Jadeveon Clowney famously knocked a Michigan football helmet from Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium halfway to Key Largo. But one of the greatest players in Southeastern Conference history probably will complete his three-year stint at South Carolina without facing the SEC’s top program.
“Clowney vs. Alabama” sounds like a swell film script. Sadly, it’s pre-production fiction and not a documentary — unless the Gamecocks and Crimson Tide advance to the SEC championship game in December.
Clemson is an ACC championship contender in 2013. But the Tigers are not scheduled to play the teams many analysts consider the three best in the ACC Coastal Division — Virginia Tech, Miami and North Carolina. Expansion and additions have created a college football world in which conference champions prove it with lucky schedule draws as much as gritty field work.
Alabama the last two seasons, for instance.
Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide won the 2011 and 2012 national championships, but defeated a team that finished ranked in the final Associated Press top 20 just once in each of those years (Arkansas, LSU).
Clowney and Alabama’s Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback AJ McCarron probably won’t even cross paths next week in Hoover, Ala., at SEC Media Days. In fact, it’s less of a stretch to consider the SEC East and SEC West separate conferences than to present the league as a united front, schedule-wise.
More ACC than SEC West
South Carolina in 2013 and 2015 will play as many regular season games against ACC teams (Clemson and North Carolina) as SEC West teams.
Clemson isn’t an honorary member of the SEC (yet) but at this very moment is two-thirds through a stretch of three straight games against SEC opponents (South Carolina, LSU and Georgia).
Not that there’s anything wrong with attractive non-conference games; bring on the Oregon Ducks and Ohio State Buckeyes. But all the “toughest” conference talk is tempered when teams don’t face tough teams in their own leagues.
ACC commissioner John Swofford correctly points out that adding Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh with an everything-but-football commitment from Notre Dame gives the ACC the best basketball conference in history.
“And our potential from a football standpoint is truly unlimited,” Swofford said earlier this month.
True. But it would be a lot more exciting for fans and TV execs if the best teams played each other more often.
There is only so much major conference schedule-makers can do without a crystal football to know which matchups will be most intriguing when they align foes and formats years in advance.
USC vs. Bama spring fling
But there are some solutions, though they are not conventionally ideal and not as seasonal as autumn leaves. Tweaks that fans of competitive entertainment might appreciate:
The nine-game conference schedule. A 6-2-1 SEC format is one non-division game better than 6-1-1 (six division games, one permanent non-division partner, one other non-division game per year). Problem is, Saban is the only SEC coach in favor.
“I’m absolutely in the minority, no question about it,” Saban said. “But everybody has their reasons.”
Spring football fever. My decades old argument: Spring football games go from boring to interesting if intrasquad scrimmages are replaced with one team vs. another. The spring games don’t have to be against foes from the same conference but, in this 2013 case, Gamecocks-Tide would have been delightful. Clemson-Miami, too.
Summer jamborees. Another overdue idea. High school kids take part, why not college teams? Invite eight teams to one neutral site for four one-quarter mini-games. Have fun, get great ratings, make money.
Thankfully, the 2013 SEC and ACC schedules do allow the best teams to take matters into their own hands.
South Carolina and Clemson can simply advance to their respective championship games, ensuring one more shot at talented foes they didn’t get to play in a flawed regular season.
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