If you, like me, are a dweeb with an affinity for college football scheduling strategy, or if you just root for one of the teams involved, this news about Auburn and Georgia will be of note to you:
News: UGA president Jere Morehead confirms Georgia's series with Auburn is being moved earlier in the season, flipping with the Tennessee series, beginning in 2020.— Seth Emerson (@SethWEmerson) February 20, 2019
Emerson’s also reported that Georgia’s AD Greg McGarity added he doesn’t see Auburn playing in Athens twice in a row to return the favor from 2012. The rescheduling possibility was first reported by 247Sports.
The Tigers and Dawgs, permanent crossover rivals in the SEC, always play in November. That’s been literally true for eight-plus decades and basically true for much longer:
This would be huge for Auburn and the series as well.— Justin Ferguson (@JFergusonAU) February 19, 2019
In the 122 regular-season meetings all-time, only six have been in months other than November — and the last time came in 1936. https://t.co/e1Q09vig2o
(In 2017’s SEC title game, the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry finally caught up to the South’s Oldest Rivalry, between UVA and UNC, in number of games played. UGA and Auburn have now met 123 times.
Maybe this is only eye-catching by “college football in mid-February” standards, but it’s worth considering the several different ways this could go for both parties.
1. This might turn out to be a great thing for Auburn, because it spares the Tigers from having to beat Georgia and Bama two weeks apart if they want to make the Playoff.
Right now, Auburn plays a brutal November every year. The Tigers do face an FCS team or Liberty or whoever on SEC-SoCon Challenge weekend, but they’re guaranteed to play games against both Georgia (the closest thing the sport has to Alabama these days, in terms of recruiting power) and Alabama in the surrounding weeks. The Iron Bowl’s locked into the last weekend of the season and probably always will be.
That’s a grind. Playing Georgia can take a lot out of a team, given the Dawgs’ extreme physicality and talent advantage over non-Bama teams. That cupcake game splits up Bama and Georgia, but it’s a hell of a task for Auburn to need to beat what are now the two most talented teams in the country two weeks apart to have any serious SEC or Playoff hopes.
When Auburn actually pulls this off — like it did in 2013, when it had both the Prayer at Jordan-Hare and the Kick Six — it makes for a magical feeling. It also did in 2017, when the Tigers threatened to become the first two-loss Playoff team by beating the Dawgs and Tide.
But most years, it doesn’t work out like that, and Auburn doesn’t win the SEC West.
2. Alternatively, Auburn could just lose to Georgia in September and have no margin for error for the final nine, 10, or 11 games.
The same could happen to Georgia, of course. It’s not like playing that game earlier gives anyone a clear and inherent competitive edge.
Add in that Auburn (to its credit) tends to schedule at least one hard non-conference game per year, and you’re looking at a real possibility of being out of the Playoff race quickly.
3. Having the game earlier might literally heat up the rivalry.
Here’s a UGA fan making a good point:
Playing Auburn in oppressive heat is going to make me hate them even more https://t.co/WQD2CEfTTY— Matt Berry (@MattBerry05) February 19, 2019
4. Georgia getting a nice thing out of this looks like it won’t happen — for now.
In the past, Kirby Smart’s indicated an openness to moving the game up — on one particular condition. When the SEC expanded earlier this decade, the conference made UGA travel to Auburn two years in a row, 2012 and ‘13. The second of those was, of course, a dramatic Auburn win that set up a Tigers run to the BCS title game.
Smart said in the spring of 2018 that if the Dawgs agree to move the game up and let Auburn stagger its hardest games, the Tigers should play twice in a row in Athens:
“Yeah, absolutely. If we get a chance to fix that and return the favor that we paid to them,” Smart said at SEC Spring Meetings in Destin on Tuesday. “I hear about that a lot - obviously I wasn’t there - but about the two times there to travel back-to-back. I think if you can make it more consistent, it will balance things out, probably be helpful in the long run, but I got a feeling there’s more to than just us and them. It always affects so many other moving parts, but it would be nice to do that.”
Auburn AD Allen Green has said there’s “not an avenue” for that to happen until after 2024, according to the 247Sports report on the game potentially moving up. That’s when the SEC’s current scheduling rotation ends and some kind of reset might become easier. At that point, the SEC could just do the sensible thing and get rid of divisions in favor of a pod scheduling system that would still let Auburn-Georgia and Auburn-Bama happen each year.
For now, it appears that isn’t the case.