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Why SEC schools play cupcake teams before Thanksgiving? History of SoCon challenge

SoCon Saturday is upon us! We’ll take a look at the recent history of SEC schools taking things easy before rivalry week.

Austin Peay v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The 2023 college football season is reaching its conclusion and this weekend’s Week 12 slate is....kind of mid. That’s especially the case in the Southeastern Conference, where you’ll find league giants facing the likes of Chattanooga, Abilene Christian, Georgia State and Florida...taps earpiece sorry, I am being told that Florida is in fact still in the SEC. My bad.

Around these parts of the college football internet, this yearly tradition of teams loading up on cupcake games in mid-November has been mockingly referred to as the “SEC-SoCon Challenge”, given that SoCon teams have been involved on several occasions. The basic premise of this is SEC schools giving themselves a breather at the end of the season before facing their rivals during Thanksgiving weekend. These games also serve as Senior Day for some programs and similar to the homecoming game concept, they want to send their seniors and home fans off happy with a victory.

As Sports Illustrated’s Richard Johnson pointed out with SB Nation years back, this scheduling tradition began in the late 2000’s after the NCAA approved a 12th regular season game for FBS teams. The practice of adding a “buffer” game before rivalry week became more commonplace around 2010 and has been a staple on the calendar ever since.

Prior to this, some schools would have to run a proverbial gauntlet at the end of the season. For example, Alabama spent several seasons in the early 2000’s facing LSU right before the Iron Bowl and same with Ole Miss before it’d end season with the Egg Bowl. Auburn would have the brutal draw of facing Georgia and Alabama back-to-back to end the season, but some years they’d get the relief of having a bye sandwiched in between. The advent of “SoCon Saturday” helped alleviate some of this late-season stress, as a potential national title contender could get a week where it could rest some of its starters and have them fresh for the big rivalry game and the postseason.

Entities from other leagues like the Big Ten have scrutinized this practice for several years, railing against the SEC (and some ACC schools like Florida State) for essentially giving themselves a week off late in the year. Big Ten critics have fired back by pointing out how the entire month of September is essentially the “Big Ten-MAC” challenge with all of their early-season layup games (go take a look at Michigan’s schedule from this season).

Whether you agree with the concept or detest, at least try to find some joy from these games. The college football season goes by super fast and in just a few short months, you’re going to be wishing you had Alabama vs. Chattanooga on your tv screens. Enjoy it!