With Wednesday’s announcement that Alabama would open its 2020 football season against Southern Cal in Dallas, a sequel to the 2016 game that the Trojans hope won’t turn into “Titanic 2: Return of the Iceberg,” a flurry of UA scheduling announcements is probably going to slow down for a while.
This matchup wasn’t a big surprise to anyone — it has been talked about in Tuscaloosa for a few months now, even as the i’s were being dotted and the t’s being crossed on the contract.
The official announcement now has Alabama set for nonconference games until 2024. There is a four-game run of neutral-site games (Louisville in Orlando, Duke in Atlanta, USC in Dallas and, in 2021, Miami in Atlanta) and then the just-announced home-and-home series with Texas begins.
So does that mean the end of an era? Will the neutral-site games, an important thread in the Nick Saban Era beginning with the 2008 win against Clemson that announced “Alabama Is Back” as clearly as a blast from the Angel Gabriel’s horn, disappear? (For the record, yes, there was the double-vacated Alabama-Florida State game in Jacksonville in 2007, although I think both sides have signed a non-disclosure agreement and will never discuss that day in public ever again.)
After that Clemson game, the nonconference games became a fixture for Alabama. There would be a win, followed by a solid ranking in the polls and a nice paycheck, all in one tidy package. Those are good things.
There are some staunch advocates of home-and-home series, including myself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t recognize the value of those neutral-site games. Plus, they may not be gone entirely. The time was right for bringing big games to Bryant-Denny Stadium, both economically (especially for those loyal season-ticket holders) and competitively. But if the big cities with big stadiums are still writing the big checks in the middle of the decade, the Crimson Tide will be back to cash them.
Whether the change will be met with a new way of viewing strength of schedule remains to be seen. The College Football Playoff selectors certainly didn’t reward Ohio State for playing (and losing at home to) Oklahoma in 2017, but there were four factors in play. First, they most certainly did reward Oklahoma for going on the road and getting that win. Second, the loss to the Sooners in Columbus, could also have happened in a neutral site, presumably. Third, the general consensus is it wasn’t the Oklahoma loss but the blowout loss to Iowa that cost the Buckeyes most heavily. Fourth, Ohio State hasn’t seen any reason to change its way of scheduling going forward.
My guess, although we are looking so far into the future that I may never know if it is right or wrong, is that Alabama will schedule predominantly on a home-and-home basis from 2022 on, particularly if the Texas series is a success. But I don’t think the neutral sites will disappear entirely. Alabama has built strong relationships with both the Peach Bowl and Cotton Bowl organizations and would like to maintain those. No one has a crystal ball that can accurately reveal if Alabama will still be the sport’s dynastic juggernaut in a decade, but maybe it won’t be quite so hard to find opponents, which has been a bit of an obstacle.
Wednesday’s Alabama-USC announcement, expected or not, creates a fascinating matchup. It will be interesting when, or if, the next neutral-site game beyond 2021 will appear on the horizon.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.