First, go check this out. It's an article in the Sporting News last June about non-conference scheduling in BCS conferences in 2012. It's several articles, actually; I merely linked the one pertaining to the SEC.
Finished? Good. Just to have it here where we can look at it, I'm going to paste that table in here again:
1. Missouri: Southeastern Louisiana, Arizona State, at UCF, Syracuse
2. Vanderbilt: at Northwestern, Presbyterian, UMass, at Wake Forest
3. Arkansas: Jacksonville State, at Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers, Tulsa
4. Alabama: Michigan (at Dallas), Western Kentucky, FAU, Western Carolina
5. Florida: Bowling Green, Louisiana-Lafayette, Jacksonville State, at Florida State
6. LSU: North Texas, Washington, Idaho, Towson
7. Ole Miss: Central Arkansas, UTEP, Texas, at Tulane
8. South Carolina: ECU, UAB, Wofford, at Clemson
9. Auburn: Clemson (at Atlanta), Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State, Alabama A&M
10. Georgia: Buffalo, FAU, Georgia Southern, Georgia Tech
11. Tennessee: NC State (at Atlanta), Georgia State, Akron, Troy
12. Kentucky: at Louisville, Kent State, Western Kentucky, Samford
13. Texas A&M: at Louisiana Tech, at SMU, South Carolina State, Sam Houston State
14. Mississippi State: Jackson State, at Troy, South Alabama, Middle Tennessee
You notice that this year's Vanderbilt OOC schedule is considered second of fourteen in degree of difficulty. That's all the word of credit we get for scheduling two BCS-league OOC opponents, both on the road. Missouri has two, but they're both at home - and frankly were probably booked before they joined the SEC. (Only the Big 12 has more appalling OOC scheduling than the SEC, and where did our two newbies come from? Texas A&M's OOC lineup certainly has a high glycemic index.)
Florida gets dinged for the fact that it's been 30 years since they went west of the Mississippi for an OOC game. Well hell, when's the last time they left the very state of Florida for an OOC game? They plead Florida State, Georgia pleads Georgia Tech, South Carolina pleads Clemson - you can see why we locked up a series with Wake Forest back in 2006, and not a softball either - last year was our first win over our "rival" since it became our season-ending matchup. In the SEC East, though, once you have your permanent OOC rival, it's apparently just fine to schedule troops of Girl Scouts and last year's frat league champion the rest of the way.
Except for us, apparently.
Look, something had to give. We had five OOC games for four spots on the slate in 2013. And the SEC promptly moved conference games into the weekends where our newly-dropped matchups were scheduled. We could have done some shucking and jiving and tried to make it work so that we could still play three BCS OOC opponents, despite the fact that pretty much every team in the league competing for a bowl slot will only be playing one. Or we could do what we did, and accept the fundamental truth of the situation: we gain absolutely nothing by playing a tougher OOC schedule than the rest of our conference.
Last year we had two BCS teams and Army. Now one of those was a Big East team, and that league's next deserved BCS berth will be its first, but it is what it is. The year before, we had Northwestern, UConn and Wake, and lost all three. In 2009 we had Georgia Tech instead of Wake, and lost to them and to Army while beating Rice and Western Carolina. And in the 6-6 year of 2008, we split our OOC games - beat Rice and Miami of Ohio, lost to Duke (!) and Wake. Or to put it another way: last year was the first year in as long as I can remember where we swept the board in OOC games. If that's the case in 2008, we go 8-4. In 2009, we go 4-8. In 2010, we go 5-7.
On average, we're playing multiple BCS OOC teams every year and going .500 against them for the privilege.
Now, another question: where are these teams that are going out to take on all comers? Northwestern had a respectable slate this year (Syracuse, BC and North Dakota in addition to us) but Ohio State? Had a weak Cal team (and got played within an inch of their lives), Miami of Ohio, Central Florida and UAB - all at home. Look the Big Ten schedule up and down - every single team except Indiana plays at least three of their OOC games at home, and Ohio State and Iowa never leave home for an OOC game. And how many of those Big Ten schools are playing more than one BCS OOC opponent in 2012? Here's the list: Northwestern. That's it and that's all.
Here's the thing: we've finished the regular season over .500 three times since the scheduled expanded to 11 games in 1970. The SEC actually only played six conference games a year from 1964 to 1988, but even then, the last time we finished over .500 in conference play was 1982. Before that? 1959, when we went 3-2-2 in the SEC en route to a 5-3-2 overall record. Why do I bring this up? Because we aren't Auburn in 2004, trying to squeeze into the BCS title game with Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe and the Citadel as its OOC opponents. We aren't Boise State trying to get #1 votes with one splashy BCS win and a WAC schedule. We're not the ones trying to play a national championship schedule. If anybody in this league should hang their heads in shame, it's the Gators, who the BCS computers think the best in the land off the back of Bowling Green, Louisiana-Lafayette and freakin' Jacksonville State.
Look, let's not mince words. Art Guepe left with the parting shot "there is no way you can be Harvard six days a week and Alabama on Saturday," and he was right. If he wasn't, Northwestern wouldn't have had the longest losing streak in the country nor gone almost five decades between Rose Bowl appearances. We have a football program which, in the main, has been a dumpster fire since JFK was assassinated. We are accustomed to seasons when we go winless in the conference. We haven't seen a bowl game outside the state of Tennessee in almost thirty years - hell, until last year, no Vanderbilt football player in the entire history of the program had ever been to two bowls.
You know how much credit we got for those harder non-conference schedules? You know how much regard we received for trying to punch above our weight? Hell, go back and look at that Sporting News article again - you know what we got for having the second-toughest OOC schedule in this conference? We got Presbyterian name-checked as another laughable piece of SEC scheduling.
No one in this conference is doing us any favors. No one. Not in scheduling, not in officiating, not in television, nothing. We already handicap ourselves in the SEC by honoring both halves of "student-athlete" and refusing to compromise our academic mission. The notion that we have to keep playing tougher OOC games than our conference foes - it is, as I said elsewhere, risible. To what end? To make sure we stay down below the salt in the pickle barrel? To keep various blogger and Twitter jackasses from making fun of us? To atone for the rest of the league's deficiencies in scheduling? To make the league look like it plays tough, and thus do the SEC a favor it doesn't do us?
Apologies for language: Fuck. That.
There's no reason we have to sacrifice ourselves for the SEC's sins. None. You know what will improve this program? You know what will get us noticed? You know what will get us respect? Winning games. Going to bowls. Once we're not a doormat, once we're not a punchline, once we're not a reason for teams to fire coaches when we win - then we can raise the bar and play the kind of schedule that gets you to New Years Day and beyond. Until then, we shouldn't apologize for doing exactly what every other team in this league - and others - tries to do: maximize our opportunities for wins.