TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Over the past five years Alabama has been the best college football program in America. They have three national championships in the past four years, and right now they’re unbeaten and number one.
Alabama is on top of the college football world. That is indisputable. It's a fact.
What's also a fact is that - for the past two years – the SEC has given Alabama the league's easiest path to get there. (Click on image to enlarge graphic)
Last year, the SEC added Missouri and Texas A&M, so they had to throw out their old scheduling system.
Until they get to a new system, the SEC made up what it calls “bridge schedules.” Everybody in the SEC plays everybody in their own division. So, for instance, LSU will play Auburn every year, no matter what.
What the SEC decides is who you play in the other division.
With all the previous rules off, the SEC gave LSU matchups against Florida and S. Carolina last year. This year they gave LSU matchups against Florida and Georgia.
It’s a tough draw, and LSU Associate Athletic Director Verge Ausberry knows it.
“Us playing Florida and Georgia back to back, and South Carolina and Florida, that's very tough for us,” he said.
Ausberry said the Tigers are big boys and the schedule is the schedule. They'll deal with it.
But the fact is, Alabama's schedule has been significantly easier than LSU's during these bridge years.
Using pre-season rankings, that's No. 23 Florida and No. 9 S. Carolina in 2012. In 2013, No. 10 Florida and No. 5 Georgia.
Alabama, meanwhile, played unranked Tennessee and unranked Missouri in 2012. In 2013, they play unranked Tennessee and unranked Kentucky.
“It's amazing that it just happens to turn out in Big Red's favor every year,” said LSU fan Jimmy Smith.
“It's kind of hard to stomach seeing that one of the better teams in the SEC gets to play zero teams the last two years, and LSU has to play four,” said LSU fan Hunter Stewart. (Click on image to enlarge graphic)
“When you play tougher teams, besides having a chance to lose to these teams, there's also the idea people don't think about,” Smith said. “When you play tougher teams, it's physically more demanding. You get beat up more in those games than playing a Kentucky or a Tennessee or a Vanderbilt, and that hurts you as the season goes along.”
And the SEC’s lead schedule-maker is a guy named Mark Womack. He graduated from Tuscaloosa High School and the University of Alabama.
“I don't think Mark Womack sits up there and says, I'm going to do this to make Alabama the favored school to win it,” Ausberry said. “I don't think that happens at all.”
We asked Herb Vincent, a former LSU guy who's now an associate commissioner of the SEC, if the league was concerned with perception, with how that looks.
"Mark Womack does not autonomously make the schedule,” he said. “The schedules are reviewed and approved by the 14 athletic directors. Every institution is involved in determining the schedules."
LSU fans like Smith and Stewart aren’t quite as sure.
“It definitely looks fishy,” Stewart said. “You know, a little home cooking possibly.”
Smith said, “The SEC baseball tournament is in Hoover, Alabama. The SEC offices are in Alabama. The schedule maker is not just an Alabama graduate, but born and bred there. You've just got to toughen up and roll with the punches and if you beat them it will be that much more sweeter, but that's just the way it is.”
The debate going forward is what to do about permanent opponents..
For Alabama, that's Tennessee, a powerhouse in the ‘90s that has fallen on hard times. For LSU, that's Florida, the one team from the east they play every year.
A team that's been ranked in the top 25 when facing LSU every year but one since 1992 and four times as the number one team in America.
They'll play each other for at least the next two years.
LSU would like the league to do away with permanent opponents.
“There's a lot of different formulas we've looked at, and I'm not sure you can be fair to everybody, but I think, without the permanent opponents, it would be a little more fair,” Ausberry said. “It would also give every kid, every student-athlete, at least a chance to play every team in the conference once.”
In other words, play everyone in the other division on a rotating basis, so everyone plays everyone - and it's fair. Unlike what we've had the last two years.