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Coaches talk scheduling, other issues
LSU head coach Les Miles reacts to a touchdown call for Texas A&M that was later overturned on replay in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 23, 2013. LSU won 34-10. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)
LSU coach Les Miles isn't happy with the Southeastern Conference's recent decision to stick with the same 8-game league schedule.
Auburn's Gus Malzahn believes it's the right move.
It's no surprise there are varying opinions among the SEC's 14 coaches about the league's 6-1-1 scheduling format, which requires six games against division opponents, one permanent non-division rivalry game and one rotating non-division game.
Miles said the format hurts LSU because its rivalry game is against traditional power Florida, which leads to a harder schedule. But coaches like Malzahn believe keeping non-division rivalry games — such as Auburn-Georgia — are more important than competitive balance.
Coaches discussed the SEC schedule and other issues during Wednesday's spring teleconference.
"We look forward to playing everyone on our schedule, but to say this is the fairest and right way to pick a champion, I think that's flawed," Miles said.
The veteran LSU coach has been the most outspoken opponent of the current format, which the league's coaches voted to keep on Sunday night.
Others agreed with Miles, including South Carolina's Steve Spurrier. Both Miles and Spurrier believe an 8-game system that includes six division opponents and two rotating non-division opponents is the best solution.
Alabama's Nick Saban is in favor of a 9-game league schedule, though he appeared to be one of the few who supported that move.
Florida's Will Muschamp didn't seem to mind the annual game between the Gators and LSU. With only eight conference games in a 14-team league, he said any schedule would be unfair to some schools.
"There's no perfect answer to please everyone," Muschamp said.
The SEC did make one change to its schedule policy on Sunday: All schools must schedule at least one non-conference game against a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12.
Most schools do that anyway. Only Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Vanderbilt don't play a school from one of those leagues this season.
Here are five other SEC issues as the conference heads into the summer months:
STARTING OVER AT QB: The Southeastern Conference had a wealth of experienced star quarterbacks last season, including Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, South Carolina's Connor Shaw, Alabama's A.J. McCarron and Georgia's Aaron Murray. They are all gone. But there are still a few productive holdovers, like Auburn's Nick Marshall and Ole Miss' Bo Wallace, but several schools have quarterback battles that will extend into fall camp. South Carolina's Steve Spurrier noted that inexperience doesn't mean the quarterback position will be suspect in the SEC, saying: "Nobody knew who Johnny Manziel was before he stepped on the field."
FLORIDA'S OFFENSIVE REBOOT: The Florida Gators suffered through a 4-8 season in 2013 that was marked by particularly bad play on offense. Coach Will Muschamp kept his job, but he made major changes to his offensive coaching staff, including hiring Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Roper inherits a veteran quarterback in Jeff Driskel and Muschamp believes Driskel can thrive in Roper's up-tempo, shotgun-style system.
AUBURN YEAR 2: Auburn's first year under coach Gus Malzahn couldn't have gone much better. The Tigers were arguably the most surprising team in the country, rising from the bottom of the SEC to the national championship game in January before losing to Florida State. Auburn returns quarterback Nick Marshall, who Malzahn says feels more comfortable in the offense.
DARKHORSE CANDIDATES: Ole Miss and Mississippi State are among the most veteran teams in the SEC Western Division this season. Both hope to finally crack the top of the division that's been dominated for several years by Alabama, LSU and Auburn. In the Eastern Division, new Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason hopes to turn the Commodores into a perennial contender, continuing what predecessor James Franklin started.
CHANGES IN TUSCALOOSA: Alabama's new offensive coordinator is former USC coach Lane Kiffin. The brash Kiffin is back in the SEC after an up-and-down 3 1/2 years leading the Trojans. He was fired midway through last season and has ended up with the Tide, where coach Nick Saban says his offensive philosophy is a good fit. "He's a great asset to our staff as far as his knowledge and experience," Saban said.