The summer draws to a close. The days are starting to slowly shorten, although there are still some hours of twilight. In the still air, the old barn sits quietly — perhaps too quietly.
The wisps of hay remaining in the loft are dried to a crisp, like unsalted pretzel sticks. The equestrian implements — an old saddle, some bridles stiff with age — are covered with cobwebs and dust. There is no need to look in the stalls. The horse passed away years ago. It is dead.
But guess what? I’m going to beat it one more time.
The Southeastern Conference and the University of Alabama released the full 2018 football schedule Tuesday. If you’re an Alabama fan that pays hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars, for your seats in Bryant-Denny Stadium, you had to wonder if there was something deeper at work here because you’re left looking at a slate that could have been put together by the Equifax security team in its spare time.
The four SEC home games — over which Alabama exerts no control — will be Texas A&M, Missouri, Mississippi State and Auburn. How good those teams will be is out of Alabama’s control. A couple of years ago, an Alabama-Missouri game would have been an SEC Championship game rematch. That won’t be the case this year. Mississippi State has grown more competitive along roughly the same time arc that has seen Texas A&M grow less so. The Alabama-Auburn game is part of the cultural fabric of the entire state. So even with no LSU, no Tennessee, no Florida, no Georgia, an SEC schedule has some promise.
The non-conference schedule? Arkansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette, and The Citadel. As football programs, they will probably field teams that will be better than you think. As box-office attractions, they aren’t quite B-listers. The other game is a neutral site opener that’s a murderous drive away in Orlando, a matchup with Louisville whose primary allure will depend on whether Cardinal quarterback and reigning Heisman winner Lamar Jackson returns for his senior season.
To be clear: I know every argument for this schedule structure. The economic benefits for Alabama have been considerable. The head coach, who knows far more about recruiting than I do, thinks it helps in that area. If you are the better team, and Alabama usually is these days, eliminating the variables of a road game increases the chances of success.
But once again, this is The Tuscaloosa News and I am going to speak for a number of Tuscaloosa constituencies here: the merchants and restaurateurs, the loyal fans, the college students.
Wouldn’t it be possible, not every year, but once a decade or so, to reward everyone who faithfully attends in years like 2018 with a big-time, big-name opponent in the most big-time, big-name college football stadium in the SEC? The logistics can’t be impossible. Some of the teams who have managed to pull it off this year: Ohio State, Oklahoma, Clemson, Auburn, Georgia, Notre Dame, Texas, and USC. They’ve played exciting games, for the most part, accompanied by great pageantry. Isn’t it time for Alabama, the decade’s Alpha Dog, to do the same? Imagine bringing in one of the elite intersectional opponents listed above. Imagine Michigan running out of the tunnel (or Alabama in the Big House)?
Nick Saban has made history at Alabama. No one questions that. But those games can make history, too. Quite frankly, the Alabama fans deserve them — at least once in a decade — and this horse deserves to finally rest in peace.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.