LITTLE ROCK — CBS figures to open 2013 with a blockbuster SEC game and follow up with a half-dozen other anticipated contests — an upgrade in scheduling after two straight years of declining viewership of SEC regular-season games.
In 2012, only five of the network’s 14 games matched two of the top six teams in the SEC.
Nothing is official yet, but quarterback A.J. McCarron’s pursuit of an unprecedented third national championship vs. Johnny Manziel, who secured the Heisman Trophy on a November night in Tuscaloosa, is a lock on Sept. 14.
Described as a one-year bridge, the 2013 schedule includes six other games that are almost sure things on CBS, which gets first choice for games over ESPN and the SEC Network. That group includes LSU-Georgia on Sept. 28, Florida-LSU on Oct. 12, Georgia-Florida on Nov. 2, LSU-Alabama on Nov. 9, Florida-South Carolina on Nov. 16, and A&M-LSU on Nov. 23. Those games share a common thread — they match two of the elite six SEC teams from 2012 and there are high expectations for all six this year.
At this point, the other five playing dates available offer games that are so-so at best. To put an attractive game on the air weekly in 2013, the network needs an Ole Miss or a Vanderbilt or an Arkansas to convince would-be viewers they can compete with the best.
Jon Solomon at AL.com did the research that revealed the margin of victory ranged from 18 to 52 in seven of the 14 games carried by CBS. Fans with a rooting interest are going to tune in, but mismatches do not attract casual fans and the six teams mentioned above were 30-0 against the other eight teams in the league. It should be noted that CBS twice picked behind ESPN because of a trade.
This year, the weekends with questionable offerings are Sept. 21, Oct. 5, Oct. 19, Oct. 26, and Thanksgiving weekend.
Also, the network has two doubleheader Saturdays per year. Although Arkansas will be hard-pressed to finish 6-6, the schedule and the Manziel factor could get the Razorbacks a spot in a doubleheader on Sept. 28. If the Razorbacks win at Rutgers, they should be 4-0 and that might suffice. Because of expectations and timing, Arkansas made three appearances on CBS last year. So did South Carolina, Florida, and Georgia. Alabama was first with five and LSU was next with four.
Arkansas vs. Alabama was on CBS the last four years in September, but the Razorbacks play A&M, Florida, and South Carolina prior to the Crimson Tide this year and a team on a three-game losing streak is no draw.
The best games available on the five weekends cited:
Sept. 21: The two league games are Auburn at LSU and Tennessee at Florida, the same sort of slim pickings that has come up on late-November weekends previously. Tennessee and Florida will be a hard sell if, as expected, the Volunteers get pounded by Oregon the week previous. Gus Malzahn’s first year at Auburn is of interest, but how many times can CBS do LSU?
Oct. 5: The Hugh Freeze-Malzahn-Arkansas State connection might be a hook for Ole Miss-Auburn, but the Rebels play Texas and Alabama during the preceding three weeks. Missouri should be 4-0 vs non-conference opponents and Vandy is looking at 3-2 or better.
Oct. 19: The week Arkansas plays at Alabama. If Vanderbilt was passed over in early October, the Commodores vs. Georgia could be the choice. Otherwise, CBS might have to throw a dart and hold its nose.
Oct. 26: Another stinker with Tennessee, Missouri, and Vanderbilt against an upper echelon opponent. See above.
Nov. 30: Arkansas-LSU has been a fixture on CBS, but there is no guarantee. Three so-called rivalry games, plus A&M at Missouri round out the options for Friday and Saturday.
A nine-game conference schedule would increase choices. I’m just saying.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.