LSU Tigers: Mike Slive
That’s after the league experienced a slight dip each of the four seasons prior to 2013.
One of the things to remember about the SEC is that the stadiums are huge. A stadium on the “smaller” side in this league still holds more than 60,000 people, and eight of the 14 schools play in on-campus stadiums with a seating capacity of more than 80,000.
Even more telling, all but two of the schools in the league topped 90 percent attendance last season. The average percentage capacity in 2013 for SEC games was 99.02 percent, compared to 97.40 percent in 2012.
Alabama, coming off back-to-back national championships, led the SEC in home attendance last season, averaging 101,505 fans.
Kentucky (20 percent) and Tennessee (6 percent) had the largest increases in attendance last season. Arkansas (9 percent) had the largest decrease.
And while attendance was up this season in the SEC, it’s not as if league officials and athletic directors at the different schools had their collective heads in the sand.
The 2012 attendance figures for the SEC were the conference's lowest since the 2007 season, which was disconcerting to everybody.
So at the SEC spring meetings last May in Destin, Fla., it was announced that the league had created a committee in charge of making the game-day experience more enticing for fans.
High-definition televisions are getting better all the time, and there’s something to be said for sitting in the comfort of your home theater (or den) and watching all of the games there instead of going to the trouble or the expense of getting to the games in person.
SEC officials and administrators agree that with technology improving and ticket prices rising, in some cases exorbitantly, fans aren’t going to blindly keep going to games unless there’s something unique about the game-day experience.
To the latter, SEC commissioner Mike Slive has said he wants to see every school in the league play at least 10 “good games” every season, whether that’s nine conference games and a marquee nonconference game, or eight conference games and two marquee nonconference games.
Alabama coach Nick Saban, a proponent of playing nine conference games, also has been outspoken that fans aren’t going to continue going to games to watch glorified scrimmages.
One of the biggest problems all schools in the SEC face is student attendance. Last season, Saban famously chastised the students at Alabama for leaving games early.
The Alabama student newspaper, The Crimson White, conducted a study and determined that only 69.4 percent of student tickets were used during the 2012 season.
In the past couple of years, Georgia has reduced its student-ticket allotment from 18,000 to 16,000, making those extra tickets available to younger alumni who can buy them without making an annual donation.
At Tennessee, student attendance increased dramatically last season in Butch Jones’ first year as coach. It was up almost 2,300 per game. As an enticement to continue getting students to go to the games, Tennessee plans to move more of them from the upper deck to the lower bowl.
While SEC commissioner Mike Slive was right when he said that the SEC's incredible national championship run would never be duplicated (seven in a row, really?), you can't help but wonder how much it hurt him to see his beloved conference not bring home one last crystal football.
If only Auburn's Tre Mason had come up short on that 37-yard touchdown run with 1 minute, 19 seconds left. Oh, what could have been different if he had downed the ball at the 1- or 2-yard line …
Before the Tigers' loss, the SEC lost its other BCS matchup when Alabama was knocked off 45-31 by Oklahoma in the Allstate Sugar Bowl. The national championship stung for the SEC, but this one hurt. This was viewed as certified gimmie for the league, after a historic line was put Alabama's way. But after a quick score by the Crimson Tide that appeared to set the tone, the Sooners punched and kicked their way to a more physical showing, beating Alabama at its own game.
Big Game Bob Stoops talked about SEC propaganda and backed his mouth up with a strong effort that had anti-SEC fans giddy on and off of Bourbon Street.
Still, the SEC finished with its third consecutive winning bowl season. The last time the league had a losing record in bowl play was when it went 3-4 in 2002. While the result of the BCS bowls weren't to the SEC's liking, seven other ones made the conference shine brightly.
It started with Ole Miss beating Georgia Tech 25-17 in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Dec. 30. After back-to-back losses to end the regular season, the Rebels pounced on the Yellow Jackets, holding them to their second-lowest rushing output (151 yards) of the season. Not to be outdone, Mississippi State capped off an impressive 2013 finish with a 44-7 beatdown of Rice in the Liberty Bowl.
The most exciting bowl game came later that night when Johnny Manziel said goodbye to college football by helping to erase a 21-point deficit in Texas A&M's 52-48 win over Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
The SEC flexed its muscles on New Year's Day when South Carolina downed Wisconsin by 10 in the Capital One Bowl and LSU ground out a 21-14 win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl. The day was nearly a sweep, but Georgia's 24-19 loss to Nebraska (equipped with a 99-yard touchdown pass allowed in the third quarter) destroyed the shot at perfection.
The SEC rounded out its non-BCS bowls with an exciting 41-31 win by Missouri over old Big 12 foe Oklahoma State in the AT&T Cotton Bowl, while Vanderbilt made short work of Houston with a 41-24 victory in the BBVA Compass Bowl.
The wins clearly outnumbered the losses for the SEC, but when it came down to the two big ones, the conference fell short. For all the good that this league produced during bowl season, the BCS losses will be the ones everyone remembers.
Once again, the SEC has Urban Meyer to thank for more conference gold ... or should I say orange and blue ...
Here's this season's SEC bowl lineup:
VIZIO BCS National Championship game, Jan. 6: Auburn vs. Florida State
Allstate Sugar Bowl, Jan. 2: Alabama vs. Oklahoma
Capital One Bowl, Jan. 1: South Carolina vs. Wisconsin
AT&T Cotton Bowl, Jan. 3: Missouri vs. Oklahoma State
Outback Bowl, Jan. 1: LSU vs. Iowa
Chick-fil-A Bowl, Dec. 31: Texas A&M vs. Duke
TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Nebraska
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl, Dec. 30: Ole Miss vs. Georgia Tech
AutoZone Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31: Mississippi State vs. Rice
BBVA Compass Bowl, Jan. 4: Vanderbilt vs. Houston
I'm sure we'll have more on all of these bowl games in the coming weeks, but here are our first impressions of this season's lineup:
Best game: VIZIO BCS National Championship game. This one is for all the marbles, and once again the SEC is involved. Real shocker there, even if it is Auburn. Somehow, the SEC found a way, and we now get to see the nation's best rushing offense (335.7 yards per game) take on Florida State's vaunted passing game, which is led by Heisman favorite Jameis Winston. The Noles own the country's 14th-ranked pass defense and rank third nationally in total defense. Auburn is on a special run this season and, with a month to rest and look over things, you have to wonder if coach Gus Malzahn will throw a couple more items into his playbook just for Florida State.
Worst game: TaxSlayer.com Gator. On paper, watching Georgia and Nebraska play each other looks pretty fun. But we've seen this matchup before. We saw it last season in the Capital One Bowl. Obviously, these are different teams, but they have the same uniforms on and the bowl season is about seeing something new and different. This isn't, and Georgia fans will let you know it. It'll probably be a pretty good game, but it would have been a lot better to see both of these two with different opponents.
Sneaky good game: Franklin American Mortgage Music City. The triple option vs. Hugh Freeze's fun spread? Yes, please! The Rebels didn't end the season the way they wanted, but you can see a lot of growth at Ole Miss. The Rebels owned one of the SEC's best offensive attacks, while the Yellow Jackets mirrored Auburn at times on the ground, averaging 311 rushing yards a game. But don't forget that Georgia Tech's defense only gave up an average 350 total yards per game. This should be a good one that has fourth-quarter drama written all over it.
The bowl season will be a success if: All the SEC cares about is bringing home an eighth straight crystal football. Commissioner Mike Slive is looking right at you, Auburn. Beat Florida State, and the SEC ends the BCS right where it started: with a national championship. The league can have a losing record in bowl play, but if it wins the one out in Pasadena, Calif., the conference will be all smiles (even folks in Tuscaloosa) and will still claim its perch atop the college football world.
Chris Low's first impressions
Worst game: BBVA Compass. What does Vanderbilt have to do to get a bowl game higher in the SEC’s pecking order? The Commodores are sitting there with eight regular-season wins for the second straight season and will be making the short trip to Birmingham, Ala. They get a Houston team that enters the postseason having lost three of its last four games. A close second goes to the TaxSlayer.com Gator Bowl, where we get a rematch of last season’s Georgia-Nebraska game from the Capital One Bowl.
Sneaky good game: AT&T Cotton. Two old Big 12 rivals will get it on in Arlington, Texas, and if you like offense, this is your kind of game. Missouri’s passing game, especially now that James Franklin is healthy again, is both balanced and explosive. Dorial Green-Beckham and L’Damian Washington combined for 22 touchdown catches this season. The Tigers’ defense gets a chance for redemption after being shredded by Auburn’s running game, but faces an Oklahoma State offense averaging 39.8 points per game.
The bowl season will be a success if: It’s all about the bling in the SEC. In other words, the onus is on Auburn to make it eight straight national championships. If the streak remains intact, the SEC will have bragging rights for another year. Counting the BCS National Championship game, 10 SEC teams are playing in bowl games. The league went 6-3 last season, so 7-3 sounds about right this season. Then we can all drum up some more propaganda, although Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops might have more to worry about than propaganda -- real or perceived -- when his Sooners take on Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
DESTIN, Fla. -- If Florida coach Will Muschamp and athletic director Jeremy Foley have their way, both LSU and Florida State will stay on the Gators' schedule regardless of how many SEC games are on Florida's slate.
It's a good call by Muschamp and Foley because both games are big for the program, and big for the money pot. Anyone who knows anything about Florida football recognizes the bitterness and enthusiasm the Gators' rivalry with the Seminoles, which dates back to 1958, exudes.
"The Florida State game is very important to us," Foley said. "I don't see that changing."
Muschamp understands LSU's stance on moving from the current 6-1-1 format to a 6-2 format, which has two crossover rotators and no permanent opponent, but he believes this game is too important to scrap.
"It's a great game for our league," Muschamp said. "I've been on both sides of it as a coordinator and now as a head coach. It's a national game for our league.
"At the end of the day, a 6-2 format is probably the fairest format -- if you want to be honest -- but I do enjoy the rivalry."
Miles, whose Tigers already share a division with Alabama and Texas A&M, doesn't want to have to continue playing one of the East's top teams every year if other squads don't face similar challenges.
"I think you play your division, rotate two teams [from the other division]," Miles said. "Everybody in the country can honor and visually see that that's the honest, straightforward way to do it."
I understand where Miles is coming from. Alabama and Georgia are dealing with permanent opponents who have fallen in recent years, while LSU played 11-win teams in Florida and South Carolina last year, going 1-1 against them. This fall, the Tigers host Florida and play at Georgia, both of which will probably be top-10 teams entering the fall.
Alabama's East opponents are Kentucky and Tennessee (permanent), which both have new head coaches.
“I'm totally opposed to permanent opponents," Alleva said. "It has nothing to do with Florida. I think it’s a competitive disadvantage to every team in the league to have a permanent opponent. I think they all should rotate. It’s better for our fans, it’s better for our players. We have players who never get to play against some SEC teams. So from a competitive standpoint, from a student-welfare standpoint, from our fans' standpoint I think we should just play six in our division and rotate the other two.”It's going to be tough for LSU to get rid of Florida because of other more historical crossover rivalries, such as Alabama-Tennessee and Georgia-Auburn. SEC commissioner Mike Slive has been adamant about not getting rid of those games and said a hybrid format with only some teams having permanent crossover opponents hasn't been discussed.
"The rivalry games are important," Slive said. "Otherwise I would have given you the [scheduling] format last Monday."
One rivalry the Gators aren't high on is the one against Miami. This fall, Florida will play Miami for the fifth time since 2002, but Foley doesn't consider the rivalry, which was hot before the 1990s, much of a priority -- especially if the SEC moves to nine conference games.
"You never say never, but that's not high on the agenda right now," Foley said. "For me to sit here and say, 'Well, we'll do that down the road,' there's too many unknowns in scheduling right now. If you're at nine conference games plus Florida State, I'd probably tell you it's unlikely. There's been no conversation between us and the University of Miami."
Just look at the seven straight BCS titles.
But changes to scheduling is being talked about in college football's most successful conference, especially with the new College Football Playoff on the horizon.
Currently, SEC teams play eight conference games, but that number could move to nine. Talk of SEC teams playing nine conference games isn't anything new, but with two more teams in the conference and strength of schedule becoming a very important factor in how the playoff committee chooses its four playoff teams, nine-game talk has increased.
SEC coaches fielded questions about increasing the number of conference games during last week's SEC coaches teleconference, and league commissioner Mike Slive addressed a nine-game conference schedule Monday.
"Obviously the playoff impacts how we think about scheduling," Slive said. "Strength of scheduling will be a significant component in the committee's analysis. As far as I am concerned, I am open-minded about how we should schedule, and I anticipate continued discussions about how we schedule in the future."
Nine games is a tricky subject when it comes to the SEC. Coaches have made the argument that the league is tough enough, and adding another conference game makes the road to Atlanta -- and the national championship -- that much harder. Also, SEC championship teams would have to play 10 conference games. That's a lot of wear and tear before heading into a four-team playoff.
Then, you have a schools like Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina who annually play nonconference rivals. Those certainly aren't gimmie games, so think about adding another conference game to the slate.
"We're not for nine conference games because of our instate rival Florida State," Florida coach Wil Muschamp said.
While the selfish part of me wants to see all SEC teams playing tougher nonconference games more consistently, I understand why coaches and athletic directors would be against that. Again, scheduling formulas have worked to this point.
Here's what Missouri's Gary Pinkel had to say about moving to nine conference games:
“Most coaches like eight games, and one of the reasons is because it’s such a tough league as it is. It would have a huge effect on your nonconference (schedule) going down to three games. There’s a lot of aspects to it. And I think TV will have maybe something to say about that also, in terms of what they would like.”
But there are arguments for moving to nine games. With a nine-game SEC schedule players would have the chance to play every SEC school during their careers. It would also help bolster teams' strength of schedule for the upcoming playoff. You'd certainly get a much more entertaining game than Alabama taking on a directional school or an FCS opponent.
Strength of schedule is certainly going to be an issue the SEC has to tackle, whether it has eight or nine conference games, but as long as the SEC stays as strong as it is, chances are its champion will continuously sit at the playoff table.
So why alter a working product?
Plus, the SEC still has to figure out its rotation issues with scheduling first. Does the conference stay with a permanent cross-division opponent, regardless of how many conference games teams play?
Like last year's SEC spring meetings, which begin at the end of May, coaches and administors will discuss all things under the scheduling sun, but another thing to consider when it comes to nine conference games is that teams would be giving up a home game every year in order to play another league game. That means a loss of revenue, folks.
There are pluses and minuses to nine conference games, and while the Big Ten is taking on the challenge, the SEC doesn't have to be so fast to copy its northern cousins.
The whole reason any of this playoff talk even started is because people outside of the game are passionate about seeing one in college football. To take away the chance for the four BEST teams to play makes no sense to Saban.
“There’s no question that we’re even doing the top four because fans and the people who are interested in college football are interested in seeing the best four teams play in a playoff,” Saban said Tuesday at the 2012 SEC spring meetings.
“The bigger these conferences get the better chance you have to have two very good teams in that.”
Saban didn’t go as far as to name names, but anyone paying attention to all of this playoff talk knows he’s talking about Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany, who has been extremely outspoken about having only conference champions represented in a four-team playoff and has taken a few shots at Alabama and its 2011 title along the way.
The addition of Missouri and Texas A&M means teams will have to play six divisional games instead of five, making things a little complicated.
Right now, it looks like the most likely format, which could be set as early as Friday, will be a 6-1-1 model. That gives teams six divisional games, one permanent crossover game and rotating crossover. The rotating crossover would no longer be a traditional two-year home and home series. It would simply be a one-year rotation. It’s the same model that will be used for the 2012 season.
LSU coach Les Miles said he’d like the structure of future SEC schedules to be “definable,” and wouldn’t mind if the league re-examined how it chose permanent crossovers.
"Legitimately tell me about how you're picking crossover games,” Miles said at the spring meetings Tuesday. “Is it the best team in the East, the best team in the West, top three and top three? OK, if you guys want to do that let's do that. It might change the matches, but if you want to say, 'Well, we really are going to seed the best teams verses the lesser teams,' well, OK, let's do that, but define the structure and let's stay with it.
The new deal, announced Friday, will have the champions of the Big 12 and SEC meet in a New Year's Day bowl game annually beginning with the 2014 season. So while it won’t have the tradition of the Rose Bowl, it’ll have the viewers and it’ll have the popularity.
We’re seeing more and more how power is truly the most important component in college football, and this is a great example. Soon, we’ll have the two best BCS conferences going at it in their own special bowl competing with the beloved Rose Bowl.
We’re joined on the SEC blog by Big 12 blogger David Ubben to get his thoughts on what this means for the Big 12. We’re gentlemen down here in SEC country, so we’ll let him go first:
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