Discuss 33
May 28, 2013
Coaches, ADs cover schedule issues at SEC meetings
photo: Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs
 
DESTIN, Fla. — The question of football scheduling was, as expected, a hot topic of discussion on Tuesday at the Southeast Conference spring meetings.

Or more accurately, it was the questions of scheduling. As in: Who, how many and when?

Coaches and athletic directors at the San Destin Hilton Hotel debated issues involving permanent interdivisional opponents, increasing the SEC schedule from eight to nine games and whether Texas A&M and LSU would play on the final week of the regular season.

Of course, for decades Texas A&M closed its regular season against Texas on Thanksgiving Day. But that tradition ended with the Aggies’ move to the SEC.

A new tradition with LSU could start as soon as 2014, but not necessarily on Thanksgiving Day. This season the Aggies face LSU in Baton Rouge on Nov. 23. They close the season at Missouri on Nov. 30.

I think that’s a possibility that’s subject to discussion. I think our fans would embrace Texas A&M at the end of the year. But I’m not a big fan of playing on Thanksgiving Day … not at Tiger Stadium, anyway. - LSU athletic director Joe Alleva on LSU-A&M to end the season {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"right","Quote":"I think that’s a possibility that’s subject to discussion. I think our fans would embrace Texas A&M at the end of the year. But I’m not a big fan of playing on Thanksgiving Day … not at Tiger Stadium, anyway.","Author":"LSU athletic director Joe Alleva on LSU-A&M to end the season"}
Speculation is the 2014 SEC football schedule could be released as early as Friday, though that has not been confirmed by conference officials.

“I think all along we’ve been very receptive and interested in playing LSU (in the final regular season game),” Texas A&M Athletic Director Eric Hyman said.

LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva echoed that.

“I think that’s a possibility that’s subject to discussion,” Alleva said. “I think our fans would embrace Texas A&M at the end of the year.

“But I’m not a big fan of playing on Thanksgiving Day … not at Tiger Stadium, anyway.”

Avella has even more issues with the SEC’s 6-1-1 scheduling format, which allows for every team to have a permanent interdivisional opponent. That format (six division games, one permanent opponent and one random inter-divisional opponent) was put in place to maintain the Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia traditional rivalries.

LSU’s permanent East Division opponent is Florida, which is a traditional national power.

Meanwhile, Tennessee, Alabama’s permanent opponent, has posted just seven victories or less in six of the past eight seasons.

LSU feels that Alabama has a head start in the SEC West race.

“In the issue of fairness and competitive equity, everyone should play everyone,” Alleva said. “There should be a true rotation of opponents for everyone. Now, it’s not fair. It’s imbalanced.

“The other athletic directors vote for what’s in the best interest of their institutions and not what’s in the best interest of the league.”

Alleva has an ally in Hyman.

“I was never in favor of permanent opponents when I was at South Carolina and I’m not now,” he said. “You should go to every venue in the SEC. That’s part of being in a conference.”

I just think if you increase the size of the league by 15 percent that you really need to increase the number of games. There are people that want to keep their cross-division rivalries. I think that every player in the league should have the opportunity to play every school in his career. - Nick Saban on a nine-game conference schedule {"Module":"quote","Alignment":"left","Quote":"I just think if you increase the size of the league by 15 percent that you really need to increase the number of games. There are people that want to keep their cross-division rivalries. I think that every player in the league should have the opportunity to play every school in his career.","Author":"Nick Saban on a nine-game conference schedule"}
However, Alabama coach Nick Saban vehemently disagreed.

“It’s important to our fans and tradition to play Tennessee,” Saban said. “Everybody looks at how it is now, but Tennessee will come back. All the power schools have down cycles. Alabama had a down cycle, LSU had a down cycle. Tennessee now has a down cycle. All of the sudden, it’s like playing Tennessee doesn’t count.”

Saban not only wants to continue playing Tennessee, but he wants to add another conference opponent. He is a proponent of a nine-game conference schedule, which he acknowledged puts him in a decided minority.

“I just think if you increase the size of the league by 15 percent that you really need to increase the number of games,” he said. “There are people that want to keep their cross-division rivalries. I think that every player in the league should have the opportunity to play every school in his career. If you don’t play two rotating teams on the other side, that does not happen.”

Teams with non-conference, in-state rivals balk at that idea. Georgia already plays Georgia Tech, South Carolina plays Clemson, Florida plays Florida State and Kentucky plays Louisville.

Some counter that adding a ninth conference game makes already difficult schedules unnecessarily treacherous.

But with the national championship playoff being introduced in 2014, a strength of schedule component to determine the field may dictate teams playing stronger competition.

“There’s going to be arguments that say, 'We have to play some rivalry team in our state, that makes us have another tougher game.' Well, we’re scheduled out until 2017 with tougher games already," Saban added. "We play Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Michigan State twice, so I would really like to see everybody — not just in our conference — just across the country play at least 10 teams from the five major conferences.”

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin offered a strong rebuttal.

“Eight games. There is no other discussion,” he said. “An eight-game schedule allows flexibility. If you’re trying to build a program, it allows you to build. For everybody that talks about strength of schedule … great, if you need to schedule four of the best teams in the country you can.

Andrew Kilzer, TexAgs The changing landscape in the conference and the college football world is giving decision-makers, including Hyman, pause. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"right","Size":"large","Caption":"The changing landscape in the conference and the college football world is giving decision-makers, including Hyman, pause.","MediaItemID":19186}
“If you schedule nine games those sexy out-of-conference games will go away. In the last 15 years college football has become less regional and more national, but you’re less likely to play Oregon, Michigan and Ohio State. Georgia always plays Georgia Tech, South Carolina always plays Clemson, Florida always plays Florida State. If you have only two more games there’s no room to wiggle.”

Some detractors may be starting to wiggle, though. Or perhaps waffle.

Hyman said he’s always been a proponent of an eight-game conference schedule, but is more open than ever to considering adding another game.

That brings up another question.

Why?

“Because of the playoff,” Hyman said. “Strength of schedule is a huge issue.”


Saban on Manziel

Alabama's Saban may not have Sept. 14 circled on his calendar, but he knows on that day he’ll face a quarterback that can run circles around a defense.

That includes Saban’s defense.

Alabama ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense last season, but Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel passed for 253 yards and rushed for 92 in the Aggies’ 29-24 upset of the Crimson Tide last season.

That performance rocketed Manziel’s Heisman Trophy campaign. He became the first freshman to win the prestigious award.

“A fantastic player is a fantastic player, and we thought he was a fantastic player last year and really tried to prepare for him,” Saban said on Tuesday at the SEC spring meetings. “But he has such a good instinctive feel for scrambling and making plays and ad-libbing and making something happen when there’s nothing there.

Jason McConnell, Aggieland Illustrated Manziel was A&M's secret weapon in the 2012 Alabama victory, but it remains to be seen how the Crimson Tide will handle him on Sept. 14. {"Module":"photo","Alignment":"left","Size":"large","Caption":"Manziel was A&M\u0027s secret weapon in the 2012 Alabama victory, but it remains to be seen how the Crimson Tide will handle him on Sept. 14.","MediaItemID":24156}
“That’s kind of hard to prepare for.”

It seems part of Alabama’s preparation for Sept. 14 will be reminding the defensive players to maintain assignments.

Alabama did a better job of containing Manziel in the second half of last season’s game. In the first half Manziel rushed for 82 yards and completed 15-of-16 passes for 118 yards.

But in the second half he completed 9-of-15 for 135 yards. He rushed for just 10 yards, which included four sacks for 15 yards in losses.

“The players just have to play with extreme discipline in terms of doing their jobs and paying attention to leverage and containing and all kinds of things,” Saban said. “That’s something that we’re going to have to continue to work on and do a better job of.

“We did a better job as the game went on, but it’s hard to simulate in practice to get a guy to do what he does.”

One school of thought is that defensive coordinators, with a year of game tape to peruse, will be better equipped to contain Manziel this season.

However, Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin pointed out that plenty of game tape was available midway through last season.

“I would say they didn’t sit around after game five or six last year,” Sumlin said. “The challenge for us is that we’ve got to get better every week with the surrounding cast and the ability to add offense. The difference (in Manziel’s performance) between game six and 13 and from game one to six was a lot different. His challenge was to learn more about the offense and the philosophy of what we’re doing.”

Manziel met that challenge.
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