Early start for SEC teams this weekend

Oct 8, 2009 - 8:36 AM By NOAH TRISTER AP Sports Writer

LITTLE ROCK, Ark.(AP) -- Rise and shine, SEC fans. This week's tailgating might be a bit unusual.

Biscuits instead of burgers? A cup of coffee before those cold drinks? And you might want to leave the portable TV at home, unless Saturday morning cartoons are your thing.

Five of the Southeastern Conference's seven games this weekend are scheduled to start by 12:30 p.m. local time, an upside-down schedule that protects a CBS doubleheader later in the day. By the time top-ranked Florida and No. 4 LSU kick off Saturday night, the rest of the league should be finished playing.

The undercard is left for the earlier time slots, so coaches and players - and fans - will have to adjust.

"We encourage our players to start getting to bed a little earlier. We think a lot of them stay up past midnight just goofing off the way most college kids do," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "I've always said, it don't matter what time you play because they don't ask you what time you want to play. They tell you."

SEC teams regularly play early games, but they're hardly the norm. Last week only two games started before 6 p.m., and the biggest matchups are usually in the late afternoon and evening.

That's also true Saturday. No. 20 Mississippi hosts No. 3 Alabama at 2:30 p.m., and Florida-LSU is set for 7. Both games are being aired by CBS, which is why so many other teams are playing early.

"Those are exclusive windows," SEC associate commissioner Charles Bloom said. "So the only window that's non-exclusive is the early afternoon."

The SEC has deals with CBS and ESPN, and every team in the league will be on television this weekend. Any conference would love that exposure, but it can limit flexibility. For example, Mississippi State hosts Houston at 11:30 a.m. on ESPNU. If that game weren't on TV, it could be played at a different time.

For the most part, teams take the early starts in stride. Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, whose Razorbacks kick off at 11 a.m. against No. 17 Auburn, will change the routine for a game like this.

"We'll get them off the field a little quicker on Thursday, so we try to get their legs back," Petrino said. "We'll get out of our meetings a little bit earlier on Friday night, get them in bed a little earlier, and then obviously they have to get up early and get going. I've always enjoyed early games and I think our players do too - where you don't have to wait around and sit around in the hotel all day."

Fans, of course, have their own pregame agendas, and early kickoffs leave less time for parking lot festivities.

Could that mean a more docile home crowd?

"I know our crowds are a little bit that way," Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said. "The tailgaters don't quite have enough time to get well oiled."

Since the start of the 2005 season, the home team is 24-28 in all-SEC games starting before 1 p.m. Of course, home teams are only 78-72 in later games, so perhaps home-field advantage in general isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Georgia, for example, is 25-4 under coach Mark Richt in SEC opponents' stadiums. Richt says crowds can be less intimidating in early games - but not always.

"I've been at some games where the crowd had a tougher time getting riled up at noon compared to 7," he said. "But I doubt that will be the case this weekend."

Georgia plays at Tennessee at 12:21 p.m. Eastern time on the SEC Network as part of the league's syndication deal with ESPN. Richt said an early start helps the road team logistically after the game. He recalled a recent trip to Arizona State.

"The plane didn't land until the sun was already up on Sunday. That was the worst by far," Richt said. "Most of our other games in the Southeast, we might get in at 1 or 2 in the morning."

One advantage to playing at night is that the sun isn't a factor, but that's more of an issue early in the season.

"I like late games in the early part of the season, just because of the heat. After that I like early games. I don't think our players have that big of a preference," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "Usually, whoever we play, you could play them at 2 o'clock in the morning and they're going to be all fired up."


AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in South Carolina contributed to this report.

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