SEC’s Power 5 schedule rule leaves schools with work to do

Dan Mullen's Bulldogs don't currently have a team from one of the Power 5 leagues on their non-conference schedule through 2018.

John David Mercer/John David Mercer-USA TODAY Spor

GREENSBORO, Ga. — The SEC football schedules are going to get tougher. But, if the goal is to appeal to the selection committee for the College Football Playoff, Hugh Freeze would like to point something out.

"In our league, when you play eight games, that’s a pretty good body of work right there," the Ole Miss coach said Monday while participating int he Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge golf outing at Reynolds Plantation.

Sunday, the SEC announced that beginning in 2016, it would require all of its member schools to play at least one team from one of the other Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12, with Notre Dame also in play), while sticking to an eight-game league schedule. Each team will continue playing all six division opponents, along with a permanent crossover game and a rotating opponent from the other division.

"I’m happy we stayed at eight in the conference," Freeze said. "Whether it was 6-0-2 or 6-1-1 … 6-0-2 I thought was a little fairer overall long time, but I wasn’t in the meeting. But I’m OK with 6-1-1 also."

We’ll continue to see crossover matchups like Alabama-Tennessee, Auburn-Georgia and LSU-Florida as the league sticks with tradition and a schedule flexibility that will allow for established rivalries a la Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech and South Carolina-Clemson. A nine-game slate may not have made those possible.

However, the part of the future schedules that is generating the most attention is the edict to face major-conference foes — and as Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen can attest, lining up those games isn’t always easy.

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"I know we’ve tried to do it. We’ve had a lot of teams say they won’t play us," he said. "We’ve tried to go schedule those games. Last year, we got to play Oklahoma State."

The Bulldogs are one of five SEC schools that don’t currently have a Power 5 team on their schedule for ’16, along with Alabama, Auburn, Missouri and Ole Miss. Mullen’s squad is also one of four teams that doesn’t play a major-conference team this season (Vanderbilt, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are the others). But the Bulldogs are the only SEC team that doesn’t currently have a Power 5 out-of-conference opponent appearing on any of their schedules through 2018.

"We’re going to have to go out there and find somebody who wants to play us," Mullen said.

It’s unclear what, if anything, happens if a school is unable to find an opponent from the Power 5 conferences. SEC teams typically schedule FCS opponents late in the season, while other leagues usually play those games early to keep the conferences slate whole.

Scheduling conflicts could arise, making it no surprise that the SEC has those lower-tier games as options to fall back on, something the Big Ten is planning on getting away from.

What remains unchanged, Mullen says, is the degree of difficulty in a conference that’s won seven of the last eight national titles. That, he believes, should mean more than anything to the selection committee.

"I think you win the SEC championship, your resume is strong no matter who else you play," he said.