- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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The good news is a third automatic qualifying conference is going to a nine-game conference schedule, joining the Pac-12 and Big 12. The bad news is the Big Ten won't adopt the change until 2017.
Still, one of the controversial aspects of the Pac-10 and now the Pac-12 -- a nine-game conference schedule hurts a conference in the computer and human polls and makes for fewer bowl-eligible teams -- is becoming more the standard, not the exception.
The big question: Will the SEC follow suit?
Answer: Don't hold your breath. Not if the conference isn't forced to by the other automatic qualifying conferences making up the BCS, which should do exactly that in order to standardize scheduling. Otherwise, the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 are competing on a more challenging playing field than the SEC and ACC, which also plays eight conference games.
Why would the SEC resist a nine-game schedule? Lots of reasons.
For one, it doesn't need a ninth conference game, like Pac-12 athletic directors would have you believe they do. SEC fans are so dedicated to their teams, they will sell out their home stadiums even to see a directional school. So why would SEC teams potentially give up an easy home win for a potential road loss?
SEC athletic directors are well aware that when their teams go West, they more often than not get stomped -- just ask Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi State (tip of the cap to LSU for traveling and winning, by the way).
Some SEC folks will get all magnanimous and tell you that playing East Patsy State helps the Fighting Petunias financially. So its about noblesse oblige.
What it's really about is making life easier for the SEC. The top teams get an extra easy win, and the extra patsy means the bottom SEC teams can schedule four wins annually. That means the SEC bottom-feeders can schedule all the way to two games short of bowl eligibility.
Then, when eight or so teams are bowl eligible, pundits will be wowed by the depth of the SEC.
Further, the top-line SEC teams strength of schedule will be boosted by beating conference teams that schedule their way to a winning record or at least four wins.
Finally, eight conference games helps get teams preseason rankings, which is invaluable to the perception of a conference as well as the fortunes of its individual teams.
For example, take Mississippi State. Here's what they did last year. The Bulldogs have improved under Dan Mullen, but they would have been a middle-of-the-road team in the Pac-10 in 2010. They didn't beat any good teams, but they ended up 9-4 due to scheduling and finished ranked a wildly-inflated 15th.
And that earned them a No. 20 preseason ranking in the coaches poll, which the Bulldogs figure to maintain because they've scheduled four easy nonconference victories again: Memphis, Louisiana Tech, UAB and Tennessee-Martin.
No offense Mississippi State, but we'd love to see you schedule a game out West. You might enjoy a trip away from Starkville.
While we tweak in jest -- we're all friends here, right? -- this is a substantive issue.
Starting in 2017, you will have three conferences playing by one set of rules. And two others playing by another. That isn't good for college football.