Speculation was abound in the days leading up to the SEC's announcement of which two additional opponents each team will play this fall as the league moves to a 10-game, conference-only slate for the 2020 season. How would the SEC decide the opponents it would add to each teams' schedule? Would schools simply play the next two opponents in their cross-division rotation? Or would the league decide to play matchmaker and attempt to spit out an equitable slate? Apparently, it was the latter.
League commissioner Greg Sankey offered no specifics after the announcement but said in a statement that the league "made every effort to create a schedule that is as competitive as possible and builds on the existing eight Conference games that had already been scheduled for 2020."
Fans of some schools -- looking at you Arkansas and Missouri -- are likely arguing that the "competitive as possible" mantra was applied selectively, though, because there were some obvious winners and losers from the schedule announcement.
Considering that Missouri was scheduled to play Arkansas and Mississippi State as its two cross-division opponents, the Tigers should have known their slate was going to increase in difficulty with Friday's announcement. But Missouri and its first-year head coach Elijah Drinkwitz could not have caught a tougher draw. The Tigers added Alabama and LSU to their slate. That means Missouri will play three opponents (Florida, Alabama and LSU) that have accounted for nine of the last 14 national championships.
Welcome to the SEC, Mr. Drinkwitz.
The Tigers got a great break Friday when they learned they are adding Missouri and Vanderbilt to fill out their 10-game slate. LSU was already scheduled to play South Carolina and Florida out of the East in a difficult -- but not brutal -- cross-division lineup, so it should have been assumed LSU would not add Georgia as one of its additional two opponents. But the defending national champions lucked out by drawing the two teams who are likely to finish at the bottom of the SEC East instead of getting at least one game against the more competitive group of Kentucky, Tennessee and South Carolina.
Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yuracheck referred to the Razorbacks' schedule as an "extraordinary opportunity" in a statement Friday after the Razorbacks learned they are adding Georgia and Florida to their slate. That's one way to look at it. "Death march" may also have been an apt term, considering the Razorbacks have lost 19 straight SEC games, are led by a first-year coach in Sam Pittman and now must play an especially brutal schedule.
"We already owned the nation's strongest 2020 football schedule and with these additions to our SEC only schedule, we now own the most challenging schedule in the history of college football," Yuracheck said. "As Razorbacks, we have never backed down from a challenge, this year will be no different. Our focus remains on the growth of our program and supporting Coach Sam Pittman and our football student-athletes as they embrace this extraordinary opportunity."
We should have known Georgia would get it relatively easy considering the brutality of their cross-division lineup entering the announcement. The Bulldogs were scheduled to play Auburn and Alabama already, so it would have been unfair to make them play LSU. But they surely let out a sigh of relief upon learning their additional opponents will be Mississippi State and Arkansas. Both programs are led by first-year coaches and should provide easy victories for a Georgia team with big-time aspirations.
The deck is stacked against Tennessee every season by virtue of the fact that its permanent cross-division rival is Alabama. But Friday's release of the additional two games for this year did the Volunteers no favors as they added Texas A&M and Auburn. Sure, they avoided LSU, but Jeremy Pruitt's squad now must play five of the league's top six teams in 2020 with Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia and Texas A&M on the docket.
Winner: Ole Miss
Of the league's four first-year coaches, Lane Kiffin got the best news Friday when Ole Miss learned it is adding South Carolina and Kentucky to its schedule. Neither opponent is a pushover, but the Rebels should have a decent chance against both, which is more than his three first-year comrades can say for most of the games they added. Pittman and Drinkwitz are in deep trouble, as mentioned above, and Mississippi State's Mike Leach now must navigate a trip to Georgia. But there is a path for Kiffin to get the Rebels to .500 in his first season.
Loser: Texas A&M
Texas A&M received a lot of love this offseason as a potential sleeper team to disrupt the hierarchy of the SEC West and contend for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Part of that optimism was based on what appeared to be a favorable schedule for Jimbo Fisher in his third season as the program's coach. Some of that schedule favorability dissipated Friday when the Aggies added Florida and Tennessee to their schedule. The Aggies had four easy non-conference games scheduled that would have given them a nice cushion before the COVID-19 pandemic. Now their schedule looks more like a gauntlet than an asset.