- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 3, 2014

This weekend’s SEC lineup doesn’t hold much national appeal, unless the nonconference scheduling backfires.

After opening with some made-for-TV games, the Southeastern Conference’s Week 2 lineup is more like made for practice with several games that shape up to be lopsided mismatches.

No. 9 Texas A&M; versus Lamar doesn’t hold quite the same appeal as the Aggies’ inaugural SEC Network game with South Carolina.

The list goes on: Auburn-San Jose State, LSU-Sam Houston State, Arkansas-Nicholls State, Alabama-Florida Atlantic, Mississippi State-UAB. The only league game is No. 15 Mississippi versus Vanderbilt.

To Nick Saban, anyone writing these games off as cakewalks is missing the point.

No. 2 Alabama’s coach bristled at a question about the message to his team when facing a nonconference opponent like Florida Atlantic, and then Southern Mississippi. Saban said it’s all about “who you are” and getting better whoever you’re playing.

“If you’re challenged by that, then why is it so important?” he said. “Why is the external factor of who you’re playing have anything to do with how you play? That means if we’re playing against Michael Jordan, we play our best game. If we’re playing against another old basketball player, then we play just like another old basketball player. Is that your thinking on this because it’s not mine.

“If it’s our players’ thinking, I can tell you right now I’m going to be pretty (ticked) about it.”

Then again, convincing 19- and 20-year-olds to really get up for a Florida Atlantic team coming off a 55-7 loss to Nebraska is a challenge even for a master motivator like Saban.

Four games involving SEC teams opened the week with point spreads of 29-plus points. Oddsmakers didn’t bother posting a line for the Texas A&M;, Arkansas and LSU games against FCS opponents.

The SEC’s efforts to beef up nonconference schedules is clearly a work in progress. All but four teams will play against one team from another power five league this season, something that will be mandatory starting in 2016.

They all play a lower-division opponent also.

The premier nonconference game this week goes from Wisconsin-LSU or Alabama-West Virginia to perhaps South Carolina versus East Carolina. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier put that matchup in a little perspective last month, riling some in Big Ten country in the process.

“Playing East Carolina is maybe a little bit better than playing one of those bottom-tier Big Ten teams,” Spurrier said.

The SEC is responsible for where conference games fall in the schedule while schools fill in the other slots, said Mark Womack, SEC executive associate commissioner. He said it’s probably no coincidence that the tough openers are followed with presumably lesser opponents.

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