SEC Media Days: Gus Malzahn changes tune, aligns with Nick Saban on scheduling philosophy

NCAA college football head coach Gus Malzahn of Auburn speaks during the Southeastern Conference Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/John Amis)

Previously at SEC Media Days: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3

Gus Malzahn and Nick Saban are on the same page when it comes to one college football issue.

While the Alabama and Auburn coaches are rivals on the field, they both have similar philosophies when it comes to scheduling. Well, at least they do now.

Thursday at SEC Media Days, Malzahn told reporters that he has changed his preference on the number of conference games SEC teams should play. The league, much to the chagrin of most of the other Power Five conferences, only plays eight SEC games in a 6-1-1 format that features six games against divisional opponents, one permanent opponent against a team from the other division, and one rotating opponent from the opposite division.

Malzahn, like Saban, thinks the number of conference games should increase to nine.

“I’ve changed my tune,” Malzahn said per USA Today. “I think Nick has been the only one for it. But nine, I’m to that point now. Nine I think is best for us moving forward to make the schedules more equal across the conference.”

Malzahn said he thinks the nine-game format is “what’s fair.”

“I’ve kind of done a 180, just recently,” he said, “(after) looking at our conference and everything that goes with it: East, West, two new teams added to the league. My big thing is for the equity within the conference, the strength of schedule and trying to be fair.”

Strength of schedule varies more in the SEC than other Power Five conferences because of the way team’s cross-division matchups are assigned. Alabama, for example, plays Tennessee on a yearly basis. The Vols have had some good teams, but they have not provided much resistance for the Tide. In Auburn’s case, annual matchups against Georgia are much more competitive.

Whether that is the motivation behind Malzahn’s about face, he would not say.

From USA Today:

Malzahn won’t say so, but his concern is likely tied to the Iron Bowl rivalry and what he sees as an imbalance in the scheduling related to permanent rivals. Auburn’s permanent SEC East rival is Georgia, while Alabama’s is a Tennessee program that has struggled for more than a decade. Malzahn has also harped recently on the scheduling quirk that has Auburn playing both Georgia and Alabama on the road or at home each November.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was asked about scheduling this week and made it clear that the majority of the conference prefers the eight-game model. And why would the SEC change, anyway? The current arrangement has resulted in the form of College Football Playoff appearances.

“The facts candidly speak for themselves,” commissioner Greg Sankey said Monday. “Stated succinctly, what we do works at both the national championship level and at a level that provides our teams meaningful access to post-season Bowl opportunities. … I do not presently anticipate any major change in our approach, but I do anticipate healthy and continued dialogue both now and in the future among our leadership.”

Derek Mason warns you not to overlook Vanderbilt

Derek Mason issued a stern warning for those who may look at a team’s schedule and quickly chalk up the Vanderbilt game as a win.

“For you media out there, and there’s been media out there that spoke to the idea that our game is one to be overlooked, watch out. I’m telling you right now, this team is going to show up,” Mason said. “We’re going to play well. We are going come out the blocks and play the way we need to, and we’re going to finish this the way we should, the Vanderbilt way.”

Last fall, the Commodores looked well on their way to the best season of Mason’s tenure. The team got off to a 3-0 start with an impressive win over a ranked Kansas State team. Their confidence was high entering the SEC opener against Alabama, but things didn’t go well. The eventual national champions crushed Vandy 59-0 in Nashville. That started a five-game losing slide.

Mason’s team rebounded with a few solid wins late in the year over Western Kentucky and rival Tennessee, but it was not enough to get back to a bowl game.

Mason said the team’s depth is “as good as it’s ever been,” and thinks a rebound is on the horizon.

“This team is now experienced. It was galvanized by that experience a year ago. The fast start, the struggle in the middle and then the finish, I think that really propelled this group because they haven’t forgotten any of that,” Mason said.

“For us, the depth is there. The athleticism is there. The leadership is there. I believe it’s our time. We got to close the gap.”

Will Muschamp has high praise for QBs of the SEC East

Georgia’s win over Auburn in the SEC title game meant that the conference’s champion came from the SEC East for the first time in 10 years.

Beyond just the Bulldogs at the top, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp thinks the overall quality of the division has improved, especially in the time that he has been with the Gamecocks.

“I would say the competitive edge in the East is very good. You look at some teams, and Mark Stoops has done an outstanding job at Kentucky. Derek Mason went to a bowl (in 2016) at Vanderbilt. He’s got most of his squad back, including Kyle Shurmur. There’s a lot of competition,” Muschamp said.

A reason for the improved play in the East is the division’s solid quarterback play, Muschamp said.

“I go back and look at the quarterbacks that are back. You got (Missouri’s) Drew Lock, you got Jake Bentley at South Carolina, you got Jake Fromm at Georgia. There’s a lot of competition. Feleipe Franks and Dan (Mullen) will do a fantastic job at Florida. Top to bottom on our side, there’s a lot of competitive teams on our side,” Muschamp said.

Bentley is now entering his third season as Muschamp’s primary starter. He was thrust into action two years ago as a true freshman who skipped his senior year of high school to enroll early. He has impressed ever since.

“What he did his first year up was amazing. We had an open week, I was at my home that night, and I actually called (athletic director) Ray Tanner and I said: ‘I’m thinking about playing this guy. Is that wrong?’ The worst thing you can do is put a young quarterback in a situation where he does not have success. And he did a fabulous job and really helped turn around our season,” Muschamp said.

“I’m glad he’s our quarterback. I can tell you that right now. And I think we’re doing some things that will take advantage of his skill set that he’ll be a very productive player going into his third season as starter at South Carolina.”

NCAA college football head coach Will Muschamp of South Carolina speaks during the Southeastern Conference Media Days at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, Thursday, July 19, 2018. (AP Photo/John Amis)

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