But this is not a rant against Tennessee's annual SEC football advantage. Every SEC football team plays eight conference games in regular season play. But that's where the equality ends. Over the years most things about the SEC schedule probably even up, but in any season certain teams have advantages. And sometimes those advantages last for many years.
For instance, it has been well-documented that during the Roy Kramer years as commissioner of the conference, the schedules were "adjusted" to give Kramer's favorite team–the Vols–those open dates before the Florida and Alabama games. At the same time the league gave open dates to almost every team the week before that team had to play the team Kramer most despised–Alabama.
Every SEC team plays the other five teams in its division each year. Additionally, each team has a "traditional" and every year opponent from the opposite division. The league schedule is completed with two games that fall on a rotating basis against teams from the opposite division.
Just to refresh: Alabama plays Arkansas, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State from the West each year. Tennessee is Bama's annual opponent from the East. This year the Tide will return a trip to South Carolina (which came to Tuscaloosa last year) and will host Florida, which comes on the schedule replacing Kentucky from the previous two years. In 2006, Bama will go to Florida to complete that two-game rotation, and Vanderbilt will be in Tuscaloosa to start a two-game series in place of South Carolina.
Each SEC team has four home league games and goes on the road for four games. Alabama has a very attractive home schedule of SEC games this year: Arkansas on September 24, Florida on October 1, Tennessee on October 22, and LSU on November 12.
The SEC road games for the Tide are at South Carolina September 17, at Ole Miss October 15, at Mississippi State November 5, and at Auburn to conclude regular season play on November 19.
Alabama's non-conference games are all in Tuscaloosa. Bama opens with Middle Tennessee State September 3, followed the next week by Southern Miss September 10. The Tide has a fairly late homecoming, October 29 against Utah State.
When games fall can be critical to success. In addition to Tennessee, only Arkansas, LSU and Ole Miss were provided open dates before playing Alabama, and only Tennessee failed to fill the spot with an opponent. LSU, which had back-to-back open dates at one time, filled the weekend game before Alabama with Appalachian State. Ole Miss will tune up for the Tide against The Citadel.
No one can accuse Arkansas of taking on a creampuff before trekking to Tuscaloosa. The week before the Hogs come calling, they will be playing in Los Angeles against two-time defending national champion Southern Cal. Not only is USC a tough opponent, that is a tough trip.
Alabama will meet South Carolina a week after Steve Spurrier takes his Gamecocks to Georgia. Florida will be coming off back-to-back SEC games, at home to Tennessee and then at Kentucky the week before coming to T-town. Mississippi State also plays Kentucky in Lexington the week before meeting Alabama. Auburn, as has been the case since the Tide and Tigers did away with their mutual open date before playing one another, has its annual tough game, Georgia.
Bama gets a few breaks, too. Although Southern Miss is frequently a difficult game for the Tide, it is a game that Alabama usually wins and Bama hosts the Golden Eagles before going to South Carolina. Alabama's open date is October 8, before the Ole Miss game, and the Rebels precede Tennessee. The Tide hosts Utah State before going to Starkville. But while Auburn is playing Georgia, the Tide will have at least that tough a contest hosting LSU.
Alabama's fate may be decided early. Most believe Bama must win two of three games in the early conference stretch of at South Carolina and home to Arkansas and Florida.