Even Nick Saban has to smile at Alabama's new SEC schedule
Back in 1984, when Nick Saban was an assistant coach at Michigan State, actress Sally Field finally broke through after years of award-season drought by winning an Academy Award. And in her acceptance speech for the Best Actress award for her role in Places Of The Heart, she infamously exclaimed, “you like me, right now, you like me!”
Somewhere inside the cavernous Mal Moore Football Building, Nick Saban might have crowed the exact same sentence when the Southeastern Conference released the 2 additional non-divisional opponents each school will play as part of the SEC’s 10-game, conference-only football schedule in 2020.
Alabama was already facing a non-division home game against Georgia and the traditional “Third Saturday In October” slugfest with Tennessee. But the additional games?
At Missouri, and home against Kentucky.
It could be argued, and with not a huge degree of difficulty, that this was such a gift to the Crimson Tide that it should have been wrapped in expensive tinsel and delivered by a fat man with a big white beard. Alabama could have gotten Florida and South Carolina, for example, which is exactly what LSU has on its original slate. The conference office also richly rewarded Ed Orgeron and the Tigers with a similar Secret Santa present, giving them Missouri and Vanderbilt.
Alabama could have gotten Florida and South Carolina, for example, which is exactly what LSU was offered — which if we were playing Secret Santa here, Ed Orgeron would be cursing and moaning in a heavy Creole accent.
The identification of each school’s 2 additional non-divisional opponents follows last week’s announcement of a 10-game season beginning Sept. 26. The SEC plans to publicly announce the dates for all games within the next 2 weeks as it continues to monitor developments around COVID-19.
“We made every effort to create a schedule that is as competitive as possible and builds on the existing eight conference games that had already been scheduled for 2020,” SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said in a release. “This schedule is a 1-year anomaly that we have developed under unique circumstances presented by the impact of COVID-19.”
Under normal circumstances, SEC schools play the other 6 teams in their division, 2 nondivisional opponents (1 of which is a permanent rival) and 4 out-of-conference games each season. In the revised schedule for 2020, each school will play 4 non-divisional opponents in addition to the other 6 teams in its division.
Make no mistake, too, there will be plenty of pundits out there who see more nefarious undertones to Friday’s announcement. Because adding Missouri at home is about the equivalent of adding, say, N.C. State if you’re an ACC program. The Tigers went 6-6 last season, but were just 3-5 in conference play. Missouri mustered only 25.3 points per game (93rd of 130) and endured 5 losses in its final 6 games to limp into the offseason.
Normally, 6-6 earns you a scenic bowl trip to Shreveport or maybe Nashville, but the Tigers were on a 1-year postseason ban from the NCAA for the 2019 season due to academic misconduct and providing extra benefits. Missouri fired coach Barry Odom soon after the season ended, and lured Eliah Drinkwitz from Appalachian State to replace Odom.
The Crimson Tide and Missouri will meet for the 7th time in series history. The Crimson holds a 4-2 (.667) series lead and has won the past 4. Alabama and Missouri last met on Oct. 13, 2018 in Tuscaloosa for homecoming, with the Crimson Tide winning 39-10.
Making matters worse for Missouri, the Tigers also will end up traveling to play reigning College Football Playoff national champion LSU in Baton Rouge, La. Missouri already had non-division games at home against Arkansas and at Mississippi State on the schedule.
Kentucky and Alabama have a richer history, with even better results. The 2020 Alabama-Kentucky game is the 41st in history, and the Crimson Tide own a 37-2-1 (.938) all-time advantage in the series. That includes a current 6-game winning streak that dates back to 2003. The teams last met in Tuscaloosa on Oct. 1, 2016, for Alabama’s homecoming matchup, and the Tide claiming a 34-6 victory over the Wildcats.
Kentucky added a home game Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss Rebels to a non-division slate that already included a home game against Mississippi State and a road test against Auburn. Mark Stoops’ Kentucky teams have improved, however. The Cats have played in 4 consecutive bowl games, winning the past 2. And Terry Wilson is a capable quarterback.
Regardless, Friday’s schedule adjustment is absolute cake for the Crimson Tide. Other than adding, say South Carolina or Vanderbilt, there aren’t any weaker SEC East teams out there for Alabama to have to navigate. Alabama’s path to the College Football Playoff remains virtually unchanged from the original, pre-coronavirus world.
Sure, nonconference cupcakes like Georgia State on Sept. 12, Kent State on Sept. 26 and UT Martin on Nov. 14 are no longer on the slate — erasures that could have Alabama obligated to pay out more than $3.5 million to schools that were contracted to play the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa in the 2020 season. UA signed contracts worth $1.3 million for the Georgia State game, $1.75 million for the Kent State game and $500,000 for the UT Martin game, according to documents obtained by The Tuscaloosa News.
And let’s not forget the original opener against Southern Cal in Dallas.
But now, the scouting is simple. Staying within the conference just got as easy as it gets for Alabama.