Why the LSU-Texas showdown could be a Playoff era first for the SEC
The other day, we got confirmation on something that seemed like a lock.
You know that LSU-Texas showdown in Austin in Week 2? Yeah, ABC will have that one in primetime.
Duh. Why wouldn’t they? It’s on the short list for biggest nonconference games of the year. It could potentially be one of the biggest nonconference games of the Playoff era.
After all, it’s not every day that we watch a couple of top 10 teams battle in a true home-and-home. In fact, we’ve never seen an SEC team take part in such a nonconference game in the Playoff era.
Yes, that means neutral site games are excluded. Let me state that again because when I looked this up, it baffled me.
If LSU and Texas are both ranked in the top 10 when they meet in Week 2 — something that seems extremely likely given that they’re both expected to start around there and both play Group of 5 schools at home to open the season — it’ll mark the first time in the Playoff era that the SEC was part of a home-and-home nonconference game in which both teams were ranked in the top 10.
Texas A&M-Clemson has potential to accomplish this feat as well with that matchup on the same day as LSU-Texas, but I have slight reservations about the Aggies being in the top 10 by Week 2 because they’ll open with a 3-win Sun Belt team. If they do start around No. 12-13 as I expect, that’s not usually the type of win that bumps you up multiple spots in the polls.
Still, with all of these home-and-home nonconference headliners being added to future schedules, I thought that was an interesting stat. It also got me thinking.
How often has this happened in the Playoff era? And even though the SEC wasn’t a part of any of those matchups, when was the last time every SEC team was involved in one?
I went back and found all of those occurrences. Here the list of home-and-homes involving top 10 teams in nonconference play during the Playoff era (Associated Press Top 25 rankings used until Playoff rankings kick in at start of November):
- Sept. 6, 2014: No. 7 Michigan State at No. 3 Oregon
- Oct. 18, 2014: No. 5 Notre Dame at No. 2 Florida State
- Nov. 8, 2014: No. 10 Notre Dame at No. 9 Arizona State
- Sept. 12, 2015: No. 7 Oregon at No. 5 Michigan State
- Nov. 27, 2015: No. 6 Notre Dame at No. 9 Stanford
- Sept. 9, 2017: No. 5 Oklahoma at No. 2 Ohio State
- Nov. 11, 2017: No. 3 Notre Dame at No. 7 Miami
- Sept. 29, 2018: No. 7 Stanford at No. 8 Notre Dame
OK, so a few things about that list. You’ll notice Notre Dame is involved in 5 of the 8 games. When you’re an independent, every game is a nonconference game. (Because of Notre Dame’s ACC affiliation in every other sport, the Irish play, on average, 5 ACC games a year.)
And actually, if LSU-Texas or even Texas A&M-Clemson isn’t a matchup of top 10 teams, there’s a good chance that the SEC will get on the board a couple weeks later when Notre Dame travels to face Georgia.
As you’ll see, Georgia is more familiar with that type of nonconference showdown than most SEC teams. Here’s the breakdown of when each SEC team last played in a nonconference home-and-home game of top 10 teams (it’s worth repeating that neutral-site games do NOT count here, and obviously it required both teams to be in the top 10):
*Was part of Southwest Conference
That shows only 8 of the 14 SEC teams have had that kind of matchup as a member of the conference. Only 5 SEC teams have played in a top 10 showdown in nonconference play like that in the 21st century.
One of those teams was LSU. Interestingly enough, winning that Virginia Tech game was what allowed a 2-loss LSU to play for and ultimately win a national championship in 2007. Perhaps that’ll fuel the Tigers’ Playoff hopes this time around. The difference this time, of course, will be that LSU is on the road.
As much attention as the neutral-site matchups received during the 2010s, the headliner home-and-home matchups are as good as there is. There’s a reason they’re major headline news when they come out and why they fuel offseason conversation. Shoot, just this tweet from ESPN PR got me excited:
And while Auburn-Oregon and Clemson-Syracuse are intriguing matchups, there’s just something about playing in true home/road venue that gets the college football juices flowing. Maybe it’s the fact that we see headliner neutral-site matchups all the time now, and we know we’ll get plenty more come bowl season.
But I for one, am anticipating LSU-Texas and Notre Dame-Georgia more than any games on the 2019 slate. And that would be true even without the storyline of Tom Herman passing on LSU for Texas. Just seeing a pair of top 10 teams in that atmosphere will be all the electricity needed for Week 2.
It’s about time that we see the SEC in some of these matchups. Check out all the potential top 10 home-and-home games involving SEC teams the next 4 seasons (through 2022):
- Sept. 7, 2019: LSU at Texas
- Sept. 7, 2019: Texas A&M at Clemson
- Sept. 21, 2019: Notre Dame at Georgia
- Sept. 12, 2020: Texas at LSU
- Sept. 18, 2021: Auburn at Penn State
- Sept. 3, 2022: Oregon at Georgia
- Sept. 10, 2022: Alabama at Texas
- Sept. 17, 2022: Penn State at Auburn
Obviously a lot of this is projecting and things can change in a few years, but it’s crazy to think we could have top 10 home-and-homes involving SEC teams in 3 consecutive weeks to start the 2022 season. Now that’s the type of buzz we all need to get us through a long offseason.
That was the only downside of seeing that announcement about LSU-Texas earning the primetime ABC slot. It was a reminder that we’re still 98 days away from the start of college football.
You know, not that we’re counting.