Why Does the SEC Play FCS Teams?

    For a long time now, the conference has been much maligned for perceived "cupcake scheduling," so why does the SEC play FCS teams?

    While the Southeastern Conference plays under the motto of “It Just Means More” and has provided four of the last five college football national champions, the conference has long been much maligned for perceived “cupcake scheduling.”

    So, why does the SEC play FCS teams?

    Why Does the SEC Play FCS Teams?

    With only an eight-game conference schedule, SEC teams have to find four opponents to make up the 12-game college football schedule. Under current SEC regulations, one of those four non-conference games has to be against a Power Five program — currently the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, and the Pac-12.

    It remains to be seen what happens with the latter conference in the wake of recent college football realignment leaving it with just two remaining members — Oregon State and Washington.

    Once they’ve scheduled that Power Five opponent, that leaves three spots left to fill to complete the schedule. Historically, SEC coaches have leaned on the excuse that it’s too difficult to find enough teams from the now-133 FBS programs to fill those three spots on their schedule and instead fill the gap with an FCS team.

    That excuse brings all the SEC cynics out of their houses, pitchforks in hand, ready to burn the conference at the stake. Why? Well, for many, the SEC prefers to schedule FCS teams to boost the chances for bowl eligibility. One “guaranteed” win over an FCS opponent counts towards the six victories required for postseason eligibility.

    When every single team in the conference has a one-game leg-up, it’s easier to get more teams into the postseason. It isn’t coincidental that the SEC has more bowl tie-ins than any other conference.

    Want another cynical explanation behind the scheduling of FCS opponents? How about timing them for competitive advantage? For many years, some SEC teams have been accused of scheduling an FCS opponent in the week before their biggest game of the year, or ahead of their rivalry matchup. Oftentimes, their rivalry game is the biggest game of the year, naturally.

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    Not following? Well, let’s use the 2023 season as an example. Nick Saban — who has actually been vocal about removing FCS games from SEC schedules in previous years — will lead his Alabama Crimson Tide team out in Week 12 against Chattanooga just one week before the Iron Bowl rivalry game with Auburn.

    The Tigers face New Mexico State, one of the CUSA Championship Game teams — a substantially tougher game. Similarly, Texas A&M warms up for their rivalry game with LSU by facing Abilene Christian in Week 12 while those Tigers take on Georgia State — a bowl-eligible Sun Belt team.

    For those with a more charitable disposition, there are non-performance-related positives from these SEC vs. FCS clashes. Scheduling road games at programs from one of the biggest conferences in college football gives FCS programs a significant financial boost.

    For example, Ole Miss paid Mercer $500,000 to travel to Oxford in the 2023 season. That might not seem a lot in the financially affluent era of Name, Image, and Likeness, but these road games to big ticket programs are a financial lifeline for some FCS programs.

    That isn’t even the most lucrative contract, but it gives an idea of why these games are so important.

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    It’s not like the SEC is the only conference regularly scheduling FCS opponents. In 2023, only 16 of the 133 FBS teams didn’t face an opponent from outside of the Football Bowl Subdivision. Notre Dame succumbed this season, facing Tennessee State, leaving USC as the only current FBS team that has never faced an FCS foe.

    2023 SEC vs. FCS Teams Schedule and Results

    • Week 1 – Missouri 35, South Dakota 10
    • Week 1 – Georgia 48, UT Martin 7
    • Week 1 – Ole Miss 73, Mercer 7
    • Week 1 – Arkansas 56, Western Carolina 13
    • Week 1 – Mississippi State 48, SE Louisiana 7
    • Week 1 – Vanderbilt 47, Alabama A&M 13
    • Week 2 – Tennessee 30, Austin Peay 13
    • Week 2 – Kentucky 28, Eastern Kentucky 17
    • Week 2 – LSU 72, Grambling 10
    • Week 2 – Florida 49, McNeese 7
    • Week 2 – South Carolina 47, Furman 21
    • Week 3 – Auburn 45, Samford 13
    • Week 12 – Alabama vs. Chattanooga
    • Week 12 – Texas A&M vs. Abilene Christian

    2024 SEC vs. FCS Teams Schedule

    SEC teams are highlighted in bold. SEC newcomer Texas doesn’t face an FCS team in 2024. At the time of writing, Auburn was yet to announce their final out-of-conference opponent.

    • Aug. 31, 2024 – Ole Miss vs. Furman
    • Aug. 31, 2024 – Missouri vs. Murray State
    • Aug. 31, 2024 – Mississippi State vs. Eastern Kentucky
    • Aug. 31, 2024 – Arkansas vs. Arkansas Pine-Bluff
    • Aug. 31, 2024 – Tennessee vs. Chattanooga
    • Sept. 7, 2024 – Florida vs. Samford
    • Sept. 7, 2024 – Georgia vs. Tennessee Tech
    • Sept. 7, 2024 – LSU vs. Nicholls
    • Sept. 7, 2024 – Texas A&M vs. McNeese
    • Sept. 7, 2024 – Vanderbilt vs. Norfolk State
    • Nov. 16, 2024 – Alabama vs. Mercer
    • Nov. 16, 2024 – Kentucky vs. Murray State
    • Nov. 23, 2024 – South Carolina vs. Wofford
    • Date TBA – Oklahoma vs. Maine

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