There are still some fascinating non-conference opponents that the University of Alabama football program could play at some point in the future, but with the announcement of a 2027-28 series against Ohio State, the heaviest of the heavy lifting seems done, the biggest of the sport’s big names set to make a Tuscaloosa appearance within the next decade.
Notre Dame. Texas. Florida State. Oklahoma (actually 12 years away, but close enough). Now, Ohio State and that’s not even including Wisconsin, West Virginia, Arizona and more.
Calm down, Michigan. No one is slighting your undeniable history and the allure of playing at the Big House. Penn State, a familiar face on Alabama schedules of the not-too-distant past, would be another big series. Clemson, of course. USC and Nebraska would fit the mold, too. But what’s important, and what seemed to culminate with Thursday’s announcement, was that the pattern is set. Alabama has set non-conference games against teams from each of the other Power 5 conferences, and a philosophy that those games will be played. That was the general rule in the 1970’s and 1980’s, too, as Alabama played in Los Angeles and Seattle, Lincoln and South Bend, Boston and State College. It’s more of a tradition than some people realize and it’s good to see it return.
This seems like as good a point in time as any to point out that the longest break from playing those games came in the 1950’s and 1960’s. There were logistical reasons, one could note, or strategic ones involving the polls that picked a collegiate champion, but the biggest reason was that, in those decades, teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the old Southwest Conference and the Southeastern Conference had no black players and did not schedule teams that did. Alabama was far from alone in that policy, and the politics of the time in statehouses across the segregated South would have been impossible to overcome for any coach. If such games did occur, they were bowl contests. Alabama played Penn State in Philadelphia in 1960 in one such game, and there were others. But non-conference games against integrated teams were rare. When people today talk about the impact of the 1970 and 1971 Alabama-Southern Cal games, they miss at least part of the historical significance, which is that those games were scheduled at all.
Those times have changed — not as fast as some people would like, but progress often proceeds in fits and starts.
Now, such games can be scheduled, and will be good for everyone. The debate can be about more benign matters, like why Alabama doesn’t go to Madison or Columbus in November (primarily because the Big 10 schedule is filled with conference games at the end). I do not have a precise weather forecast for September 9, 2028, but the Buckeye fans who visit Tuscaloosa that weekend (and, please, come by the thousands) might find that the sun hits a little different here.
Whether the nationwide trend to play a stronger non-conference schedule has one eye fixed on a possible playoff expansion isn’t certain, but it is plausible. The upgrades aren’t just on Alabama’s schedule. It takes two to tango, for one thing. For another, Auburn, Georgia and much of the rest of the SEC is beefing up the bill of fate. An eight-team playoff might allow a team to have more room for error. (I refuse to contemplate a 16-team playoff.) But on Wednesday, you could take it for what it’s worth — two of college football’s giants, last, present and almost certainly future, playing twice. That’s hard to top, no matter what.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @cecilhurt