COLLEGE STATION, Texas (AP) — While the top teams in most of the power five conferences are preparing for big games this week, the Southeastern Conference’s elite and most of the rest of its teams are getting a bit of a breather.
No. 3 Alabama meets Charleston Southern, eighth-ranked Florida hosts Florida Atlantic, South Carolina plays the Citadel, Auburn faces Idaho, Georgia meets Georgia Southern and Kentucky hosts Charlotte. Texas A&M was part of this trend, too, beating Western Carolina 41-17 last week.
A few years ago, Alabama coach Nick Saban was the only coach to push for a rule against SEC teams playing teams from the Championship Subdivision. This week, his team will face one in Charleston Southern, a Baptist school of about 3,300 in South Carolina.
So does he still feel the same way?
“I just say that because I think, No. 1, it’s better for the fans,” he said. “There would be more games of interest and people would be more excited about coming to the games. The competition would be actually better for the players. And I think it would give you a little better idea of who the best teams were.”
He knows not playing such games might lead to worse records, but he’s OK with that.
“You probably lose more games that way but then maybe you could lose two games and still get in the playoffs,” he said. “I just think it would really be better for the fans and the players.”
Georgia’s opponent, Georgia Southern, won a record six FCS championships before moving to Bowl Subdivision play in the Sun Belt Conference in 2014. While his team isn’t playing an FCS school this week, Georgia coach Mark Richt is a big proponent of such games.
Richt thinks it would be “awful” to ban playing games against FCS teams.
“I really think that for the health of college football at all levels across America, if we stop doing that we’re going to hurt college football and we’re going to hurt a lot of people and hurt the game of football in general not just college football,” Richt said. “I feel real strong about that one.”
There’s another consideration that comes up when talking about the pros and cons of such matchups and it’s the money that the smaller schools get from lining up against the big guys. Western Carolina coach Mark Speir opened his postgame comments after his team’s loss to A&M on Saturday night by thanking the Aggies for the chance to play the game, which netted his school tens of thousands of dollars. He said the money helped pay for 33 students to attend WCU this season.
Richt pointed out that factor and believes that schools should be able to play one game against an FCS school each year without penalty.
“When it comes to strength of schedule, power five conferences should be able to use their top 11 in my opinion and allow everybody to play an FCS school if they choose to without worrying about how it might affect the strength of schedule for the College Football Playoff,” Richt said. “I say that because FCS schools need to play these games. They need the payday for that to continue their programs as they exist today. Just imagine the young men all across America that wouldn’t be able to play football and have a scholarship and get it paid for if it weren’t for all these schools.”
Florida faces a tougher task Saturday with Conference USA team Florida Atlantic. The 9-1 Gators don’t have to be reminded of the implications a loss this late in the season could have.
“We know what we’ve got to do to reach our goals,” cornerback Jalen Tabor said. “We’ve got our heads on straight. We know if we mess around with this game, and then Florida State … really doesn’t matter. We’re not going to reach our goal anyway. So we’ve got to take care of this team first.”