SEC Football vs. Power 5 Conference Games We'd Love to See
The headaches associated with realignment forced the SEC to go to a "bridge" schedule format over the last few seasons. But last month, one of the top annual offseason questions was answered, when the SEC announced its long-term schedule format, which starts in 2016.
That format isn't much different than the current one. The eight-game conference schedule will be in the same "6-1-1" format, where each team from a division will play all six of its other division mates, one rotating opponent from the other division and one permanent cross-division rivalry.
Also included in that format is a requirement that each SEC team play at least one out-of-conference game against team from a different "Power Five" conference—ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12—per season.
That's not much different than what currently happens. Ten of the 14 SEC teams will play at least one "Power Five" team this season, with Ole Miss having Boise State—a team that isn't from a Power Five conference but has a solid reputation—on their schedules.
But what home-and-home series' and neutral site games can we create that will be fun for the fans? Our picks are in this slideshow.
The Permanent Rivalries
Four SEC teams don't have to get creative with their schedules if they don't want to thanks to intra-state rivalry games that annually appear on their schedules.
Georgia (vs. Georgia Tech), Florida (vs. Florida State), South Carolina (vs. Clemson) and Kentucky (vs. Louisville) already have their requirements met, and while there are other big out-of-conference games on some of their respective schedules in the future, don't expect it to be something that happens every season.
These four rivalry games are huge for their fanbases, huge for the programs and big for recruiting, which are many of the same goals of home-and-home series' and neutral-site showdowns.
Missouri vs. Kansas
The Border War between Missouri and Kansas was one of a few rivalries that have disappeared thanks to conference realignment.
The Tigers and Jayhawks have met 120 times, with Missouri holding a slight 57-54-9 edge (although the 1960 game, a win for Kansas, was forfeited by the old Big 8).
Whatever the real series record is doesn't really matter. These two teams need to get together every year. According to David C. Morrison of the Columbia (Missouri) Daily Tribune (via: CollegeFootballTalk.com), there's an open invitation for Kansas to renew the rivalry, and head coach Gary Pinkel expects it to happen soon.
Suggestion for both schools: Make this happen once the requirement goes into effect in 2016.
College football is at its best when its rivalries are healthy. Missouri's future schedules after the rule goes into effect features games against Purdue, Wyoming and Memphis; and Kansas' future schedules are similar according to FBSchedules.com.
Get this rivalry back on the schedule, every year, without exception.
Tennessee vs. Ohio State
Tennessee has made a habit of scheduling some really big out-of-conference games over the last few years, playing home-and-homes with Oregon, UCLA and, starting this year, Oklahoma. That will continue in the future, as the Vols have the Battle at Bristol with Virginia Tech scheduled in 2016, USC in 2021 and 2022 and Nebraska in 2026 and 2027 according to FBSchedules.com.
Let's get the Vols together with another major program that's making an effort to beef up its scheduling—the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Texas, Oregon, TCU, Oklahoma and North Carolina all appear on Ohio State's future schedules, but let's find a way for Tennessee to squeeze in that mix. Two storied programs playing in each other's stadiums in back-to-back seasons would be great for college football and great for the resumes of both programs if they wind up in the College Football Playoff debate.
Sure, you can't predict how good a team will be four or five years out. But you can schedule based on expectations. With each other on the schedule, satisfying whatever strength of schedule requirement the committee comes up with should be easy.
Vanderbilt vs. Stanford
This one is a no-brainer.
New Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason beefed up his resume at Stanford, and if there's a "Stanford" in the SEC, Vanderbilt is as close as you can get. Let's go one better than making this a home-and-home, let's make this a permanent rivalry.
Two stellar academic institutions in football power conferences that have connections between the current coaching staffs. Sure, Stanford has enjoyed quite a bit of success over the last few seasons, and this game might favor the Cardinal at first. Even if it stays that way forever, that's not the point.
Vanderbilt would love to spread its wings and recruit some west coast kids, and Stanford certainly wouldn't mind dipping its toe in SEC waters.
Stanford vs. Vanderbilt. Every year. Let's do this.
Alabama vs. Oregon
For a long time during the 2013 season, it looked like Alabama vs. Oregon would be the BCS National Championship Game.
Then Stanford handled Oregon...again, and Alabama lost to Auburn and the country was left wondering what might have been.
Let's fix that and get the two football powers with vastly different styles together in a home-and-home series. Alabama's future schedule is rather clear starting in 2016, but Oregon may need to do some moving around if this is going to happen sooner rather than later.
But can you imagine this matchup? Oregon's offense—which is the fastest of all the hurry-up no-huddle attacks when it's cooking at its highest level—going up against a Nick Saban-led defense that, while it has been routinely one of the best in the country, sometimes struggles against fast-paced teams.
One way or another, Oregon and Alabama have to get together while the two are both among college football's elite. For everybody's sake.
Arkansas vs. Baylor
Arkansas and Texas had a nice little rivalry going on during the days of the Southwest Conference, but we'll save the Longhorns for another SEC program (hmmm, wonder who that will be?).
Instead of renewing that rivalry, let's get the Razorbacks together in a home-and-home with another former Southwest Conference foe—the Baylor Bears.
Much like the Oregon vs. Alabama matchup we discussed in the previous slide, this is old-school versus new-school. Baylor head coach Art Briles has his team cooking at an extremely high level thanks to his hurry-up offense, which is exactly what Arkansas' Bret Bielema fought to slow down this offseason.
Let's settle it on the field.
Plus, it'd be mutually beneficial. Baylor playing an SEC team would benefit its recruiting and exposure, while Arkansas—which boasts 15 players from Texas on its current roster—needs to stay as visible as possible in the state of Texas.
Both teams would need to do some scheduling shuffling for this to happen soon, but it's worth exploring.
It's a win-win.
Auburn vs. UCLA
Auburn used to have rivalries with Georgia Tech and Florida State, but since those two ACC programs already have intra-state rivalries with SEC programs built in, let's get the Tigers together with another up-and-coming program on the national stage—UCLA.
The two programs routinely fight uphill battles against traditional powers in their states (and in UCLA's case, city), but have managed to not only become relevant, but become powers.
Jim Mora has made UCLA a destination for Southern California kids again, and with two national title game appearances in the last four seasons, Auburn is one of the hottest programs in the country.
A home-and-home for these two programs would be fantastic for college football fans, would be a draw for networks and likely impact the national title race.
LSU vs. Notre Dame
Even though it's an independent football program with loose ties to the ACC, Notre Dame would fulfill the SEC's "Power Five" scheduling requirement according to Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports.
So let's make that happen, and pair up the Fighting Irish with the LSU Tigers in "neutral site" games in back-to-back seasons. One game at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans and another at Soldier Field in Chicago.
LSU already has a lot on its out-of-conference plate over the next decade, with games against Wisconsin, Syracuse, Penn State, UCLA, Arizona State and maybe Oklahoma according to FBSchedules.com. Notre Dame's future schedules are quite busy, but CBSSports.com's Jeremy Fowler reported last month that Notre Dame and Georgia were in discussions for a series.
Let's just swap in LSU for Georgia, and have a big-time series.
Mississippi State vs. Miami (Fla.)
Mississippi State has become a consistent lower-tier bowl team under head coach Dan Mullen, and the next step in the progression of the program is to not only become more competitive within the SEC West, but also more visible nationally.
A home-and-home with the Miami Hurricanes would accomplish the latter.
Mullen would certainly like to broaden his recruiting base and become more visible in the talent-rich area in South Florida, and Miami head coach Al Golden would benefit from playing an SEC school—something that's lacking on its slate of future non-conference games, according to FBSchedules.com.
It wouldn't be the most intriguing non-conference matchup in the world, but both programs would benefit by scheduling a home-and-home.
Ole Miss vs. Penn State
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze met Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin in each of Freeze's first two seasons at Ole Miss as part of their permanent cross-division rivalry.
Even though Franklin moved on to Penn State, the two top-flight recruiters would certainly view a home-and-home between the Rebels and Nittany Lions as mutually beneficial.
Freeze has been a recruiting machine, reeling in top 15 classes in each of the last two seasons. Franklin led Vanderbilt to back-to-back nine-win seasons, and he has been recruiting his tail off in his new role in Happy Valley. Ole Miss would certainly benefit from the exposure in the Northeast, and Penn State becoming more visible in SEC country is certainly desirable for Franklin.
Plus, these are two hot programs that would be a big draw to television networks looking to feature unique matchups.
Texas A&M vs. Texas
The most notable rivalry to disappear due to conference realignment was Texas A&M vs. Texas, and the door is open for the rivalry to be renewed.
New Texas athletic director Steve Patterson told ESPN Radio's Paul Finebaum (via: The Dallas Morning News) that he has a hard time seeing the rivalry being renewed "unless there's a compelling business or branding reason."
Psst...memo to Patterson...playing Texas A&M is the compelling reason.
As I wrote last month, Texas needs Texas A&M right now. Not the other way around. By not playing the Aggies every season, the Longhorns are letting "little brother" step out on its own and establish its own identity both within the state and nationally, away from the shadow of the University of Texas.
From a football perspective, this game needs to be played every year. From a business and branding perspective, Texas needs to get off its high horse and get this rivalry going again.
But perspective is something the higher-ups in Austin seem to be lacking at the moment.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All future scheduling information is courtesy of FBSchedules.com, all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.com and all statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.