College Football Conference Matchups We Wish We Could See in 2014
During its media days earlier this week, the Big 12 Conference unveiled a new slogan that both refuted the need for a football championship game and praised its full round-robin scheduling model.
The concept of "one true champion" comes from the fact that the 10-team Big 12 is able to have each team play all the others with a nine-game league schedule. If only that were possible with the rest of the power conferences, or with all other FBS leagues in general.
Unfortunately, it isn't. With 11, 12 or 14 teams to schedule against one another, and only eight league games (or nine, in the case of the Pac-12) with which to do so, some matchups get left out in the cold. This is particularly troublesome in the SEC, in which, along with having six annual divisional opponents, each team has a "permanent rival" from the other division it'll play every year.
The SEC has already released its opponent pairings through 2025, illustrating how certain teams will go five to seven years between meetings. Longstanding rivalries that have existed since the early days of the conference now get put on long hiatuses because of realignment, writes AL.com's Kevin Scarbinsky:
This is the kind of distance the SEC created when it chose to stay with an eight-game conference schedule with one permanent and one rotating opponent from the opposite division despite the league's expansion to 14 schools.
This isn't a problem only in the SEC, though. Every FBS conference (other than the aforementioned Big 12) has pairings that won't happen this year, including several that would make for great games. We've identified 10 of them we wish were on the schedule in 2014.
ACC: Florida State vs. Virginia Tech
Last Meeting: 2012 (Florida State won 28-22)
Before they were both in the ACC, Florida State and Virginia Tech already had a pretty strong history thanks to their meeting in the 2000 Sugar Bowl to decide the BCS National Championship for the 1999 season. FSU won that contest to claim the first of what would be two BCS titles, then two years later knocked off the Hokies in the Gator Bowl.
The rivalry continued at a high level once Tech joined the ACC in 2004, as the teams twice met in the conference championship game. FSU won the inaugural ACC title game, in 2005, then Tech returned the favor in 2010.
But now that the ACC is up to 14 teams, the meetings between the Hokies and Seminoles will be few and far between. Other than facing off in Charlotte for the conference title in December some year, the next scheduled matchup is not until 2018.
American: Central Florida vs. Cincinnati
Last Meeting: None
With the conference formerly known as the Big East having gone through so much upheaval and turnover in the past few years—only three of the current 11 schools were part of the league before it became the American Athletic Conference in 2013—there are going to be plenty of first-time pairings on the schedule.
But we'll have to wait at least another year for the best holdover from the Big East to defend the old guard's honor against the best of the new bunch.
Central Florida joined the American last year and promptly beat everyone on its schedule to win the conference title and claim the final automatic BCS bid. The American isn't guaranteed a spot in the College Football Playoff since it's no longer considered a power conference, but if it does get a berth, the Knights are among the top contenders for that.
Same goes for Cincinnati, which has won nine or more games in six of the last seven seasons and represented the Big East in the BCS twice.
UCF's run through the American in 2013 didn't include facing Cincinnati, and it won't this year, either. With the American adding Navy in 2015 and thus splitting into two six-team divisions, the Bearcats and Knights will finally meet as members of the East Division and would do so every year under that alignment.
Big Ten: Michigan State vs. Wisconsin
Last Meeting: 2012 (Michigan State won 16-13 in overtime)
The Big Ten has been split into divisions since 2011, when Nebraska joined to give the conference 12 teams. With Maryland and Rutgers now in the mix, the 14-team league rejiggered its division alignments to go based on geography instead of a random assortment of teams known as "Leaders" and "Legends."
Regardless of the setup, though, Michigan State and Wisconsin have somehow managed to be kept separate. And for the second year in a row, they're not in line to play each other unless it's in the Big Ten title game.
That's happened before, though. In 2011, the first-ever Big Ten championship pitted the Badgers and Spartans, and we were treated to a doozy. Wisconsin won 42-39 in overtime, avenging a 37-31 loss to MSU during the regular season that year.
MSU and Wisconsin are next scheduled to play in 2016, when the Big Ten moves to a nine-game conference format. Until then, we'll just have to hope they can win the East and West divisions and face off in the league championship after this season or next.
Big Ten: Michigan vs. Nebraska
Last Meeting: 2013 (Nebraska won 17-13)
Since joining the Big Ten in 2011, one of the constants on Nebraska's league schedule has been Michigan. The teams played every year, with the Cornhuskers claiming last season's game after falling to the Wolverines in the previous two meetings.
They're not going to meet this fall (barring a matchup in the conference final), which not only robs us of a game featuring two of the most storied programs in college football history but also keeps us from having a contest pitting fanbases that have a penchant for increasing the temperatures underneath their coaches' seats.
Nebraska's Bo Pelini seems to be an annual member of the hot-seat club, despite the fact that he's won at least nine games in all six of his seasons. For Brady Hoke at Michigan, he's starting to see how impatient Wolverine fans can get after his records have gone from 11-2 in 2011 to 8-5 a year later and 7-6 last season. Last year's home loss to Nebraska didn't help.
Alas, neither hot-seated coach will be able to contribute to the other's situation in 2014. In fact, they may never get another chance to, unless both Hoke and Pelini are in their same roles in 2020, the earliest Michigan and Nebraska could meet again in Big Ten play.
Conference USA: Old Dominion vs. UTSA
Last Meeting: None
Conference USA is starting to resemble a 1980s hair-metal band that's still touring but only has the keyboard player left from the original lineup. Since forming in 1995, the league has had 28 different football members, but only one of those (Southern Mississippi) is still around. The current alignment has just five schools that were in C-USA as recently as 2012.
Among the many newcomers are Old Dominion and UTSA, both of which have moved up from the FCS ranks in recent years. Old Dominion began its transition in 2013 after starting its program in 2008, while UTSA moved into FBS in 2012, just one season after playing its first-ever game.
The rapid ascension of both programs points to great futures for each of them, which may likely include division and conference titles and maybe invitations to bigger league if and when another round of realignment occurs. But any progress won't be at the expense of the other, because as of now there are no planned matchups between Old Dominion and UTSA.
C-USA hasn't predetermined cross-divisional games for future years, but with the league going to 14 teams in 2015 (with the addition of Charlotte) and no plans to grow to nine-game schedules, it could be quite a while before the Monarchs and Roadrunners ever get to compare progress on the field.
Mountain West: San Diego State vs. Utah State
Last Meeting: 2010 (San Diego State won 41-7)
Utah State joined the Mountain West last season (along with San Jose State) after the WAC dissolved, and the move paid off big time for the Aggies. They won the Mountain Division and played Fresno State in the first-ever MWC title game, and though they lost, the great season still earned them a trip to San Diego for the Poinsettia Bowl.
But it won't be until 2015 that USU gets to travel to San Diego for a regular-season game, since that's when it is first slated to face new conference mate San Diego State. The teams were not paired up in a cross-divisional matchup last year, nor this season, but are slated to square off at Qualcomm Stadium next year with the return trip to Logan, Utah, set for 2016.
The programs don't have a particularly storied history against each other—before a nonconference game in 2010, they hadn't met since 1977, and SDSU holds a 10-1 edge in the all-time series—but the absence of a meeting between them this year does take away an extra chance for each team to bolster its resume for a shot at the at-large berth available in the College Football Playoff.
SDSU, which finished second in the West Division last year, has trips to North Carolina and Oregon State in September to help its cause, while Utah State opens at Tennessee and gets to host Wake Forest.
Pac-12: Oregon vs. USC
Last Meeting: 2012 (Oregon won 62-51)
Until Stanford decided to join the party a few years ago, for the longest time the Pac-12 was all about Oregon and USC. The Ducks and Trojans combined to snare 11 of the league's 21 BCS bowl berths (and all three BCS title game appearances) during that era.
But even with the Pac-12 using a nine-game conference scheduling format, because Oregon is in the North Division and USC is in the South, there are going to be years when they don't face each other in the regular season.
This is one of those, as was 2013.
Each Pac-12 school plays four cross-divisional games each year, and plays the same ones for two consecutive seasons, which would mean Oregon and USC miss each other twice every six years under a balanced rotation. But when the league expanded from 10 to 12 teams in 2010, part of the agreement to split the four California schools (Cal, Stanford, UCLA and USC) into different divisions was that they'd still all play one another every year.
As a result, Oregon and USC are set to play each other in 2015 and 2016 but not in 2017 and 2018. We'll just have to survive on the memories of their most recent clashes—the last three games, of which Oregon won two, averaged 90.3 points apiece—and hope that a Duck-Trojan conference title game happens soon.
SEC: Alabama vs. South Carolina
Last Meeting: 2010 (South Carolina won 35-21)
South Carolina joined the SEC in 1991, the same year that Arkansas came along to bump the roster up to 12 teams. And in those 23 years since gaining membership, the Gamecocks' football team has faced Alabama all of eight times.
Now, with the league at 14 teams and a scheduling matrix and rotation locked in through 2025, these schools will have to wait until 2019 to meet again, which puts the odds of having a matchup between Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier a lot less likely unless Spurrier is still on the job at age 74 and Saban hasn't decided to go elsewhere.
These legendary coaches have only met five times—2005 and 2009-10 at their current schools and 2000-2001 when Spurrier was at Florida and Saban at LSU—and the Head Ball Coach has a 3-2 advantage in head-to-head clashes. Because the SEC still plays eight conference games, choosing to mandate a non-league game against a power-conference opponent in lieu of a ninth SEC clash, and because each school has a permanent cross-division foe that's on the schedule every year, our best bet of having Saban and Spurrier spar on the field would be in an SEC title game.
(That just happens to be the pairing the SEC's media members picked last week during media days.)
Until that happens, though, we'll still at least have the seemingly neverending passive-aggressive word war that goes on between the coaches during press conferences and interviews, as well as occasional TV appearances alongside each other like earlier this week on ESPN.
SEC: Auburn vs. Florida
Last Meeting: 2011 (Auburn won 17-6)
Auburn and Florida have met 83 times since 1912, with Auburn holding a slight, 43-38-2 lead in the series. Winning four of the last five meetings has helped the Tigers re-take the edge after Florida had won seven straight during one stretch that included a victory in the 2000 SEC title game.
Despite being in different divisions, Auburn and Florida played every season from when divisions were formed in 1991 through 2002. But since then they've faced off just three times and aren't scheduled to tangle in a regular-season game again until 2019 in Gainesville. The Gators won't return to Jordan-Hare Stadium until 2024.
While there are other notable longstanding rivalries that Florida won't get to be a part of as regularly as in the past—after this season, its next game against Alabama will be in 2021—it was the Auburn series that Gators coach Will Muschamp cited first and foremost when reacting to the SEC's announcement of conference schedules through 2025.
"The disappointing part of that, to me, growing up in this league, is not being able to see the Florida-Auburn game continue on a regular basis," Muschamp told ESPN.com in May.
In all fairness, with Muschamp probably needing a big bounceback year to keep his job safe, not having Auburn on the schedule isn't exactly a bad thing. Instead, the Gators have Alabama and LSU as their crossover games in a year when getting Arkansas and one of the Mississippi schools would have been far more desirable.
SEC: Georgia vs. LSU
Last Meeting: 2013 (Georgia won 44-41)
At five appearances apiece, Georgia and LSU trail only Florida (10) and Alabama (eight) in terms of trips to the SEC Championship Game. And on three occasions they've faced each other for the title, most recently in 2011, when LSU crushed the Bulldogs en route to an ill-fated rematch with Alabama in the BCS championship.
The regular-season meetings are often among the best games played each season, with last year's awesome back-and-forth game in Athens resulting in three ties and a lead change in the final 12:17 of play. The game landed at No. 20 on ESPNU's list of the 25 best college games of 2013, which that network began re-airing this week.
But no amount of past greatness was able to save this series from falling victim to the SEC's expansion-fueled scheduling matrix. LSU got Florida for its permanent rival, something coach Les Miles hasn't been too pleased about, while Georgia held onto border rival Auburn. As a result, the Tigers and Bulldogs aren't on the books to meet again until 2018.
But there's always the SEC title game in Atlanta...
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.