After a months-long flirtation process that suddenly picked up steam last month, the SEC officially announced that Texas A&M would become the conference's 13th program beginning in 2012, ensuring that we would have a distraction from real football for at least one more week. It is very easy to generalize about the move and say that the Aggies' schedule is about to get much tougher, but ... how much tougher?
Texas A&M is moving from a nine-game slate in the Big 12, complete with a running, neutral-field series with Arkansas, to an eight-game SEC slate. Who they schedule for non-conference games is a bit up in the air since the Arkansas series is off, but let's try to make a bit of a comparison.
Here is what would have been Texas A&M's 2012 schedule in the Big 12, along with a couple of F/+ rankings. Teams are listed in order of their estimated four-year power rankings (the average of their 2008-10 finishes and their current 2011 rating). The Aggies only had two non-conference opponents lined up so far: Arkansas (at Jerry World) and SMU (in Dallas). For the table below, we will assume the Aggies would have scheduled a random FCS opponent for Game No. 12. It could have very easily been a random mid-major FBS opponent as well.
|What Would Have Been Texas A&M's 2012 Schedule
|at Oklahoma State||12||18|
|(Random FCS team)||N/A||N/A|
Texas A&M would have played two Top 15 opponents (one at home), six Top 33 opponents (two at home) and six opponents ranked 60th or worse (inc. the FCS opponent).
So how might their schedule take shape next year with an eight-game SEC slate? First of all, that depends on how the SEC decides to move forward with 13 teams. If you believe rumors of Missouri potentially being in line for an SEC slot, then perhaps the 13-team issue is moot, but really, we are running out of time for 2012. Even if a 14th team emerges soon, it is conceivable that they won't be joining the fray until 2013, leaving at least one year with 13 teams.
SBN's own Year2 at Team Speed Kills took an interesting look at this issue a while back.
To understand the problems associated with a 13-team football conference, just look at the MAC. It has had 13 teams for a while, but the scheduling is unwieldy. In the MAC East, the division with seven teams, each year four teams play only five division games. That means they miss out on having a complete divisional round robin.
The SEC would have to do the same because of the way the math works out with 13 teams in two divisions playing eight games apiece. You couldn't fix it with a nine-game schedule because having 13 teams playing nine apiece is mathematically impossible (it works out to 58.5 conference games).
A scenario in which not everybody in the SEC West plays each other leads us to a scenario in which two SEC West teams finish undefeated. But such is the risk of the number 13. There are few ways around it; the SEC is the conference that created the "permanent rival" arrangement of conference scheduling, however, so there is certainly a chance they get creative here too.
Year2's guess is as good as anybody's at this point, however, so taking his lead let's look at a potential 2012 schedule for Texas A&M. (One slight change: in A&M's schedule at TSK, they faced road trips in four of six games versus the West -- I flipped Ole Miss to a home game and Tennessee to a road game.) With three non-conference games to schedule on relatively short notice, I'm going to work with the assumption that the Aggies end up with an FCS opponent and two random opponents from a non-BCS FBS team.
|Texas A&M's Potential 2012 Schedule In The SEC
|at Mississippi State||43||49|
|(Random FBS Team)||~89||~89|
|(Random FBS Team)||~89||~89|
|(Random FCS Team)||N/A||N/A|
Obviously things could be skewed depending on which SEC East teams end up on A&M's schedule -- if it's Florida and South Carolina, then this schedule is ridiculous, but if it's Vanderbilt and Kentucky, it's actually easier -- but South Carolina and Tennessee represent a solid cross-section.
Using four-year rankings, A&M's schedule perhaps gets a hair more difficult at the top in this hypothetical; instead of two Top 15 opponents and six Top 33 opponents, A&M could be playing three Top 15 opponents and five Top 23 opponents. In all, however, there isn't necessarily a significant difference here, thanks in part to the shift from nine conference games to eight. Really, the main shift comes in the middle.
Average Four-Year Rank of Top Four Opponents: SEC 11.8, Big 12 13.5
Average Four-Year Rank of Middle Four Opponents: SEC 37.3, Big 12 49.5
- Average Four-Year Rank of Bottom Three Opponents (Not Counting FCS Opponent): Big 12 83.7, SEC 86.0
The schedule at the top and bottom is similar; the major difference is the upgrade in quality from Kansas State and Baylor to Ole Miss and Mississippi State. (Then again, four-year averages take Ole Miss' 2008-09 seasons into account, and to put it lightly, the Rebels have regressed quite a bit since then.)
The Big 12's move to nine conference games really did upgrade teams' schedule strengths a decent amount, and while A&M's future schedules could very well include a BCS opponent or two, their options are probably limited next year. That is a good thing in some way, as it will allow the Aggies to ease into the conference with a schedule that may only be slightly tougher.