Easier schedule looms over Georgia

semerson@macon.comAugust 26, 2012 

ATHENS -- Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch was watching ESPN with a teammate recently, when the subject of their team’s schedule came up. The word “cupcake” might have mentioned.

Lynch scoffed at the memory of it, then ticked off who Georgia still had to play this season, the road trips and a stretch of season he saw as pretty difficult.

“Is our schedule easy? No I don’t think so,” Lynch said.

Most people beg to differ.

Steve Spurrier has been the most vocal about it. The South Carolina head coach has missed few opportunities to take a shot at Georgia’s schedule. On a summer appearance on Paul Finebaum’s radio show, he agreed that Georgia was the favorite in the SEC East because of, why else, the schedule.

“They got the easiest schedule; that’s why they’re picked,” Spurrier said. “They got Ole Miss, we got LSU.”

This is all a byproduct of SEC expansion. Originally Georgia was to visit Alabama this year, the defending national champion and preseason No. 2 this year. That game against Mississippi, the pick to finish last in the SEC West, was also in the rotation.

But when the SEC had to re-do the 2012 schedule to account for two new teams, the Alabama trip was pushed off Georgia’s schedule and replaced by a game at Missouri.

Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity knew this would happen in December, when the schedules were finalized. But despite the conspiracy-minded Gamecocks fans on some message boards, competition level never came up in the athletics directors’ meetings, according to McGarity.

“If you start down that road, then I think it compromises the integrity of the process,” McGarity said. “Who knows how good someone is going to be in a particular year? How many times have you heard a coach say that?”

Then McGarity -- much like Lynch -- listed Georgia’s road trips: at Missouri (in that program’s SEC debut), at South Carolina (ranked No. 9), at Auburn (two years removed from a BCS title), at Kentucky (which is picked last in the SEC but played Georgia close last year) and of course, the annual trip to Jacksonville, Fla., for the Florida game. Georgia has not defeated Florida twice in a row since the late 1980s.

“Those road games are against quality teams,” McGarity said. “It’s so hard to look through the crystal ball and say, ‘Is this a tough schedule?’ It’s what the fans do. We understand that. But if we start thinking that ourselves internally, that’s when you get in trouble as a program. When you start looking over people and you start counting over your wins, you just cannot afford to do that.”

The bottom line, however, is that Georgia avoids playing the three top-10 teams in the SEC West: No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 LSU and No. 10 Arkansas. But its main rival in the division, South Carolina, has to play two of them. It was similar to last year, when Georgia avoided those three teams, and South Carolina lost to Arkansas.

Hence Spurrier’s offseason proposal that division champions be crowned based on division record, not just overall conference record. Predictably, it was shot down.

McGarity, who worked at Florida when Spurrier coached there and calls him a friend, said he wasn’t bothered by Spurrier’s talk.

“He is opinionated on some things. And he’s just basically speaking up for his program and what he believes in,” McGarity said. “That’s been a trademark of Steve Spurrier since I got to know him back in 1992.”

As for Georgia, there’s always a chance this easier schedule could end up backfiring.

Let’s say the Bulldogs are in the hunt for the BCS championship game. The four-team playoff is still two years away, so Georgia has to be one of the nation’s top two teams in the BCS, which is made up of two-thirds polls and one-third computers.

Normally, an SEC team is expected to get the benefit of being in the nation’s top conference. But does Georgia’s schedule set it up for taking a hit in the computers?

“Go undefeated in the SEC, and they’ll have no problem,” Jerry Palm, a CBSsports.com analyst said of the BCS. “If it’s a one-loss situation, being in the SEC will help, but it really depends on who they are competing with. Also, as you know with the polls, when you lose matters a lot.”

This also happens to be the year Georgia’s non-conference schedule is at its weakest. While it opened last year with Boise State, and with Clemson in 2013 and 2014, this year’s opener is against Buffalo. The other non-conference games are Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern and the annual rivalry game with Georgia Tech.

But the carping about the schedule is centrally focused on the conference schedule and not playing the top three from the SEC West.

And at that, the Bulldogs return to the same point.

“You can escape the teams from the West,” Lynch said. “But if we’re going to go where we want to go (the SEC championship game), we’re going to have to play one of those teams from the West when it’s all said and done.”

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