If SEC teams have to pivot, what Week 1 matchups would work?
Athletic directors aren’t the ones making the decisions to play or not play. That’s not their job.
Their job, however, is figuring out a plan if and when they get the green light. Alabama reportedly is in the process of making a backup plan to schedule a matchup with TCU in the event that USC cannot return to action this year. Athletic director Greg Byrne denied that, but no matter what he says, it would make sense if other matchups are being considered.
I decided to play around with what those alternate matchups could be. At least from a realistic standpoint.
For this experiment, I made these backup plans under the assumption that the Pac-12 and Mountain West would cancel their 2020 season. That also included the state of Washington, which was home to the first U.S. city (Seattle) to go into lockdown. It’s fair to think about basically any and all West Coast schools realistically considering canceling their seasons.
Is this extremely hypothetical? Sure, but if athletic directors are making backup plans, so can a college football writer who wants to let his mind wonder:
1. Canceled Week 1 Matchup: Alabama vs. USC (in Dallas)
New Week 1 matchup possibilities: Alabama vs. Ohio State (in Dallas), Alabama vs. Michigan (in Dallas)
Why this could work — I know. TCU makes sense. If that does happen, there’s nothing wrong with that. It would give Alabama the Power 5 matchup it needs and it makes a lot of sense for TCU to want to play in Dallas, where it faced Ohio State in 2018.
But Ohio State and Michigan both were scheduled to travel West to face Pac-12 powers (Ohio State at Oregon in Week 2 and Michigan at Washington in Week 1). In other words, both were already playing a true road game against a legitimate foe. Instead, they could get a neutral-site game to split the revenue that would undoubtedly be the most important nonconference game of 2020. Ohio State and Michigan both would need to scramble to find a Power 5 foe in the event that the Pac-12’s season is canned.
How would Ohio State make this work? It’s not that complicated. The Buckeyes would have an open Week 2 slot because Oregon wouldn’t be able to play. They could fill that with a home game against Louisiana, which would have an opening because of a canceled game with Mountain West Wyoming. Ohio State could buy Bowling Green out of that Week 1 game with a nice 7-figure payday — something that no Group of 5 school is turning down right now — to open up that slot to play against the Crimson Tide.
There’s zero chance the AdvoCare Classic would turn that down, too. That’s a dream scenario. And for Alabama, it would probably squash any notion that it doesn’t schedule quality nonconference games.
Am I the only one kind of hoping the Pac-12 cancels the season just so this can become a possibility? Give me Justin Fields against Alabama tomorrow. Well, as long as he’s actually playing quarterback and not attempting fake punts on 4th-and-11.
Sorry. Had to.
2. Canceled Week 1 Matchup: Nevada at Arkansas
New Week 1 matchup possibilities: Georgia Southern at Arkansas, Louisiana Tech at Arkansas
Why this could work — OK, so it’s not exactly Alabama-Ohio State, but hear me out. Arkansas isn’t looking to add another Power 5 team here. The Razorbacks already have a Notre Dame matchup scheduled. A team with the goal of ending a 3-year bowl drought doesn’t need to beef up the schedule.
Besides, Arkansas has a first-year coach in Sam Pittman. His rebuilding job was challenging enough under normal circumstances, much less with all of the limited in-person interactions with his team because of COVID-19. In other words, no, I don’t think Arkansas would be looking to have a drastically more challenging Week 1 opponent.
If there’s a good time to face a triple-option team like Georgia Southern, it’s the season opener. Extra time to prepare for that would be ideal. Georgia Southern is supposed to travel all the way to Boise State that weekend, so it was already going to be a road matchup to begin with. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, was already set to travel to UNLV. A much more local trip to Arkansas would be favorable.
And hey, maybe with Skip Holtz coaching Louisiana Tech, we could get some awkward crowd shots with Lou Holtz back in Fayetteville. I’d be here for that.
3. Canceled Week 1 Matchup: New Mexico at Mississippi State
New Week 1 matchup possibilities: Central Michigan at MSU, Louisiana Tech at MSU
Why this could work — Central Michigan would have to cancel its season opener against San Jose State. In a normal world, I don’t think that would be realistic considering Jim McElwain’s squad travels to Nebraska and Northwestern after Week 1. Agreeing to play MSU would give Central Michigan just 5 home games, which is a strange move.
But think about this. Would Central Michigan turn down a $1.5 million payday to make the trip to Starkville during these lean financial times? That’d be awfully attractive. So would a season-opening coach matchup of McElwain and Mike Leach. A caveat would be that both of them would have to be mic’d up so that we can hear them talk about creatures of the sea and such.
All of the aforementioned reasons for Louisiana Tech would make sense from their end. A canceled game at UNLV could turn into a much more lucrative payday. Also, we know the two schools get a long because for whatever reason, MSU agreed to play there in a 2-for-1 during the 2010s.
Here’s hoping we would get a replay of the best play in college football history:
This play resulted in a loss of almost 90 yards.
HOW IS THIS EVEN REAL? pic.twitter.com/gsD9GulNaF
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) September 10, 2017
4. Canceled Week 1 Matchup: Eastern Washington at Florida
New Week 1 matchup possibilities: Idaho State at Florida, Central Michigan at Florida
Why this could work — Ideally, Florida probably would want to replace its FCS foe with another FCS foe. Let’s even stick within the Big Sky. Idaho State would have to replace its matchup at Fresno State, and would probably pounce at the chance for a significant Power 5 payday. It’d be an easy win for a Florida team who historically loves easing into the season.
But if Scott Stricklin, who hasn’t been shy about beefing up Florida’s future nonconference schedule, wants to really sell some tickets, he knows the call he has to make.
Jim McElwain back at The Swamp would be the television event of the … year? Decade? Century?!
Here’s the thing. McElwain would probably want to nix this for the obvious reasons. Like, not getting mocked in front of 90,000 blood-thirsty Gator fans (the shark signs that day would set a world record). But again, a Group of 5 team that could be hurting for cash would turn a canceled game (vs. San Jose State) into a 7-figure payday to come down to Gainesville. The CMU brass could very well say, “get over it, Jim. We’re taking the money.”
McElwain would presumably rock some sort of “I’m winning the breakup” new look in his first trip back to Florida. Maybe it’s a new haircut or a well-manicured beard. I don’t know. The possibilities are endless.
All I know is the “return of the Mac” would be the perfect way to kick off what’s sure to be a bizarre 2020 season.