I was struck by the number of cupcake matchups in the SEC this Saturday, and it brought up an interesting strategic question. First the background.
Growing up a UW fan I got used to their typical scheduling. This included 4 non-conference games (although it was 3 until recently) followed by 8 big ten games. This gave UW a couple lesser opponents to test themselves out, gain confidence, and figure out what they needed to work on before they had to play a conference game. There was usually one non-conference opponent who gave UW a test, but the games were otherwise for practice and more importantly to raise revenue.
The SEC takes a different approach. Their teams all play a conference game in the first 3 games of the year. This creates some big games very early in the year, but also leaves a hole at the end of the year. The SEC schools this week play powerhouses like West Carolina, Wofford, Jacksonville St, Alabama A&M, Georgia South, Samford, and Sam Houston St.
This means SEC teams miss out on an opportunity to grow and build early in the season, but they gain what amounts to an extra bye week late in the year. If Alabama has any nicked up players they can give them an extra week to heal, and they can pull all their starters at halftime unless a 1-9 West Carolina team brings in about 30 ringers.
I always thought that a team like UW that is built on player development needed those early games since so many guys were new and needed that experience on a big stage. Given the physical punishment players take I'm not so sure that the SEC way isn't better. Florida may disagree after they almost got upset by LA-Lafayette last week. The danger of the let down game is probably greater late in the season than early.
With the expansion of the regular season to 12 games, plus a potential championship game, plus a bowl game, I think the late season bye week may be a big advantage.