A home-and-home football series with West Virginia might not have the immediate marquee value of Alabama’s two other recently-announced home-and-homes, Notre Dame and Texas, but in some ways, the WVU series might be more indicative of where Crimson Tide football scheduling is going to go in the future.

First, as a long-time advocate of campus-site games, I commend Alabama athletics director Greg Byrne for continuing to pursue games like this, and this scheduling model. That is taking nothing away from the success that neutral-site scheduling has been for Alabama over the past decade. There have been some marquee matchups, although very few have been what you would call “great games” at the end of the day.

Alabama has been more or less dominant in every one, although some (Clemson 2008, for instance, or Wisconsin 2015) have been intriguing. One can also argue that Southern Cal and Florida State still haven’t recovered from the season-opening thumpings in 2016 and 2017 although one has to imagine that their struggles since then have far more complex causes than one loss to Alabama. (Give credit to USC for agreeing to a second shift in 2020.)

Whether the trip to West Virginia has anything to do with the fact that Nick Saban will turn 75 during the 2026 season, and might like a sentimental trip to his home town (Monongah, where Saban grew up and played high school football, is about 25 miles southwest of Morgantown), isn’t certain. You can read between the lines but the distance from today until 2026 is so great that I couldn’t even read the lines, much less between them.

Alabama has three neutral site games left over the next three years, starting with this year’s opener against Duke in Atlanta. Whether the market for such games is saturated or not remains to be seen. There wasn’t much of an atmosphere surrounding the Louisville game in Orlando, although that might have been a case of Alabama playing the wrong team in the wrong venue. (Did it help Alabama recruit at nearby IMG Academy? There’s no way to measure that, although the “recruiting territory” argument is made from time to time.)

At any rate, while Duke isn’t going to get any Game of the Century hype, the ensuing games against Miami and USC are attractive, especially if those teams turn things around in 2019.

Beyond 2021,the future of neutral site games isn’t certain. Alabama still has non-conference vacancies in 2024 and there is ongoing exploration about a possible home-and-home series in those years. In terms of college scheduling, though, that’s not far in the future and many teams already have their marquee non-conference games set. So the neutral game option might still be on the table for those two seasons.

In the long run, while every schedule isn’t going to have a Texas or a Notre Dame, Alabama should consider to pursue series of that stature — Ohio State and Michigan, Oklahoma and Nebraska, Penn State and a couple of others — but be open to other Power Five possibilities. I’m just going on the assumption Alabama and Clemson will play in the postseason from now until the 22nd century.

There might be possibilities on the West Coast although I’m not sure that the logistics of the Crimson Tide’s recent trip to Santa Clara didn’t discourage any regular-season trips in the near future.

West Virginia may not be Notre Dame. But it has passionate fans, like Alabama, and should be a good opponent, especially if no couches are burned in the process.

Reach Cecil Hurt at cecil@tidesports.com or 205-722-0225.

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