents at the end of the season.)
2010- Kentucky: Albeit top-ranked Auburn, the Wildcats faced just one team ranked higher than 15th, and that was at home...The non-conference schedule was made up of Louisville, Akron, Western Kentucky, and I-AA Charleston Southern...Eight of Kentucky's 12 regular-season opponents finished their respective regular seasons with non-winning records.

2008- Alabama: The Crimson Tide opened with an overrated Clemson team, who would finish the year with six losses, while Tulane, Western Kentucky, and Arkansas State rounded out its non-conference slate...Faced just two ranked opponents – No. 13 Georgia and No. 14 Ole Miss...Like Kentucky two years later, eight of Alabama's 12 regular-season opponents finished their respective regular seasons with non-winning records.

2007- Arkansas:  Arkansas faced only three ranked opponents, including No. 15 Auburn at home and a No. 1, but an eventual two-loss, LSU squad, which was looking ahead to the SEC title game and was upset by the Hogs...The Razorbacks' meetings with Troy, North Texas, Chattanooga, and Florida International might be the all-timer of light non-conference schedules.

2005- Auburn:  The Tigers did play three top-10 teams – #6 LSU, #10 Georgia, and #8 Alabama; however, besides those three ranked foes, none of Auburn's eight other regular-season opponents finished the year with better than a 7-5 overall record...Rather weak non-conference schedule of Georgia Tech, Ball State, and Western Kentucky.

2004- Auburn:  Of Auburn's three ranked opponents – #7 Georgia, #13 Tennessee, #16 LSU – two were played at home...Similarly to the following year's Tigers, besides the three ranked foes, none of other eight opponents in 2004 finished their respective regular seasons with a winning record...Besides being downright soft, the non-conference slate of Louisiana-Monroe, The Citadel, and Louisiana Tech would eventually cost undefeated Auburn a chance to play for a national championship.

2004- Alabama:  The Crimson Tide did face second-ranked Auburn (at home), but played no other team ranked higher than 13th nationally...Non-conference schedule consisted of Utah State, Western Carolina, and Southern Mississippi...None of the first seven opponents on the schedule – Utah State, Ole Miss, Western Carolina, Arkansas, South Carolina, Kentucky, and So. Miss –  would finish better than a 6-5 regular-season.

Therefore, in my opinion, Georgia's upcoming schedule for the 2012 season, comparatively speaking, might not be as easy as many make it out to be.  And, for what it's worth, it is certainly not Georgia's easiest schedule since the school has been a member of the SEC.  That distinction may be reserved for another celebrated Dogs team.

Even the simplest of easy schedules
couldn't keep Coach Dooley and his
Dogs from a national title in 1980.
By the end of Georgia's 1980 national championship season, the Bulldogs' schedule, in earning little respect, had been laughed at and ridiculed.  Not having to face Alabama, Miss. State, or LSU, the six SEC foes Georgia did play were the bottom six teams in the conference standings.  Its five regular-season non-conference opponents averaged only four victories each for the year.  No regular-season Bulldog opponent ended with a record better than 8-4, while not a single foe finished ranked in the final AP Poll. 

Even the Bulldogs' Sugar Bowl opponent for the national title, Notre Dame, had received a premature invite prior to an early-December defeat, and slumped into New Orleans ranked only 7th in the nation.

Still, after the victory over the Fighting Irish, there was little debate on who was the best team in the country.  Following the win, standout offensive guard Tim Morrison was asked by a media member if there was any doubt Georgia was not the best team in the nation; he so eloquently responded:

"Hell, no.  We’re going to get respect now. We’re the only 12-0 team in the country, and by God, we’re No. 1."

Point is, whether in 2012 or more than 30 years before, it really doesn't matter the schedule difficulty of a team from the SEC.  As long as you take care of business by winning all of your regular-season games, come the postseason, any SEC member will find itself with a shot at the number-one ranking.

That is, by God, unless you're Auburn from several years ago.


Anonymous said...

Ole Miss and Miss State have each had a stinker or two over the last 10-15 years. I think one year one of the two faced two FCS opponents in the same year. Basically, prior to the East going "down" a couple years ago, teams from the West often played easy schedules. Nice post!

Anonymous said...

Looks like Mark Slack-back's opinion is about as compelling as his monotone, put-you-to-sleep personality.-Russ