The offseason machinations in the SEC actually matter to Oklahoma fans this year as the Sooners gear up to join the conference in [Year to be Determined]. Aside from Jimbo Fisher and Nick Saban trading barbs, the story that seems to be generating the most breathless media coverage is scheduling inside the conference. Specifically, will the SEC play nine or eight in-conference games?
Ross Dellenger of SI.com recently laid out the stakes and parameters of the debate inside the league’s conference rooms. But how might the decision ultimately affect the Sooners?
Dave Bartoo of CFB Matrix (Patreon) recently organized an exercise to develop an idea of what a nine-game conference schedule might look like whenever OU and Texas do join the league. Bartoo asked writers representatives of each of the 16 teams to submit a list of five teams they believe their schools would want to see as permanent opponents in conference play, ranked in order of preference. The results determined how each team’s permanent opponents shook out.
OU’s permanent opponents
I represented the Sooners in the exercise. After soliciting input from a few other bloviators and the Twitter peanut gallery, I submitted these five teams (in order or preference from highest to lowest):
Texas in the top spot is obvious. I went with the Gators at number two for recruiting purposes. I see the Razorbacks and Mizzou as essentially equivalent regional rivals in the three and four spots, and OU needs a non-heavyweight in the mix. I assumed three of the first our would work out, so I added LSU as another potential recruiting pick.
Here’s what the sorting process spit out, based on each team’s preferences:
- Alabama: Auburn, LSU, Tennessee
- Arkansas: Texas, Texas A&M, Ole Miss
- Auburn: Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina
- Florida: Georgia, South Carolina, Oklahoma
- Georgia: Vanderbilt, Florida, Auburn
- Kentucky: Vanderbilt, Tennessee, Missouri
- LSU: Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A&M
- Ole Miss: Mississippi State, LSU, Arkansas
- Mississippi State: Ole Miss, Missouri, South Carolina
- Missouri: Oklahoma, Mississippi State, Kentucky
- Oklahoma: Florida, Texas, Missouri
- South Carolina: Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State
- Tennessee: Kentucky, Alabama, Vanderbilt
- Texas: Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Arkansas
- Texas A&M: Texas, LSU, Arkansas
- Vanderbilt: Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia
From my standpoint, this worked out well for OU. The Sooners keep their annual game with their biggest rival and get to revive a series with a longtime Big 8/Big 12 foe. The Gators may lack a natural connection, but it would give OU a game in Florida every other year.
A few other notes:
*One of the more interesting parts of this exercise was seeing other teams’ preferences. OU wasn’t exactly in demand, as you’d expect with its lack of history versus the current members. Four schools had OU on their lists: Texas, Arkansas, Mizzou and Florida.
Conversely, LSU and Ole Miss showed up on seven different surveys. Florida, Vanderbilt and Tennessee were on six.
*I imagine a few of these would work out differently in real life. If I were speculating, I think we’d see some of these matchups inserted: Arkansas-Mizzou, Auburn-MSU, UGA-UK, Mizzou-S. Carolina.
What would it look like?
Essentially, OU would be looking at its three permanent opponents and two rotating schedule blocks of six teams each. For example:
- Permanent - Texas, Florida, Mizzou
- Schedule A - UGA, S. Carolina, Vanderbilt, Auburn, LSU, Ole Miss
- Schedule B - A&M, UK, Alabama, Tennessee, Arkansas, MSU
Using this alignment, conference schedules might look like this over a four-year period (home/visitor):
Ole Miss (V/H)
S. Carolina (H/V)
Sounds like fun.
Indeed, and it would make for a fairly clean way to set up the schedule.
However, I suspect this is mostly an academic exercise for the time being. My money is on the SEC staying with an eight-game conference schedule with one permanent opponent for the foreseeable future.