Sep 8, 2012; College Station, TX, USA; SEC logo on the field before a game between the Texas A&M Aggies and Florida Gators at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Time for the SEC to Eliminate 'Cupcake' Games?

Everyone loves cupcakes! Their appearance at holidays, birthday parties or even a day at the office always makes for a pleasant surprise. They’re simple. They’re easy. And they require minimal effort for consumption. But devouring one doesn’t feel like an accomplishment. In fact, it’s more of a sad reality that ravaging it only took you just a few minutes. From the first moment it entered your hand, you knew it never stood a chance. Cupcakes belong at celebrations, in specialty stores and even on the Food Network channel.

They don’t belong in the SEC.

In reality, the “cupcake” description has nothing to do with a particular team or the players on the field. Every team has their ups and downs. Programs change from season to season, rising and falling amongst their conferences. Some have fit this description in the past, but have since made great strides to suggest a different status. Instead of using the term “cupcake” to describe individual programs that unfairly face the dominant SEC, I decided to focus on the teams outside of the five most prominent conferences in college football: the ACC, BIG 10, BIG 12, PAC 12 and SEC.

In 2013, the SEC went 38 – 4 against teams outside of the four previously mentioned power conferences. The 4 losses went to Arkansas, Florida and Kentucky, who combined for a record of 9 – 27 on the season and just 3 – 21 in the SEC. In fact, the Gators were the only team of the three with a victory in the conference. The Razorbacks lost to a 6 – 7 Rutgers team, while UK was defeated by Western Kentucky and Louisville. WKU finished the season at 8 – 4, and Louisville at 12 – 1. Georgia Southern, who handed Florida a loss, ended their year at 7 – 4.  The SEC outscored the combined underdogs by 1147 points (1762 to 615).

Ouch.

There’s no greater atmosphere than that of a college football Saturday, especially in the south. And even though it’s a great feat for smaller teams to play a big time program in such a fanatical environment, these games are causing more confusion than positivity. Yes, they provide smaller universities much needed financial assistance. They give unknown athletes the opportunity to experience thousands upon thousands of screaming fans, and can even bring some national recognition to the program through games that are televised.

But at what cost?

With every season comes the annual debate of which conference is the best. Standings are primarily based on two things: record and strength of schedule.  With questionable opposition taking up as much as 25 percent of that schedule, how can the standings be determined before the season even begins?  SEC teams primarily play eight games within the conference, six in their division and two on the other side. More often than not, they include at least one prominent opponent, leaving 3 spots open.

Three spots that could be filled by competitive opponents.

Coach Saban has voiced his opinion on the topic. Even though he considers himself in the minority, he is pushing for a nine-game SEC schedule, as well as more difficult opponents throughout the regular season.

“You talk about trying to create some kind of strength of schedule [component],” Saban said. “That’s difficult to do when we have six teams at the end of the season last year in the top 10 and other teams that are vying to get into the [BCS] championship game. Then to think the team that loses [the SEC] championship game wouldn’t have gotten in the final four if we had one. That’s not taking strength of schedule into consideration at all. It’s taking how many games you lose into consideration. But I think if we all played more good opponents, you could lose more games and still have a chance to get recognized as being a good team.”

So, how do we solve this dilemma of the “cupcake” football games in the SEC?

If teams agreed to take on a nine-game in-conference schedule, why not up the ante and take on teams from other major conferences? Every year, each SEC school could add opponents from the PAC 12, BIG 10, BIG 12 or ACC, making the “strength of schedule” argument obsolete. Would it add difficulty to the season? Yes. But if all conferences follow along, the soft and sweet would be a thing of the past. After all, if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best. And how do you beat the best if you don’t play them?

Let’s eliminate the “cupcake” games, and ready ourselves for a hearty schedule.

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