Auburn football says it is ready to toughen up the schedule if athletic directors around the country are ready to pick up the phone and make the deal.
The SEC has long been criticized for what would generally be considered less than formidable out-of-conference football schedules for its member schools. Most major programs schedule a presumed pushover each year. The reason the SEC teams take notably more vilification for doing it is due in part to a perception issue, much of which they are guilty of perpetuating.
Historically most schools have nine conference games and three non-conference games, with at least one of them being an intended walkover each season. The SEC, however, has allowed it schools to play only eight conference games and four out-of-conference games. The requirement is that only one of those four OOC games has to be a team from a Power Five conference. The SEC has used the rationale that its conference is so much tougher than all the others, its teams deserve a break, and thus the fourth out-of-conference game.
Some years this has been true and in other years it is nothing but a well-orchestrated image building campaign. No one is buying the exhaustive schedule argument when Chattanooga, Western Carolina and Jacksonville State make regular appearances on your teams’ schedules. SEC teams also habitually schedule one of these games in the last few weeks of the season. While other teams are at a hyper-intense level in the stretch drive of their conference schedule it is not uncommon to see a SEC team play Louisiana-Monroe or Georgia Southern in week ten of the season.
This is where Auburn football says it wants to break the mold. Athletic Director Jay Jacobs says big-name programs seem reluctant to play Auburn, but he claims the school is ready to remove some cream puffs from the schedule if a power school is ready to take on Auburn. Now, the Tigers are no strangers to the SEC method of non-conference scheduling. Recent schedules have included the likes of Florida Atlantic and Arkansas State. This season, as other schools are fighting for conference titles in the third week of November, Auburn will be playing Idaho at home. Because football schedules get set years in advance, Auburn is already committed for its four non-conference games through the 2017 season. They have a home-and-home arrangement with Clemson, but beyond that it is the Mercers and Georgia Southerns of the world.
Jacobs told AL.com, “Anyone in the Power Five that wants to play Auburn, we’re in. We’re a prospect for them.” Jacobs thought he might get Florida State, but the two sides could not come to an agreement. Jacobs is not giving up. “We have a bunch of ideas. We are talking to a lot of people,” he said.
Not coincidentally, I have an idea or two for you, Jay. The first would be to tell the conference powers-that-be that you do not need that third Saturday of November off. Tell them you are ready to for a conference-relevant game and you will move that fourth non-conference closer to the beginning of the season.
Secondly, leave the South. I realize that might be the equivalent of religious heresy, but a two-hour bus drive to Tallahassee or Clemson is less than what we had in mind. It has been 12 years since you played a home-and-home against Southern Cal. That was two Trojan and two Tiger coaches ago. Most anyone who played in that game and made it to the pros is retired already. Make a left turn left from the campus parking lot and head to TCU or Oklahoma or Baylor. Heck, just keep going west and get a home-and-home series against Oregon. Autzen Stadium would be crazier than usual for that game. At UCLA, Jim Mora has ramped up the Bruins’ future with non-conference games scheduled against LSU, Texas A&M, Michigan and Oklahoma. He clearly has no fear of the big games. Give him a call.
Jacobs said he thinks that because Auburn plays a fast paced offense, some schools are hesitant to put the Tigers on the schedule. Well then come west, young men…most teams out here play some form of up tempo football. It will make for memorable games.
The SEC is no longer the only conference guilty of soft scheduling. All Big Ten teams will only play eight conference games in 2015 and will add a fourth non-conference game. Some have opted to go soft. Some have opted for respectable schedules. In either case, they are going in the wrong direction.
Now please understand, Auburn, I am not asking that you drop all patsies from your schedule. The money those schools get paid for their presumed beat down helps fund their programs for a year and you get to play your third string quarterback by the fourth quarter. What I am advocating is that since you are feeling adventurous, let’s not let the moment pass. Let’s set a trend for the rest of the SEC to follow. Let’s expand your fan base and recruiting territory. Think fearlessly, Jay Jacobs. Be courageous, Auburn football. Lead the change in the modus operandi for an entire conference. A grateful college football nation will thank you.