Claim by SEC a little skewed

Associated Press
South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier is one of the few SEC coaches who admits their school schedules weak non-conference foes at home to make money.

ATLANTA --- Auburn is coming off a win over Tennessee Tech, which, for those who were wondering, is an actual team and not one that was made up for a television show.


A quick glance at Arkansas' schedule might lead one to think the Razorbacks were making a run at the Sun Belt Conference championship.

And what about Troy? The rural Alabama school has played enough teams in the big, bad Southeastern Conference to qualify as a junior member.

The SEC calls itself the toughest football league in the country, a claim that largely goes unchallenged in these parts and is certainly hard to dispute in a year when 11 of the 12 teams might wind up being eligible for bowls.

Still, a closer look reveals another, less-flattering explanation for all those gaudy records: SEC teams rarely venture away from home for non-conference games or play schools from other BCS leagues.

To put it bluntly, they've scheduled a bunch of patsies, a factor that should be taken into account at bowl time. Certainly, it's a lot easier to become eligible for the postseason when you have a 4-0 head start and six wins is enough to get in the mix.

"The reason we like to have at least seven home games is we sell all our tickets and we've got real big ballparks and we can make a lot of money," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, one of the few who'll concede a less-altruistic motive in SEC scheduling.

For the most part, coaches and players toe the company line: The conference is so strong that it's impossible to schedule the sort of intersectional, home-and-away series that are popular with fans.

"You know you're going to have a top 10 schedule with the SEC teams you play," Georgia cornerback Asher Allen said. "The SEC is already tough enough."

So, the schools are content to load up their non-conference schedules with surefire wins against teams from conferences like the Sun Belt, which is sort of like the SEC's Second Division.

Each of the eight Sun Belt schools played at least one SEC opponent this season, led by Troy, which only moved up to the top division in 2001. The Trojans faced Georgia, Florida and Arkansas, picked up big paydays at each stop, and left each with a loss.

In fact, Arkansas played three of its four non-conference games against Sun Belt teams, winning by a combined score of 170-43. The Razorbacks' other sacrificial lamb was Chattanooga, a member of the former Division I-AA.

One stat you won't hear the SEC touting is its 5-5 record against BCS opponents, with four such games remaining.

"Sometimes if you play an early opponent that's a national team, it requires every effort to get a victory and it may well slow the momentum of your season if you misfire," said LSU coach Les Miles.

Then again, if the SEC is indeed the strongest conference in the country, shouldn't it savor those challenges?



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