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October 23, 2012

Nothing stands out about 2013 schedule

When the Southeastern Conference finalized the 2013 league football schedule last week, freeing most teams to finalize their slate for the next year, the reaction among University of Alabama fans was a collective shrug. Or worse.

UA has no control over what decisions come out of Birmingham in regards to scheduling, regardless of what conspiracy theorists elsewhere might choose to believe. The Crimson Tide has Tennessee as its permanent opponent, but that has been the case since the league split into divisions in 1992. In some of those years, Tennessee has been an SEC (or even BCS) champion. UA got four years of facing Peyton Manning and Jamal Lewis and the rest and cannot help that the pendulum has swung dramatically in the other direction.

But the luck of the draw did not yield Florida or Georgia as Alabama's other East game. Instead, it was Kentucky. With 2012 just past the halfway point, it is far too early to speculate about who will be good in 2013 and who will not. At best, though, the Wildcats will be in a rebuilding mode. At worst, depending on what happens on various campuses in the next few weeks, fully half of Alabama's SEC schedule will consist of teams with new head coaches.

Most Alabama fans, frankly, would welcome a challenge. That does not mean the Crimson Tide won't get one, or several, just as it may very well get one from unbeaten Mississippi State this Saturday. It's just that nothing leaps off the 2013 schedule at this point, especially nothing new. And with expectations in Tuscaloosa having long since been off any reasonable chart, Tuesday's announcement that the next season's BCS championship in Pasadena, Calif., will be played on Jan. 6, 2014, rather than Jan. 7, probably prompted a lot of people in Tuscaloosa to revise an entry that was already in their iPhones.

The nonconference schedule may not be entirely different. A neutral field meeting with Virginia Tech opens the season, but the Hokies are underperforming relative to expectations this season and might be - you guessed it - rebuilding next year. There have been some whispers of excitement because there is one schedule date in early September that remains to be filled. Barring an unforeseen intervention from a network with lots and lots of money, that is not going to be some marquee contest either. It will be a one-time home game, almost certainly. There is a remote chance of a home-and-home with Alabama returning a trip somewhere in 2018, but no viable candidates are leaping at the chance. If you have to ask why, then you are not watching on Saturdays.

So, chances are that 2013 will not be a vintage scheduling year for Alabama. Beyond that is a mystery. The SEC is hitting the reset button in 2014. There has been a lot of speculation as to the reason, with most of it centering on the possibility of a nine-game schedule, something that may be on the table in the current television negotiations in which the SEC is involved. If the nine-game schedule is adopted, everyone can stop worrying about attractive matchups and "strength of schedule" because those things will take care of themselves. Until then, however, Alabama's best chance for 2013 is to create the big games in December by winning all the ones before then.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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