USC-LSU football schedule drama magnifies Trojans’ Big Ten problem

By now, you have likely seen the Saturday Down South report on USC football trying to get out of its 2024 season opener against the LSU Tigers. Everyone has an opinion on how scared Lincoln Riley is — or isn’t — and on how confident the Trojans are about their football program in the post-Caleb Williams era. All those opinions aside, there’s an important structural issue in college football which remains unaddressed. It’s an issue connected to this story and to USC’s discomfort with playing the LSU game this season. The Big Ten Conference is an undeniably central component of this story.

People will knock USC for wanting to get out of this game, and that’s fine. However, we can look at the bigger picture and notice something undeniable about the SEC: It is actually a soft conference. The SEC plays The Citadel and Chattanooga and all those other cupcake games — once in the early part of the saeson, then another time in mid-November before Rivalry Week. SEC teams schedule at least two easy nonconference games every season. Key point: They rarely if ever get punished for doing so. It certainly hasn’t hurt them in College Football Playoff selections at the ends of seasons.

SEC schools are able to schedule two cupcake games nearly every year because they play only eight conference games. The Big Ten, meanwhile, plays nine conference games, just as the Pac-12 did. As long as the SEC and Big Ten are not playing the same amount of conference (and therefore, nonconference) games, there’s an imbalance in scheduling and an imbalance in the odds of making the playoff. USC is recognizing this by trying to get out of the LSU game.

Call USC cowards if you must, but there’s a legitimate item of grievance here, and it ought to be addressed. Of course, since college football isn’t really governed by any central authority, we’re unlikely to see the sport arrive at a point where everyone is playing under the same rules and conditions. We know it doesn’t work that way in the SEC.

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Story originally appeared on Trojans Wire