What the Alabama-Texas series confirms about Nick Saban's new nonconference scheduling philosophy
All I have to say is, it’s about time.
Pardon the “Angels in the Outfield” reference. It might be baseball season, but perhaps equally important, it’s college football scheduling season. And for the second time this offseason, Alabama added a major home-and-home series.
Weeks removed from adding a Notre Dame series, the Tide added a home-and-home series with Texas for 2022 and 2023. Alabama will travel to Austin on Sept. 10, 2022, with Texas making the return trip to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 9, 2023.
Once you get past the Twitter jokes about how old the players in that game are right now (about 8th-10th grade, probably) and the “will Nick Saban still be at Alabama” question, think about the impact it could have on the landscape of college football.
To me, that shows something important. Saban has once again evolved his thinking.
No longer is the Alabama coach of the mindset that neutral-site openers are the best way to operate. The team that has done nothing but neutral-site openers every year since 2012 is no longer going that route. Perhaps Saban recognized that even with a showdown that got as much attention as the Florida State opener in 2017, it still didn’t make the impact of winning a road game against a quality opponent (FSU’s free fall had something to do with that obviously).
I already mentioned my theory that Georgia’s win at Notre Dame was partially responsible for why Alabama added a home-and-home with the Irish this offseason. Seeing Texas added all but confirms that Saban is indeed deviating from the neutral-site openers.
And you know what? He should. If his team really is the best on a yearly basis, it should be able to win any game, anywhere. Why should Alabama be worried if Texas becomes a monster in 4 years? Assuming that Saban is still leading the way in Tuscaloosa, it’ll still be a monster, capable of destroying all in its path.
What’ll be interesting is if Alabama tries to wiggle out of any of these neutral-site openers. Look at what it still has for the next 4 seasons:
- 2018 — vs. Louisville (in Orlando)
- 2019 — vs. Duke (in Atlanta)
- 2020 — vs. USC (in Arlington)
- 2021 — vs. Miami (in Atlanta)
Alabama’s 2019 slate is going to receive a ton of attention because it won’t have a quality nonconference opponent. The same could happen in 2018 against post-Lamar Jackson Louisville. Obviously it’s too late to get out of that and it’d be awfully surprising if Alabama tried to swap out the Duke game.
In all likelihood, Alabama is locked into those four matchups moving forward. Because of Saban’s close relationship with Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl CEO Gary Stokan, I’d be surprised if Alabama backed out of either opener in Atlanta.
What I wouldn’t be surprised to see is if Alabama shopped around for a home-and-home to add in 2019. In fact, do you want a bold prediction? I’ll give you one. Let’s connect some dots here.
You know another title contender that doesn’t have a major nonconference game in 2019? Washington. Well, unless you consider going to BYU “major.” I’m not saying it’ll happen, but I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams looked into punting on one of their Group of 5 matchups and scheduled a home-and-home for 2019 and maybe 2026 or something like that.
The point is, both programs have had their nonconference résumés picked apart in the past 2 years. Both know the importance of those nonconference wins, and thanks to Auburn, we saw that a 2-loss team can still be alive in the Playoff hunt heading into conference championship week. As a result, teams can take some more risks with their scheduling.
OK, I’m getting ahead of myself. The point is, there are major benefits to matchups like that.
It’s nice to see that Alabama is finally embracing the home-and-home concept again. SEC teams sort of followed in Alabama’s lead with these big neutral-site games, though not with the same frequency. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still fantastic. But in my opinion, they don’t have the juice that true home-and-homes do. The thing that separates college football is the atmosphere, and these big-time home-and-home matchups add to that.
No contender has been as neutral-site dominant as Alabama. Ohio State just finished with Oklahoma and it already has Washington, Texas, Notre Dame and Oregon lined up. Clemson just had Auburn and it lined up home-and-homes with Texas A&M, Notre Dame and is in talks to add Georgia. Oklahoma has LSU, Michigan, Nebraska, Tennessee and UCLA on its future schedule.
It was long overdue for Alabama to start scheduling similar matchups.
The home-and-home drought really should have ended years ago when Alabama was scheduled to play a home-and-home with Michigan State in 2016 and 2017 but canceled in 2013 for “business reasons.” Now Alabama, thanks to SEC Network revenue and the whole “being in the title hunt every year” thing, has even more revenue rolling in.
I also think part of the cancelation was because Saban wasn’t sure about the SEC potentially switching to a 9-game conference schedule once the Playoff era began. That didn’t happen, and it doesn’t look like it’ll happen anytime soon (though it should).
Now, Saban is clearly of the mindset that contenders need big home-and-home matchups to have a shot in the Playoff era. Or at least it creates the least questionable possible path. Neutral-site openers are “been there, done that” for Alabama. I bet if Saban could get out of all of those upcoming neutral-site games and schedule home-and-homes, he’d do it in a heartbeat.
Wednesday’s news about this Alabama-Texas series was fantastic for college football. Starting in 2022, we’re finally going to see the nation’s most dominant force stroll into unfamiliar enemy territory.
Here’s hoping Alabama schedules home-and-homes with some more new enemies.