The era of the college football playoff has finally arrived, and just as they set up their conference to maximize their chances in the BCS system, the SEC has decided to continue playing only eight conference games, giving them a significant advantage in the race for those four playoff spots over teams in other power conferences - the Pac-12, the Big Ten, and Big-12.
Suffice to say, coaches in the Pac-12 conference are less-than impressed:
"I've been saying this for three years now: I think if we're going to go into a playoff and feed into one playoff system, we all need to play by the same rules," said Stanford coach David Shaw, whose team has played in four straight BCS bowl games, including three in his tenure. "Play your conference. Don't back down from playing your own conference. It's one thing to back down from playing somebody else. But don't back down from playing your own conference."
In other words, if all the other power conferences are going to line up with nine conference games, then the SEC should too. For all their big talk about being the "toughest" conference and the "best" conference, they make sure they play one another the minimal amount of times, while simultaneously scheduling non-conference games against laughably pathetic Division I-AA competition, such as Western Carolina (Alabama), Samford (Auburn), Sam Houston State (LSU), Eastern Kentucky (Florida), Chattanooga (Tennessee), Charleston Southern (Georgia) or cupcake Division I-A competition from the non-BCS conferences, such as Idaho (Florida), Florida Atlantic (Alabama), Louisiana-Monroe (LSU), or New Mexico State (LSU).
Why does this matter? If we're going to have a college playoff, the road to the playoff should have the same standards for all conferences. As our own Coach Mora pointed out:
"I would like to see everybody operate under the same set of rules or restrictions or regulations or whatever word you want to throw in there," UCLA coach Jim Mora said. "I think the Pac-12 is an incredibly competitive conference. I look at the teams that make up this conference and I think anybody can beat anybody on any given week. I think the same can be said for the SEC. And yet we play nine games against each other. I like that.
"I think we like that as a conference and I think we take pride in that because we're interested in competing against the best week in and week out. We try not to schedule too many patsies."
You know, patsies like Samford, Charleston Southern, or Sam Houston State. Instead, the Bruins will take on Texas at a "neutral" game in Dallas (while, for example, the Ducks will take on Michigan State, and Arizona State, Southern Cal, and Stanford will all take on Notre Dame). Why does the difference between eight conference games and nine conference games matter?
Well, let's take a look at UCLA's schedule on any given year. Well, we have to play the other five teams in the Pac-12 South each year, so that's games against Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Arizona State, and Southern Cal. Then as part of the expansion to appease the Bay Area schools, we play Stanford and Berkeley every year to preserve the traditional inter-California matchups. There's seven conference games right there. So, the last two games rotate between Washington, Washington State, Oregon (!!!), and Oregon State. None of those four are push-over games, even Washington State at their worst isn't a pushover - those Pullman games are notoriously hard on a team. So, while our ninth conference game comes against possibly Oregon, teams like Alabama and Auburn are replacing that caliber of a game with a non-conference patsy like Samford or Chattanooga. In college football, where every game matters, where running the table undefeated is the only guaranteed way to make it to the top, that kind of swap is a big deal.
Most of the Pac-12 coaches were of the opinion that playing only eight conference games gives SEC teams a competitive advantage -- especially because they can schedule a fourth nonconference game later in the season.
And Stanford's Shaw isn't backing down:
"There's no taking away anything that LSU and Alabama and Auburn recently have accomplished," Shaw said. "They've been phenomenal. My take is to say, 'OK, the rest of us are playing our conference. We're playing nine out of 12 teams in our conference. Why can't you do the same thing?'
"You can't color it. You can't try to explain it away. You're not doing what the rest of us are doing it. We're doing it. The Big Ten is doing it. The Big 12 is doing it. Everybody is pushing toward a nine-game conference schedule."
Well, unfortunately that's one place Shaw was wrong: the SEC fanboys will always find a way to try to color it and claim it "balances out" how "tough" it is to play within the SEC. Because you know, taking on powerhouses like Arkansas (3-9 in 2013) or Kentucky (2-10 overall in 2013), is just too tough!
But then again, it's the conference that can't wait to schedule cupcakes like Charleston Southern. And then there's our Bruins, one of the few teams never to sully itself by scheduling a game against a Division I-AA opponent. Integrity is just something Bruins get - the SEC, perhaps not.