Today is Sunday, June 17th, which is significant for two reasons: it is Father’s Day, the one day out of the year that we take time to thank our dads for walking us through the other 364 days with very little disruption, and it is exactly 74 days until the 2012 college football season kicks off. With the days quickly winding down, it’s important that the avid fan out there knows what to look out for once the first sets of games get under way in what promises to be another year full of wild upsets, dramatic comebacks, and hilarious head coaching meltdowns. To start off this series of articles detailing the world of college football, we will take a look at scheduling. College football has earned a reputation of creating some of the most interesting matchups in all of sports thanks to its many years of thrilling games taking place between teams housed in the same conference and between teams that normally doubt square off on a regular basis. However, the last ten years has seen a bit of a change in the Football Bowl Subdivision, as more and more FBS schools have decided to forgo scheduling tough teams that hail from out of the conference and instead set up games with weaker Football Championship Subdivision opponents—teams like Western Carolina, Idaho State, and Northwestern State—in order to increase the team’s chances of holding up the illustrious crystal trophy come January.
While this ridiculous ritual of setting up a series of games won’t die off any time soon due to the nice paycheck that little David gets for setting itself up for slaughtering and the extra win that Goliath gets without even having to try, it doesn’t mean that we can’t still dream of the days when perennial powers would face off with each other during the regular season in order to truly justify who was the best team in the country. With that in mind, I present my list of the fourteen out-of-conference matchups that SEC schools need to schedule for the near future. You will notice that some of the proposed games have taken place in the past, while others will be only a blueprint for what could be.
14. Kentucky vs UCLA – Let’s face it, both of these schools are known as basketball schools thanks to their success year in and year out on the court (teams combine for nineteen NCAA Tournament championships), so why not pit their football teams up against each other? Although both of these teams have a ways to go before becoming relevant on a national level, as the Bruins are breaking in former NFL head coach Jim Mora, Jr. and the Wildcats are wishing that alum Joker Phillips has a feel for what it takes to win in the SEC, I think it would be entertaining to see these two teams duke it out on the field, maybe even for a wannabe NCAA Tournament Championship trophy.
13. Tennessee vs Louisville – Some of the proposed games on this list make a lot of sense based on geography, and this is one of them. The Cardinals are on the way to becoming real contenders in the Big East under head coach Charlie Strong, so a face off with a Volunteers squad that will either be revitalized by Derek Dooley or back to square one with another head coach would definitely be a game to keep an eye on.
12. Missouri vs Oklahoma – These two teams had their fair share of exciting games back in the Big 12, so why not carry on the tradition of thrilling finishes with the teams in different conferences? The Tigers will be looking to make a name for themselves in an SEC East featuring the likes of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, so a victory over a Sooners squad that is sure to be among the best in the country no matter what year the game takes place would give them instant credit.
11. Ole Miss vs West Virginia – The Rebels have had their fair share of games outside the conference against non-BCS teams like Memphis, Louisiana Tech, and Fresno State over the past few years, so a game against a quality opponent like the Mountaineers will be a welcomed sight to the Rebels fans that want to see a real team come into the Grove. While Ole Miss may want to give Hugh Freeze some time to mold his team in order to give them a chance, it’s clear that a matchup against Dana Holgerson’s high-flying offense would be a sure-win for the viewers.
10. Mississippi State vs Ohio State – A game featuring the Bulldogs and the Buckeyes would be another case of teacher vs student in college football, as Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen spent ten seasons coaching under Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer with stops at Notre Dame, Bowling Green, Utah, and Florida. Urban Meyer may intend on leaving the SEC behind as he attempts to build another dynasty, but it seems to me that a meeting like this would be too good to pass up.
9. Texas A&M vs TCU – A game with Texas A&M and TCU not only offers some good Texas football, but also a chance to see if the newest member of the Big 12 or a defector of the conference is better. With the rivalry between A&M and Texas officially out of action until at least six more years, the Lone Star State would have a nice consolation by getting to watch these two teams duke it out.
8. Vanderbilt vs North Carolina – Vanderbilt and North Carolina seem to be on the same page at this point in time, as it appears as if both are playing better than the schools have ever done before as far as football is concerned. Lead by two of the brightest young head coaches in football in the Commodores’ James Franklin and the Tar Heels’ Larry Fedora, these two could very well face off in a bowl game before a regular season game ever has the chance to be arranged.
7. South Carolina vs USC – This game has so much to offer it’s not even funny: East vs West, SEC vs PAC 12, and, last but not least, Lane Kiffin vs Steve Spurrier. The thought of getting a chance to see two teams engineered by two of the most hated head coaches in college football history is too good to be passed up, and just imagining the Old Ball Coach tossing his visor across the sideline at the Coliseum makes me want to go ahead and purchase tickets in advance.
6. Florida vs Texas – The second of the protege pitted against professor proposals, a Longhorns and Gators game would give college football the chance to see Texas’s former head-coach-in-waiting lead his Florida team into battle with one of the most respected head coaches of the last twenty years. Will Muschamp is still looking for a win to cement himself as a quality head coach that the members of Gator Nation can trust with their team, and a victory over a team coached by Mack Brown could very well be it.
5. LSU vs Oklahoma State – LSU head coach Les Miles knows his way around the Stillwater facilities after spending four seasons as Cowboys head coach prior to taking the Tigers’ head coaching position, and a meeting between his former and current teams would be a can’t miss for those who truly love college football. Both programs have been among the best in the nation over the last five years, and although the nature of this sport has shown that it truly is unpredictable, it would be a safe assumption that both teams would be high-caliber no matter when they played.
4. Georgia vs Notre Dame – The Bulldogs have a history of facing off annually with non-conference opponents like Clemson and Georgia Tech, but a series with the Fighting Irish would take it to the next level. A rematch of the 1980 Sugar Bowl that clinched the Dawgs’ last national championship, a Georgia vs Notre Dame game would be a huge step in the victor showing the rest of college football that they are a force to be reckoned with.
3. Arkansas vs Texas – A majority of the games that I have listed have little to no historical backgrounds, but #3 is a different story entirely. Played annually from 1942 to 1991 while both schools called the Southwest Conference home, this rivalry had many twists and turns over the years, including 1969’s “Game of the Century” which practically wrapped up the national title for Texas. Scheduling with shifting conference members in both conferences will more than likely lead both schools’ athletic directors to say that reviving the rivalry on a more frequent basis would be nearly impossible, but saying that the game is made by historic rivalries of this magnitude is undeniable.
2. Auburn vs Georgia Tech – Back when teams weren’t afraid to play teams in other BCS conferences more often than not, the Tigers and Yellow Jackets found themselves matched up against each other from time to time, with the last game coming in 2005 as Georgia Tech prevailed 23-14. Maybe I’m in the minority, but I consider the prospect of Paul Johnson’s triple-option offense facing up against Auburn and Tigers’ defensive coordinator Brian Van Gorder’s revamped defense as good as they come. Regional games like these are nearly always a hit, and the proximity of the two schools means that you can guarantee a sell out whether the game is held at Jordan-Hare, Bobby Dodd, or even the Georgia Dome.
1. Alabama vs Florida State – The Crimson Tide and the Seminoles are currently considered two of the favorites to play in national title game this season, so when would there be a better point in time to bring back the matchup that was nothing more than a one-time fling in 2007 than when both are considered national powers? Arguably two of the most storied programs in college football history thanks to men like Bear Bryant and Bobby Bowden, a series with the Tide and the Seminoles is good for everyone involved and would be a game that fans across the nation had to tune into. The only problem with the game would be convincing the two schools involved that in order to captivate the country together on a Saturday afternoon, one of them must go home defeated.
Be on the look out for more articles preparing the football world for the sensation that will be the 2012 season, including a look in at who’s to beat for the Heisman, which head coaches are on their way out, and which head coaches will soon find themselves playing the role of a fish in a bigger pond.