Auburn Football: 5 Power-Conference Teams the Tigers Could Play in 2016 and 2017
While this Auburn offseason has been newsworthy for recruiting battles, summer workouts and discussions on retroactive claims of national championships, another key issue came up at last week's SEC spring meetings in Destin, Florida.
Auburn has its opponents set for its 2015 schedule, which includes a Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Louisville in Atlanta, but its nonconference slate past next season still looks bare, as Arkansas State is the only confirmed opponent for 2016 and beyond.
Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs wants to fix that soon. Jacobs told AL.com's Brandon Marcello that the Tigers are attempting to finalize a contract with a Power 5 conference opponent for a 2016 home game and a 2017 road game geographically close to Auburn. If a home game cannot be settled, Jacobs said Auburn "may do a neutral site game in '16 and come back home in '17 or vice versa."
According to Marcello, Auburn's discussions have included teams in the ACC, but the school is open to other conferences. Jacobs also said he would love for the Tigers to play "Notre Dame, Michigan (or) Florida State. All those teams that are traditionally good teams" in the future.
While many of the country's top programs have finalized their opponents for 2016 and 2017, there are a few power-conference teams that have some empty spaces in their schedules. Here's a look at five premier opponents Auburn fans could see down the road.
Washington may seem like a strange member of this list, and for good reason, as the Huskies are definitely not "geographically close" to the Tigers.
But if plans fall through with the rumored ACC or other East Coast opponent, Washington would be an excellent addition to Auburn's schedule.
Steve Sarkisian took the proud Pacific Northwest program from the miserable depths of a winless 2008 season and turned it into a fearsome opponent once again. Former Boise State head coach Chris Petersen now has the reins in Seattle and is ready to lead a Huskies team that is a dark horse for the Pac-12 North division crown this season.
Washington already has a home-and-home series scheduled for Rutgers for the 2016 and 2017 season, but the program could want a significant boost in strength of schedule. The Huskies would get that with their first games against Auburn in school history.
Auburn won a pair of home meetings with Washington's Apple Cup rivals, Washington State, in 2006 and 2013, but the Tigers have not ventured out to Pac-12 country for a regular-season game since 2002's loss at USC. The Huskies have all the looks of a Top 25 program for the next few years, and a midseason trip to Seattle would be a rare breath of fresh air in the schedule for Auburn and its fans.
Although it has endured a pair of tough seasons in its new Big XII home, West Virginia is an ideal power-conference candidate looking to fill its open dates for 2016 and 2017.
West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, a former pro quarterback, talked last August about the need to schedule tougher opponents in the new College Football Playoff system in a trend that reminds him of the competitiveness at the next level.
"Everyone seems to be moving down a path where a college schedule resembles much more of a NFL schedule than a college schedule," Luck told The Charleston Daily Mail. "When I say NFL schedule, I mean pretty much every game is a tough game. Hardly anybody is going to go undefeated anymore."
Luck has already secured marquee home-and-home series against Virginia Tech and Penn State—and he is also trying to revive the Backyard Brawl rivalry with Pittsburgh—but those scheduled matchups will not start until the 2021 season. Like Auburn, West Virginia has a lot of free space on its schedules in the near future, and another series would be a perfect fit for the two schools.
Both Auburn and West Virginia have enjoyed a pair of conference championships since their last series in 2008 and 2009. The Mountaineers scored 31 unanswered points for a comeback home victory in the first game, but the Tigers rebounded the next season with a wild 41-30 shootout win that would simply go down in Auburn lore as "The Rain Game."
Now, let's move on to a trio of ACC teams that best fit Auburn's scheduling plans for 2016 and 2017, starting with an old foe in North Carolina.
Some usual ACC suspects for Auburn fans can be tossed to the side for a home-and-home during this time span. Historical rival Georgia Tech dropped a previously scheduled 2017-18 series with Auburn for SEC West rival Ole Miss back in 2010, Louisville already has two road games scheduled for 2015 and it is probably too soon to revive another set of games with Clemson.
North Carolina, on the other hand, has some spots open on its schedule and is a former opponent of Auburn's. The two teams have played six times, first meeting in Auburn football's debut season back in 1892 and last meeting in the 2001 Peach Bowl—a 16-10 win for the Tar Heels.
A new home-and-home series with Auburn in 2016 and 2017 would be in the middle of two other power-conference series for the Tar Heels. North Carolina will travel to Illinois for the back end of a home-and-home with Illinois in 2016 and will host Ohio State to open a series in 2017.
The Tar Heels may not be willing to play a pair of road games against power-conference teams in 2016, but they would get the benefit of hosting two of the nation's top programs in 2017.
The Miami Hurricanes are another ACC team with a spot open on their 2016 and 2017 schedules, and they have already been connected with several SEC powerhouse opponents.
According to The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson, the Hurricanes have been approached to play Alabama in the 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic and LSU in the 2018 Cowboy's Classic in Arlington, Texas. Jackson wrote Miami will consider playing in one of the games but not both.
There is also talk of Miami reviving the series with Florida sometime after the 2015 season. Jackson said the Gators would only agree to a neutral-site game with the Hurricanes.
Miami is already scheduled for two nonconference road games in 2018 and a trip to Arkansas State in 2017. If the Hurricanes want to play an SEC school and get a home game out of it, a series with Auburn could be their best option.
Auburn is 7-4 all time against Miami, but the last result still sings for some fans of the Tigers. After Auburn was denied the 1983 national championship by a Miami squad that jumped from No. 5 to No. 1 after an Orange Bowl upset of Nebraska, the Tigers looked for some revenge against Miami in the 1984 season opener—and were dealt a 20-18 neutral-site loss.
There is one ACC team, though, that fits the scheduling requirements and is one of those "traditionally good teams" Jacobs wants for the future—because it is one of the teams he specifically mentioned by name.
Florida State would be the dream home-and-home opponent for Auburn after the two teams' dramatic BCS National Championship Game earlier this year.
The Seminoles have a history with Auburn, as they played the Tigers seven times between 1983 and 1990. The two sides snapped their hiatus in Pasadena, California, for the national title, and that instant classic at the Rose Bowl could be the spark to ignite another run in this regional rivalry.
Auburn and Florida State currently battle for some of the Southeast's best talent on the recruiting trail, and the two fanbases would love to see that intensity carry over to the football field once again. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher was once an assistant at Auburn, and Auburn co-offensive coordinator Dameyune Craig left Tallahassee for his alma mater last year.
But is a series still possible for 2016 and 2017? Florida State athletic director Stan Wilcox told ESPN in February that the Seminoles are in talks for a neutral-site game in Orlando for 2016 and Atlanta for 2018, but potential opponents have not been discussed.
Auburn may not be able to squeeze a home-and-home series during this time frame if these talks continue, but fans can still hope for a rematch series at this stage in the scheduling mayhem.
Justin Ferguson is Bleacher Report's lead Auburn writer. Follow him on Twitter @JFergusonAU. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All future schedule information taken from FBSchedules.com.