SEC 360: Alabama in Austin? Auburn in Happy Valley? Georgia in Norman? Wait 'til you see the future nonconference schedules for SEC teams
If there’s one thing that gets my blood pumping, it’s an on-campus showdown between nonconference opponents. I’m not talking about The Citadel versus Alabama, y’all. I’m talking Alabama-Texas in Austin and Tuscaloosa, a home-and-home series that, barring Armageddon, is absolutely happening in 2022-23.
Over the past decade, there has been a trend toward neutral site games to begin the season, with Atlanta and Dallas among the preferred locations. These games have gotten so large and popular that programs have felt the freedom to get creative (Virginia Tech’s meeting with Tennessee in 2016 at, of all places, Bristol Motor Speedway, was one of the more interesting ones. Dubbed the “Pilot Flying J Battle at Bristol,” the game drew a crowd of 156,990, the largest in college football history). Over the next few years, however, expect to see more on-campus nonconference matchups, something that should blow the lid off college towns far and wide.
Before we begin, let’s have a bit of fun. I’m going to run through all 14 SEC teams and suggest a “dream” regular-season, home-and-home matchup against a nonconference opponent. Warning: This might or might not have any rhyme or reason to it, but it’s fun to think about which teams could actually meet on the field if they felt inclined to do so. After all, ‘Merica.
14 Dream Matchups
- Florida versus Ohio State: The Urban Meyer Bowl, and a rematch of the January 2007 BCS National Championship Game.
- Tennessee versus Clemson: These teams have only met 19 times, yet are only 194 miles apart.
- Missouri versus Michigan: Who wouldn’t be interested in seeing this Big Ten-SEC showdown for the rights to the Big M?
- Vanderbilt versus Georgia Tech: This matchup would titillate the intelligentsia, and be tons of fun.
- Georgia versus USC: Can you imagine USC pulling into Athens? Or Georgia unloading the bus at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum?
- Kentucky versus Oklahoma: A rematch of the January 1951 Sugar Bowl.
- South Carolina versus Notre Dame: Has sort of a Holtzian flavor to it.
- Texas A&M versus Washington: Huskies meet Aggies in College Station and Seattle. I like that.
- LSU versus Michigan State : Yes, it has a common thread of Nick Saban, but it would be a tremendous intersectional matchup.
- Alabama versus Nebraska: Traditional powerhouses that have not met in the regular season since 1978.
- Auburn versus Texas: Would be an compelling rematch from this home-and-home series that took place in 1983-84.
- Ole Miss versus Miami: Kiffin returns to south Florida.
- Mississippi State versus Penn State: Even though Joe Moorhead is no longer the coach in Starkville, this would still have an interesting ring to it.
- Arkansas versus Florida State: They have never met on the field. What about now?
Now to the games that are actually scheduled. Again, let’s start with the SEC East:
If you’re looking for a sexy nonconference schedule, you won’t necessarily find it by scrolling through the next 2 seasons of Florida football. Things get interesting, however, beginning in 2022, when the Gators begin a home-and-home with the University of Utah. Then in 2024-25, the Sunshine State will illuminate with a Florida-Miami matchup that always has an intriguing and vitriolic edge to it. The Gators take on California in 2026-27, and follow that with a home-and-home with Colorado in 2028-29.
Speaking of Clemson, the Tigers recently announced that they will face the Georgia Bulldogs in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta in 2024. The last time the two teams played was in 2014 in Athens, where Georgia defeated Clemson 45-21. These teams will also meet to begin the year in 2021 in Charlotte at Bank of America Stadium.
This year, the Bulldogs open their slate in Atlanta, facing Virginia on Sept. 7. In 2022, Georgia faces Oregon in Atlanta, and in 2023, the Dawgs travel to Norman to face the Oklahoma Sooners in a rematch of the January 2018 Rose Bowl. Also included in Georgia’s hearty nonconference schedule in the coming years is a home-and-home with UCLA (2025-26), a home-and-home with Florida State (2027-28), a home-and-home with Texas (2028-29), and a home-and-home with Ohio State (2030-31). In other words, Big Boy football.
Mark Stoops has elevated the Kentucky football program as a whole but not necessarily the Wildcats’ nonconference schedule. Yes, Big Blue plays Louisville every year, but you’d like to see one more blockbuster on the schedule each year.
Imagine: Kentucky versus West Virginia, Kentucky versus Indiana, Kentucky versus North Carolina, or Kentucky versus Washington.
No offense to Miami (Ohio), New Mexico State, Youngstown State, Murray State, Ohio, or Toledo, of course. Those are several of the teams the Wildcats face in the upcoming years.
Last year, Missouri opened the season by getting roped by the Wyoming Cowboys in Laramie, Wyoming, 37-31. Apparently, the Tigers like to travel out West, as the 2021 schedule boasts a meeting with BYU in Provo, Utah, on Oct. 10.
Over the next few seasons, Missouri will play home-and-homes with Boston College (2021, 2024), Kansas State (2022-23), Colorado (2025, 2030) and Illinois (2026-29). Mixed into that nonconference schedule is a meeting with Colorado in Boulder in 2025.
Will Muschamp has enough to worry about with the Gamecocks’ yearly meeting with Clemson to beef up his nonconference slate. Other than that matchup with its in-state rival, you won’t see a whole lot of compelling nonconference games on the schedule until 2026, when the Gamecocks play host to Miami. Look for heavy doses of teams like Wofford, Troy, East Carolina and Liberty over the next few years. And who can exactly blame them? With an 800-pound gorilla vying against him for in-state dominance, Muschamp has its work cut out for him every single day of the year.
Tennessee is going to find out quickly how good it is in 2020 when the Volunteers travel to Norman, Okla., on Sept. 12 to face the Oklahoma Sooners. This is the first game of a home-and-home series with Oklahoma that will conclude in 2024 when the Sooners travel to Neyland Stadium in Knoxville.
And how about this: Tennessee faces Nebraska in 2026-27. Go Big Red meets Rocky Top? I’m all in.
Other nonconference opponents for the Vols include Pitt (2021-22), Army (2022) and BYU (2023).
Vandy almost knocked off Notre Dame in 2018, and now looks to do the same against Kansas State in 2020. The Commodores add Houston to the 2021 schedule, Wake Forest in 2022 and 2023, UNLV in 2023, NC State in 2026 and 2028, and Stanford in 2032-33.
Perhaps the most interesting of all nonconference matchups for Vandy over the next few years is that with Virginia Tech. The Commodores and Hokies will tangle in a home-and-home series beginning in 2024.
And now for the SEC West …
There’s an old saying that goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” This seems appropriate as Alabama and USC meet again in Arlington, Texas, to begin the 2020 college football season. They met to begin the year in 2016, in the exact same venue, where Alabama was victorious by the score of 52-6. Now USC looks to avenge that loss and demonstrate that the program has closed the wide gap between the two programs that existed 4 years ago.
In 2021, Alabama resuscitates a “rivalry” with Miami when the Hurricanes and the Crimson Tide meet in Atlanta on Sept. 4. Bama fans will remember the great games against the Canes in 1989 and 1992, the latter producing Alabama’s 12th national title in school history.
The next year, Alabama will take a break from its intersectional games played at a neutral site and travel to Austin, Texas, to meet the Texas Longhorns. Texas descends on Tuscaloosa the next year, 2023, to complete the home-and-home between the two storied programs.
Continuing that on-campus theme, Alabama travels to Madison, Wisconsin, on Sept. 14, 2024 to face Wisconsin, and the Badgers march into Tuscaloosa on Sept. 13, 2025. That year provides an interesting dynamic, for by the time Wisconsin and Alabama meet at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Crimson Tide would have already traveled to Tallahassee to face Florida State on Aug. 31.
Arkansas and Notre Dame in South Bend? Wooooo, Pig! Sooie!
That’s what will happen this season on Sept. 12, when the Razorbacks travel to South Bend to face Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish. To complete the home-and-home series, Notre Dame will travel to Fayetteville in 2025. A quick note on this game: though the programs have common links, Arkansas and Notre Dame have never met. Perhaps the game should be called the “Lou Holtz Bowl,” since Holtz coached at Arkansas and Notre Dame during the golden era of his career.
In 2021, the Razorbacks renew an old rivalry with the University of Texas when they travel to Austin on Sept. 11. These two teams have met on the field 78 times, with Texas leading the series 56-22.
After opening with Alcorn State in 2020, Auburn makes the 100-mile hike to Atlanta to compete with the North Carolina on Sept. 12. In 2021, the Tigers travel to Happy Valley to face Penn State, and the following year Auburn hosts the Nittany Lions at Jordan-Hare Stadium. This matchup with Penn State will feature a historic element: It will mark the first time Auburn has faced a Big Ten opponent in a regular-season game.
Auburn’s nonconference slate over the next several years includes California (2023-24), Baylor (2025-26) and UCLA (2027-28).
Remember the barnburner in Austin last year that served as Joe Burrow’s coming out party? There’s a sequel coming in 2020, but both the venue and the narrative have changed. Defending national champion LSU will face Texas in Baton Rouge, La., on Sept. 12. LSU will be without their beloved Joes (Burrow, Brady), but Texas QB Sam Ehlinger will be back for an encore.
LSU opens up the 2021 college football season in Pasadena, Calif., against UCLA. The game will be played on Sept. 4, 2021 in the Rose Bowl. For the next 2 years (2022, 23), LSU will open with Florida State, and future games include UCLA, a home-and-home with Clemson (2025- 26), Oklahoma (2027-28), Arizona State (2029-30) and Utah (2031-32).
Attention residents of Raleigh, N.C.: Mike Leach and the Mississippi State Bulldogs will be arriving on Sept. 12.
After facing the New Mexico Lobos in Starkville to begin the Mike Leach era of Mississippi State football, the Bulldogs will journey to Raleigh to face NC State, led by head coach Dave Doeren. The Wolfpack will travel to Starkville in 2021 to put a lid on the home-and-home series.
The year 2021 offers another interesting matchup for the Bulldogs, who travel to Memphis to face the Tigers in Liberty Bowl stadium on Sept. 18. In 2022, the Bulldogs will begin a pair of home-and-home series with teams out west, Arizona and Arizona State. Mississippi State will face Arizona in Tucson on Sept. 10, 2022, and Arizona travels to Starkville in 2023. The next year, Arizona State plays host to MSU before voyaging to Starkville in 2025.
The Lane Kiffin era at Ole Miss begins in Houston, where, on Sept. 5, 2020, the Rebels face Baylor. The matchup will actually be the story of two head coaches beginning at their respective schools, as Dave Aranda looks to post his first win as a head college football coach. You might remember Aranda from his recent stint at LSU, where he served as Ed Orgeron’s defensive coordinator.
Moving forward, Ole Miss is slated to play Louisville (2021) and Georgia Tech (2022, 2023). The Louisville game will be played in Atlanta and the Georgia Tech games will be a home-and-home series.
This year, Texas A&M begins a series of home-and-homes with traditional powers that will take us through the next 6 seasons. In 2020, look forward to the Aggies hosting the Colorado Buffaloes, who will stampede into College Station on Sept. 19 under the direction of new head football coach Karl Dorrell. A&M then travels to Boulder in 2021 to complete the home-and-home series. The next year, A&M welcomes the Miami Hurricanes to Kyle Field, and in 2023, will travel to Miami Gardens on Sept. 9. Then in 2024, Texas A&M hosts Notre Dame at Kyle Field before traveling to South Bend in 2025 to face the Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium.
So there you have it. A nonconference schedule that should sate your appetite for outstanding college football. A nonconference schedule that looks you right in the eye, and, like Maximus in Gladiator, asks, “Are you not entertained?”
Because if this doesn’t make you happy, I don’t know what will.