Apparently, it's Scheduling Week here at ATVS, so let's just add one more log to that fire. One of the big reasons this is such a hot topic is because LSU has gotten the short end of the stick for the past two seasons, and now LSU is preparing to get the stick in the eye in 2013.
LSU is no stranger to difficult schedules, but this upcoming season might be the most difficult schedule LSU has ever faced. And remember, the Tigers played three top 5 teams in 2011. The 2011 schedule may have been the single most difficult schedule in the BCS era. This one might end up being on the same level.
According to Brian Fremeau of Football Outsiders, LSU has played one of the five most difficult schedules every year for the past five years. The last time LSU did not have a top 5 Strength of Schedule, LSU won the national title. Check out the SOS by year in the Miles Era:
LSU's schedules have been so difficult, there are only eleven teams who have played a schedule ranked higher than LSU in the past five seasons combined. It's pretty simple, it's harder to win games when you play tougher opponents, and LSU has consistently played more tough games than anyone else in the country.
Which is why it is so galling for Alabama to get credit for playing LSU's schedule. It's not like Bama has had cakewalks in the past five years (31st, 16th, 10th, 6th, 7th), but it's still not on the level of LSU. Alabama's most difficult schedule in the past five years was not ranked as highly as LSU's easiest schedule.
This year's slate is sure to rank up there again. LSU will likely have five teams on its schedule in the preseason top 15 (Alabama, Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, and TCU). A lot is being made of Georgia's brutal slate, but not even the Dawgs will face that many top tier teams (Clemson, South Carolina, LSU, and Florida). That's not a knock on Georgia, it's just a realization on how insanely difficult LSU's schedule is this year.
Making matters worse is not just the number of terrific teams on the schedule, but a brutal five week stretch in which LSU plays an SEC team every week:
9/21: v. Auburn
10/5: @Mississippi St.
10/12: v. Florida
10/19: @Ole Miss
To compare it again to Georgia, who likely has the second most difficult SEC schedule among the contenders:
9/28: v. LSU
10/12: v. Mizzou
11/2: v. Florida
Both teams face pretty rugged five game stretches in the middle of the year. Georgia gets a bye game in the middle of it, but not until they play four straight games, starting with LSU and ending with a suddenly ascendant Vanderbilt. LSU's tough stretch begins with the annual slugfest that is the Auburn game and ends with the annual Ole Miss trap game. Getting the two Eastern powers on the schedule in between is not comforting. Heck, the Mississippi State game is the closest thing to a breather, and that's a pretty good team.
It's not just the good teams you play, it's the cumulative effect of playing them week after week. And both schools can rightfully argue that their two toughest games aren't even in this five game stretch: LSU still has A&M and Bama on it slate and Georgia starts with Clemson and USC.
These are schedules that even the very best teams in football would struggle with. Both teams need to replace a lot of starters on defense, but other than that, the biggest single obstacle to a divisional title for both teams is the schedule.
For Georgia, it's just their turn to be the East team that gets the short end of the stick. Florida had it the year before, and South Carolina before them. They all take turns it seems having the more difficult road.
For LSU, this is just more of the same. Another year, another schedule ranking among the most difficult in the country, and more difficult than our divisional rivals. Hey, but rest assured, one day it will all even out. That's what we keep hearing.
After half a decade, I'm beginning to doubt whether that may be true.