Looking At Tide's Football Schedule

A few years ago Alabama's football schedule included half a dozen SEC opponents who had been given open dates prior to playing the Crimson Tide. That prompted me to call a statistician friend to see what the odds of that might be. He told me he didn't even need to run the algorithms or whatever it is statistics people do. He said there was no chance such a schedule inequity could happen randomly.

I then called an SEC official to discuss the situation.

"I assure you," he said – and I could visualize his arrogant sniff – "that we in the Southeastern Conference office do not have meetings to discuss ways to be unfair to The University of Alabama."

I thought that perhaps he had not been included in all the meetings.

Today there is a perception that Alabama has been given a break in its SEC schedule, and it brings to mind the adage that perception is reality.

Last year's SEC Championship Game participants, Alabama and Georgia, shared the schedule similarity that neither the Crimson Tide nor the Bulldogs had faced one of the top three teams outside their own divisions. No reasonable observer would say that was a coincidence. It was a huge advantage.

Although the top three teams in a division can't be known with certainty until the conclusion of the season, it is a reasonable assumption that Bama and Georgia get the same consideration again this year. Alabama does not play Georgia, South Carolina, or Florida; the Bulldogs do not play the Crimson Tide, LSU, or Texas A&M.

Moreover, the SEC schedule-maker had to give and extra open date to each team this year, and Alabama got a huge break. In its two games against what are considered to be the top SEC Western Division opponents, Texas A&M and LSU, Bama has an open date.

All in all, it appears that Alabama has a very manageable schedule as it goes for a third consecutive national championship and fourth in five years under Coach Nick Saban.

Former Alabama Coach Paul Bryant believed that injury luck and schedule luck were two important components to football success. Schedule luck includes whether opponents are better or worse than expected and when those opponents show up on the schedule.

No one could accuse Saban of dodging SEC opponents. When league coaches voted on a schedule formula now that the league has 14 teams, Saban was the only one who wanted a nine-game conference schedule – meaning a more difficult schedule. The other 13 coaches, as LSU's Les Miles famously proclaimed, "voted unanimously" for only eight games.

Miles also thinks it is unfair that his "traditional" opponent from the opposite division is Florida, which has been a heavyweight over the past couple of decades. Bama, meanwhile, draws Tennessee, which has been in a down cycle in recent years.

Check the record, though, and one will see that Tennessee ranks ahead of LSU and Florida (and every other SEC team except Alabama) in SEC record, SEC championships, wins, winning percentage, bowl games, and bowl victories.

In short, Alabama does not have to apologize for having Tennessee as its traditional opponent from the Eastern Division.

That said, it is hard to imagine Alabama not doing very, very well with its 2013 football schedule.

The Crimson Tide opens the season against Virginia Tech in Atlanta's Georgia Dome on Aug. 31. The Hokies under Frank Beamer have been very, very good over the years, though only 7-6 last season. And even though Virginia Tech is only 1-11 all-time against Bama, the Hokies command respect, which should lead to Tide players having great concentration this summer and in fall camp.

After an open date – and Saban has a pretty good record with extra time to prepare for an opponent – the Tide goes to College Station for the much-anticipated game against Texas A&M – the only team to defeat Bama last year – and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.

The most interesting thing about Alabama's Sept. 21 game against Colorado State is that the Rams are coached by Jim McElwain, former Tide offensive coordinator.

Not many people could guess the 2012 record of Ole Miss. Coach Hugh Freeze was lauded for bringing the Rebels back. That record was 7-6, including a 33-14 loss to Bama. Mississippi, however, did have a very good recruiting year and the Sept. 28 game in Bryant-Denny Stadium will be considered a key game.

Those games are the reason Alabama's first month schedule is considered among the most difficult among SEC teams.

After that, not so much.

October has Alabama facing four teams that all have new coaches, the former coaches having been replaced because of the poor performances of those teams under their previous coaches. Georgia State (to be fair, Bill Curry retired, but the team was 1-10 last year), Kentucky (2-10), Arkansas (4-8), and Tennessee (5-7) do not make for what looks like a murderer's row.

LSU on Nov. 9, after the open date and in Tuscaloosa, is the highlight of the November schedule. That's followed by a road trip to Mississippi State (all-time record vs. Bama 18-75-3, including last year's 38-7 loss), home again to Chattanooga, and the regular season finale at Auburn on Nov. 30.

Considering where Alabama has been under Saban, it is no wonder the Crimson Tide is expected to win all those games, and perhaps a couple more.

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