As far back as SEC Football Media Days in the summer, one SEC East coach was worried about restoring his division’s standing in the overall conference race.
“Absolutely,” first-year Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “I think balance and parity is a key for any conference.”
The SEC hasn’t had a lot of balance lately. Western Division teams are 81-35 against Eastern Division teams from 2009-15, and the East hasn’t made any headway this year, going 0-2 in crossover games.
South Carolina (2-2 overall, 1-2 SEC) plays its second cross-divisional game of the season on Saturday against No. 9 Texas A&M (4-0, 2-0). Not that Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp is thinking much about the conference’s power imbalance now that he’s in the midst of the season.
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“I think there’s good teams across our league,” Muschamp said. “Certainly I think maybe on the top end of the Western Division has been a little stronger maybe. And obviously Alabama’s run has been outstanding. I think as much as anything that outweighs a lot of things.”
The Western Division winner has won seven consecutive and eight of the past nine SEC championship games, and most of the games haven’t been close, with the West outscoring the East on average 42-20. The longest winning streak the East managed in the title game was six wins from 1993-98, all those coming from Florida and Tennessee.
“We are just focused on game to game,” South Carolina linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “At the end of the day, just wins, that’s what we want. It’s no different. We have to go in there with the approach that we have to win these games to be where we want to be at the end of the year.”
In the two East vs. West games this year, the Eastern teams have been outscored 72-28 (Mississippi State 27, South Carolina 14 and Ole Miss 45, Georgia 14), so maybe it’s a good thing the Gamecocks are trying to make this week’s matchup just another game.
“It’s SEC versus SEC in our eyes,” wide receiver Terry Googer said. “Every SEC team is good no matter West or East. Anyone can be beaten any day of the week in the SEC.”
Things don’t figure to get better for the SEC East anytime soon. There are three interdivisional games this week – Texas A&M at South Carolina, Kentucky at Alabama and Missouri at LSU – and the Western Division teams are favored by an average of 22 points.
“We focus mostly on the East,” South Carolina linebacker Jonathan Walton said. “We prepare to win the East, but we prepare to win every game. We don’t think about (East versus West). We worry about us. We are going to prepare to come out and beat these guys.”
Somebody in the East needs to start beating somebody in the West sooner or later. The West Division’s dominance is one reason the East has four new coaches, three who are in either their first or second seasons. It’s also the reason that three of those coaches are former assistants of Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“I think if you ask the commissioner, he would like to have that balance,” Smart said. “That’s why they divided the conference the way they did. It certainly hasn’t been that way. It’s our job on the East to do something about that. I think that parity is good for it. But it has not been that way, and the onus is on the Eastern teams to do that.”
Who: Texas A&M (4-0) at South Carolina (2-2)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Line: Texas A&M by 18