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CHRIS DUFRESNE / ON COLLEGE FOOTBALL

Does the SEC play fair in college football?

The Southeastern Conference is focus of a columnist kerfuffle this week. Before we call in bunco, let's first look at a likely accomplice: Lady Luck.

November 23, 2012|Chris Dufresne
  • Georgia and running back Todd Gurley, who is celebrating a touchdown against Auburn, have a chance to make it to the BCS title game with a win over Alabama in the SEC championship game despite playing a weak schedule this season.
Georgia and running back Todd Gurley, who is celebrating a touchdown against… (Michael Chang / Getty Images )

The Southeastern Conference has been accused of a lot of things through the years — but a scam?

The league is cutthroat, for sure, and often overzealous in praise of itself.

The SEC is wildly talented and over the top, with many of its fans and announcers in serious need of decaffeinated coffee.

The NCAA has been called in to investigate many times over the years, but no one can remember a summons for the bunco squad.

The sense the SEC is getting away with something took an Internet column turn this week when Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports called the SEC up before the tribunal. "It's a Ponzi scheme, this 2012 SEC fraud, built upon layers of air," Doyel wrote before presumably receding into a witness protection program well outside the barbecue belt.

Others have danced around this topic without jumping to such an extreme conclusion.

Is Doyel right?

Well, of course not.

Well, maybe not.

Well, maybe — but maybe only this year.

The SEC loves to brag of its football superiority in the Bowl Championship Series era, which is easy when you've won eight national titles and six in a row.

It rarely speaks of its mistress, Lady Luck.

Tennessee won the first BCS crown in the 1998 season because Arkansas' quarterback fumbled without being touched. Louisiana State defeated Oklahoma for the 2003 title but really should have played USC, No. 1 in both polls.

Florida lobbied its way into the 2006 season title game and, the next year, LSU became the first two-loss team to stumble in.

In 2008, Florida overcame a home loss to Mississippi. In 2009, Alabama needed two blocked kicks to defeat Tennessee. Auburn, the next year, dodged one near miss after another on its way to winning the title on a last-second field goal.

Last year, of course, Alabama won the national tile without winning the SEC.

The thing the SEC does better than any conference is keep enough of its talented teams high enough in the rankings to pounce on any BCS opportunity. How the SEC positions itself is the subject of the latest inquiry.

Doyel writes that the SEC is "gutless" in its scheduling. He maintains the formula is: "schedule easy nonconference games, win them all, and then lose only to each other in league."

It should be noted that, only a week ago, the SEC was boxed out of the title game unless two of the three non-SEC undefeated teams — Kansas State, Oregon and Notre Dame — lost. Kansas State and Oregon were then punched out within minutes of each other, instantly thrusting the SEC back into the heart of the hubbub.

Oregon fans wonder how the Ducks dropped behind Alabama when the schools have home defeats to similarly talented two-loss teams.

Many were unsettled last year when Alabama got an all-SEC rematch against LSU. Just imagine the uproar if it happens again.

All it might take is wins by USC (over Notre Dame) and Florida (over Florida State). Alabama versus Florida would be one thing, but Vesuvius might blow its top if it's Georgia versus Florida.

This is where the SEC's alleged schedule tampering comes into play. The 14-team league gets a kick-start by playing an eight-game schedule, whereas, for example, the 12-team Pac-12 plays nine.

The SEC then pads its win total by loading up on patsies in nonconference — the league played seven I-AA opponents last weekend.

When all was played and done, Georgia was No. 3 in the polls as a lot of people asked: How? The Bulldogs got blown out at South Carolina, 35-7, and their best win was an ugly 17-9 over Florida in which the schools combined for nine turnovers.

Georgia missed Alabama, LSU and Texas A&M on this year's SEC schedule and played Buffalo, Florida Atlantic, Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech in nonconference.

SEC folks would argue the schedule is what the schedule is.

To be fair, how could anyone predict that Auburn, which won the BCS title only two years ago, would be so woefully bad this year? Or, that newcomer Texas A&M would be so good?

Florida maneuvered into title position with a series of uninspired offensive efforts. The Gators, at home, struggled to defeat Bowling Green, Missouri and Louisiana Lafayette.

It can be argued the SEC is a two-caste system. Cecil Hurt, writing for Rolltide.com, called it the "Gang of Six" versus "The Knitting Circle of Eight."

Headed into this weekend, the solid SEC six — Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina — was 27-0 against the knitters.

The power of the six, though, keeps the SEC high in the polls and BCS computers. Florida State, a team many picked to win this year's BCS title, was effectively eliminated by a one-point loss at North Carolina State. That falls under the theory that only SEC teams get second chances.

Florida State has been damaged by playing in the weaker Atlantic Coast Conference and taking on two I-AA opponents, one the result of West Virginia backing out of a scheduled game.

Florida State's best hope of affecting the title race now is to knock Florida out Saturday.

Those who can't stomach the thought of another all-SEC title game are suddenly huge Florida State fans.

They are sometimes referred to as "The Gang of Everyone Else."

chris.dufresne@latimes.com

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