COLLEGE FOOTBALL: Breaking down the SEC’s updated and enhanced master schedule for 2020

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All-American wideout Ja'Marr Chase (84 catches, 1,780 yards, 20 TDs last year) and defending champion LSU open the season at home against Mississippi State (Sept. 26).

BATSBY Sports offers a whimsical breakdown of the SEC’s revised football schedule for 2020 — a campaign that includes zero non-conference outings … but two more intraleague matchups (per team) than previous years.

So, in a surreal way, since this Coronavirus-influenced expansion could be a one-shot deal, it’s an interesting trade-off for the hard-core fan of college football’s most prolific conference.

And as a passionate Big Ten alum (Michigan State) and native Midwesterner, it kills me to print the above proclamation.

LET’S START WITH SUPER SATURDAY

CBS couldn’t ask for a better SEC doubleheader on Oct. 17, with LSU at Florida (presumably the 3:30 p.m. game) serving as an elite-level warmup to Georgia-Alabama in prime time.

Florida vs. LSU has become an annual grudge match for the fans, thanks to the SEC’s decade-long system of permanent crossover opponents (when East meets West).

On the flip side … it’s been a while since UGA made the trek to Tuscaloosa — try 2007, when then-sophomore quarterback Matthew Stafford orchestrated a thrilling overtime victory (26-23).

For this season, one could make strong cases for the Tigers, Gators, Dawgs and Crimson Tide advancing to the SEC title game in mid-December; and to the winner of that clash in Atlanta … a spot in the four-team College Football Playoff should be an automatic perk.

Which brings us to this …

In a dream world, the four-team Playoff would cleanly comprise of the SEC, ACC, Big 12 and American Athletic Conference title winners — assuming each league champion finishes within the top eight of the final CFP poll.

However, even in the most unusual of college seasons, the odds of the above scenario playing out remain quite long.

As in, do you really think the CFP committee would deny a second SEC, ACC or Big 12 program a spot in the national semifinals, if such a prodigious power possessed a superior resume to the AAC champ?

Take the SEC, for example: With the revised schedule including conference members only, big-name programs like Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Auburn, Florida and Texas A&M are far more likely to own higher Strength Of Schedule quotients than UCF, Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston or Temple.

And don’t forget about the ACC, which has Notre Dame as a full charter member this season. (One of the few bright spots to this wretched sports year.)

In other words, short of a two-loss discrepancy between the American Athletic champ and the SEC or ACC’s second-most dominant club, the AAC representative likely must settle for a secondary invite to the Cotton Bowl or Orange Bowl.

Again.

(In case you forgot, this year’s CFP semifinals are slated for Dec. 28, with the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl taking center stage.)

Is that the fairest outcome for the AAC, considering how conference officials went against the wishes of Team Lockdown/Team No Fun Of Any Kind to create a fall football experience for the players and coaches?

Probably not. But then again, even during pandemic-affected seasons, the 13-member CFP committee still has the obligation to choose the best possible matchups for the national semifinals — while identifying the most qualified of candidates.

EASIEST HOME SCHEDULE

Even in a Coronavirus-affected season, it’s good to see Florida and Georgia preserving the schools’ annual tradition of meeting on a neutral field.

The stands at TIAA Bank Field might be empty that day … but the streets of Jacksonville will be full of cocktail-fueled fans, celebrating one of college football’s best rivalries.

On the down side, though, the Dawgs will only play at Sanford Stadium four times in 2020, a solid, but hardly daunting slate of Auburn (Oct. 3), Tennessee (Oct. 10), Mississippi State (Nov. 21) and Vanderbilt (Dec. 5).

MOST DOABLE ROAD SLATE

Florida could be Vegas favorites for its four true road games — Ole Miss (Sept. 26), Texas A&M (Oct. 10), Vanderbilt (Nov. 21) and Tennessee (Dec. 5); and as a bonus, the Gators only have to travel 71 miles for their neutral-site clash with Georgia (Nov. 7 in Jacksonville).

TOUGHEST HOME SCHEDULE

With or without any ticket-buying fans, Arkansas’ 2020 home slate should be one for the books.

The list of prominent visitors starts with Georgia (Sept. 26) and ends with Alabama (Dec. 5); and in between, the Hogs will have their hands full with Ole Miss (Oct. 17), Tennessee (Nov. 7) and LSU (Nov. 21).

Speaking of Alabama, LSU and UGA …

MOST TREACHEROUS ROAD SLATE

What did Mississippi State do to warrant the Holy Trinity draw of SEC superpowers — LSU (Sept. 26), Alabama (Oct. 31), Georgia (Nov. 21)?

By the longest of long shots, the Bulldogs have the nation’s toughest road schedule in 2020, which also includes two sneaky-tough trips to Kentucky (Oct. 10) and Ole Miss (Nov. 28).

If Mississippi State produces two road victories this season, new head coach Mike Leach should garner Coach Of The Year consideration; and if the Bulldogs collect three or more road wins, Leach should get a five-year contract extension … approximately five minutes after that third triumph.

EASIEST 4-GAME STRETCH

This award warrants a split vote, with Georgia (@ Missouri, vs. Mississippi State, @ South Carolina, vs. Vanderbilt) and Florida (vs. Arkansas, @ Vanderbilt, vs. Kentucky, @ Tennessee) both closing out the regular season with four eminently winnable matchups.

As a tiebreaker, it would be easier to roll with the Gators — the only SEC club to encounter Arkansas and Vanderbilt on back-to-back Saturdays.

TOUGHEST 4-GAME STRETCH

Texas A&M likely won’t enjoy the treacherous run of Tennessee (road), Ole Miss (home), LSU (home) and Auburn (road) in November/December … but that closeout still doesn’t compare to Arkansas’ damn-near-impossible finishing kick of Florida (road), LSU (home), Missouri (road) and Alabama (home).

In fact, the Hogs might also have the SEC’s second-toughest four-game run, as well, taking on Texas A&M, Tennessee, Florida and LSU over four consecutive Saturdays.

Bottom line: From a pound-for-pound standpoint, Arkansas has the SEC’s most difficult schedule. In fact, this sarcastic Tweet (listed below) — presumably the work of a hearty Hogs fan — isn’t that far from the reality which awaits in 2020.

REPEAT THE FEAT

There’s a familiar ring to Florida and Tennessee playing a regular-season outing in December.

Back in 2001, the 9/11 tragedy forced the Gators and Volunteers to reschedule their mid-September clash for the first Saturday in December.

On that December day, QB Casey Clausen and tailback Travis Stephens (226 rushing yards, 2 TDs) led No. 5 Tennessee to a 34-32 upset of second-ranked Florida.

WEEKLY SCHEDULE

SEPTEMBER 26
Alabama @ Missouri
Mississippi State @ LSU
Tennessee @ South Carolina
Kentucky @ Auburn
Georgia @ Arkansas
Florida @ Ole Miss
Vanderbilt @ Texas A&M

OCTOBER 3
Auburn @ Georgia
Texas A&M @ Alabama
South Carolina @ Florida
Arkansas @ Mississippi State
LSU @ Vanderbilt
Missouri @ Tennessee
Ole Miss @ Kentucky

OCTOBER 10
Florida @ Texas A&M
Tennessee @ Georgia
Alabama @ Ole Miss
Arkansas @ Auburn
Mississippi State @ Kentucky
Missouri @ LSU
South Carolina @ Vanderbilt

OCTOBER 17
Georgia @ Alabama
LSU @ Florida
Texas A&M @ Mississippi State
Kentucky @ Tennessee
Auburn @ South Carolina
Ole Miss @ Arkansas
Vanderbilt @ Missouri

OCTOBER 24
Alabama @ Tennessee
Auburn @ Ole Miss
Missouri @ Florida
Georgia @ Kentucky
South Carolina @ LSU

OCTOBER 31
LSU @ Auburn
Mississippi State @ Alabama
Arkansas @ Texas A&M
Kentucky @ Missouri
Ole Miss @ Vanderbilt

NOVEMBER 7
Florida vs. Georgia (Jacksonville)
Texas A&M @ South Carolina
Tennessee @ Arkansas
Vanderbilt @ Mississippi State

NOVEMBER 14
Alabama @ LSU
Texas A&M @ Tennessee
Auburn @ Mississippi State
Arkansas @ Florida
Georgia @ Missouri
South Carolina @ Ole Miss
Vanderbilt @ Kentucky

NOVEMBER 21
Tennessee @ Auburn
Mississippi State @ Georgia
Kentucky @ Alabama
Ole Miss @ Texas A&M
LSU @ Arkansas
Florida @ Vanderbilt
Missouri @ South Carolina

NOVEMBER 28
Auburn @ Alabama
LSU @ Texas A&M
Georgia @ South Carolina
Arkansas @ Missouri
Mississippi State @ Ole Miss
Kentucky @ Florida
Tennessee @ Vanderbilt

DECEMBER 5
Florida @ Tennessee
Alabama @ Arkansas
Texas A&M @ Auburn
Ole Miss @ LSU
South Carolina @ Kentucky
Missouri @ Mississippi State
Vanderbilt @ Georgia

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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