From the nanosecond the Big 10 made the announcement that it was including Nebraska, I knew the SEC would go to 16 teams. Not 14, but 16. Think: would the commissioner of a league that won (at the time) four straight BCS Championships just sit back and allow this? When Auburn won the SEC’s fifth straight, it became official: the SEC was going to go to 16 teams.
Now, these are just rumors, albeit strong ones. But let’s just say it’s true, and official.
What does it mean to the Gators?
Let’s go negatives first, and save the positives for last.
1) Recruiting in the state of Florida
This is a gigantic blow for the Gators’ in state recruiting. Often, a decision for an uncommitted 17 year old kid from the Sunshine State comes down to wanting to play in the ACC or SEC, and of course the bigger stage is in the SEC. And Urban Meyer took advantage of that, pounding the Seminoles 5 straight times and then hitting the recruits with “do you want to play on the big stage?” Combine that with the bludgeonings Tim Tebow handed Bobby Bowden and it was an easy call.
Now, though, Florida will HAVE to beat FSU to get recruits. The line “it was a bad year and now we’re starting over” might work this year and maybe next year but not for long. With the conference advantage now gone, the only way to really show recruits that Florida is better is to hammer Florida State with regularity. And that won’t be easy.
2) More of a year long grind/injury risk
You’ll never hear me saying what a tough out of conference schedule Florida has. Jeremy Foley is a wimp and will never schedule anybody not named Florida State (and Miami once) that’s any good. Now, though, the Gators will likely have to play 10 conference games, as opposed to the 8 plus Florida State. As we saw in 2008, any one conference game could turn into a loss. The addition of an extra game increases the risk of a loss, decreases the chance of an unbeaten national champion, and increases the injury risk.
3) End of the Florida-Auburn and Florida-Miami rivalries
Once upon a time, Florida vs. Auburn was one of the fiercest and most evenly matched rivalries in the nation. The Tigers hold a 42-38 lead and many of those games hurt more than just one loss. The Tigers had a knack of beating the Gators by a field goal, as recently as 2007. But after 2002, these teams stopped playing each other every year and just played twice every five years.
The Gators and the Hurricanes also had an annual (but meaner) rivalry that was destroyed when the Gators got weak with their schedule and replaced the U with Montana State (shameful, nothing less). Steve Spurrier wanted them back but it could not be done with the SEC expanding to 12 teams. The two teams met sporadically (twice in bowl games, twice in the Swamp, and once in the Orange Bowl, and are scheduled to meet again in 2013… but who knows?)
Now, with the new additions, instead of the teams playing more often, they will play even less often, since the division alignments likely will not pair the Gators and Auburn together. The teams might play once every eight years or so. It also means the definite end of Florida-Miami unless they both make it to a bowl game. It’s a shame, really as these used to be intense matchups and now they will be defunct.
But there are positives, too:
1) Out of state recruiting
The Gators already had a strong hold on Texas since Will Muschamp signed with Florida. But now they will get their hands on the St. Louis area, one of the hottest big cities in the Midwest along with Chicago. Kids in St. Louis will now have a lot more access to watch SEC games, which gives Muschamp and the Gators a bigger audience to impress. And of course South Carolina has the same problem with Clemson that Florida has with FSU joining the conference, which can work to everybody else’s advantage.
2) Florida-FSU rivalry will become more intense
Aside from in state bragging rights and recruiting, this rivalry means nothing. It doesn’t determine which team will play for the SEC Championship, it doesn’t determine bowl games, or anything like that. This is why I consider Florida-Georgia to be a bigger rivalry. Now, Florida-FSU will be even nastier. Watch out for plenty of the chippy behavior that has caused enough flags to cover a field during Florida-Georgia games.
3) More firepower, more BCS champions
These are four historically good, but not fantastic teams joining the conference. Winning a 16 team conference will have even more power with the pollsters, who cannot turn away a one loss team from the SEC even with 12 teams. That power grows a lot with each team in, and more conference games means more chances to impress the pollsters as well.