MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — This week Southeastern Conference teams are taking a break from those stressful fall Saturdays, a sort of mini-vacation for a few hundred grand.
Everyone except No. 6 South Carolina, No. 11 Georgia or No. 12 Florida.
But the rest of the SEC is either taking the day off (No. 1 Alabama), facing someone from a middling conference where a win is likely but not a sure thing or playing a Football Championship Subdivision team.
Vanderbilt coach James Franklin offers no apologies for games like Saturday’s visit from FCS Austin Peay, a seemingly sure win costing a mere $300,000. He stacked the deck somewhat after doing the math when he took the job and figuring out that the Commodores had a losing record over a 10-year period in nonconference games, making bowl berths that much harder to come by.
“That should never happen when you play in the SEC,” Franklin, who has led Vandy to two straight bowls, said. “So we’ve got to be creative and we have to understand all those things and have a schedule that makes sense for Vanderbilt — nobody else, for Vanderbilt.”
Thus, nonconference games versus Austin Peay, UMass, UAB and Wake Forest. Surely there’s at least two or three wins in there, and maybe even a watchable game or two.
Tennessee paid $450,000 for the privilege of a 45-0 opening win over Austin Peay, which had never faced an SEC team. The Governors are opening a new stadium next season so these six-figure campaign contributions will come in handy.
The only SEC matchup Saturday is a doozie: the Bulldogs vs, the Gamecocks in a pivotal Eastern Division matchup. The Gators, meanwhile, are heading south to play Miami.
The rest of the games will almost certainly include a few blowouts.
Five SEC teams are favored by at least 13 points and LSU is a 34.5-point favorite to beat UAB out of Conference USA. No odds are posted on the five games against FCS opponents.
Alabama coach Nick Saban and athletic director Bill Battle have said they favor SEC teams no longer playing FCS opponents.
Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delaney is encouraging members to keep FCS schools from their schedules.
No. 7 Texas A&M is tuning up for the showdown with the Crimson Tide against a very good FCS team, at least. Sam Houston State has been the national runner-up each of the past two seasons.
“If you don’t come out, this team will come out and beat you,” Aggies running back Ben Malena said. “We know that we have to prepare this week and we have to be ready for them. They have some great players, some former Division I players. They have some great talent. You can’t overlook schools. We have to prepare for them like they’re a conference opponent.”
Well, probably not.
But as Sam Houston’s Web site reports several fellow FCS contenders did beat some of the big boys last weekend. North Dakota State topped Kansas State 24-21, Eastern Washington stunned then-No. 25 Oregon State 49-46. McNeese State routed South Florida 53-21 and Cal Poly handled San Diego (38-16).
Eight FCS teams beat FBS opponents on opening weekend, all told.
That doesn’t mean Alcorn State of the Southwestern Athletic Conference has a realistic shot of beating Mississippi State, which is paying $350,000 for the game, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
Saying that publicly, of course, is against the coach’s code — and Southern manners. Plus, Alcorn State walloped some guy named Edward Waters last week.
“Obviously it will be a tough opponent,” Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said.
Arkansas also seems safe against the Southern Conference’s Samford, though the Bulldogs did beat Mississippi — back in 1934. Neither Arkansas nor Samford would release the amount of the payout.
Ole Miss faces Southeast Missouri State, an Ohio Valley Conference member that has been outscored 147-10 in four previous games against SEC teams. The payout is $375,000 for that one.
“There’s a lot of D-I-AA schools that beat D-I schools so we will have to really prepare,” Rebels coach Hugh Freeze said. “Southeast Missouri really eats the clock on offense and it’s never fun preparing for an option style team, it’s not something you look at every week.”
Ole Miss did lose to an OVC team three years ago when Jacksonville State won 49-48 in overtime, and the Rebels allowed a total of 51 points to the last two FCS opponents, Central Arkansas and Southern Illinois.
At Vandy, center Joe Townsend said getting motivated for an FCS opponent is no problem.
“It’s the next game on our schedule so we take it the same as we do every week,” Townsend said. “That’s just focusing on us and being the best that we can be.”
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