Tommy Hicks: QB debate over, time to look to next season
Now that the Tua-Jalen debate has ended, but good, and there are those making suggestions Alabama could beat at least a couple of NFL teams and some folks wondering what the heck is going on with the Auburn offense, now is the perfect time to look to next season.
But it is a timely issue to an extent in that the SEC recently released the 2019 schedules for all 14 teams. Of course included in those schedules are the four non-conference games each of the schools will play a year from now. If there’s an issue that elicits quick debate it’s what non-conference teams are on the schedule, especially for a Power 5 conference such as the SEC and its teams.
A quick glance offers some interesting matchups but also some games that aren’t going to push the needle for ticket sales.
As fans, we’d like to see all top-flight, Power 5 vs. Power 5 matchups in the non-conference schedule. We’re OK with some of these neutral site games, as long as they provide good matchups, but the same type of games at on-campus stadiums are the best. But there’s also the reality that teams are seeking (1) wins, (2) home games, (3) wins at home, (4) enough wins to qualify for a bowl game), (5) for some a schedule that will give it a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoffs, and (6) a bit of relief in some of the games from the pressures of a conference game.
You can’t have everything, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask.
Let’s start in state and with the No. 1-ranked team in the country, the 33rd NFL team to some, and see what next year’s non-conference slate has to offer. Alabama will open the season with its usual neutral site game, playing the Duke Blue Devils in Atlanta. The Crimson Tide will follow up with a home game against New Mexico State (which has two SEC teams in its schedule next year) and later play at home against Southern Miss and Western Carolina.
Not a lot of punch there. Alabama fans can counter with the fact Alabama will have SEC road games at South Carolina, Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Auburn next season and that provides plenty of scheduling punch. Maybe, but Alabama’s non-conference games lack punch next season.
Auburn will open the season against Oregon in Dallas, which of course is a rematch of the national championship game of a few seasons ago which Auburn won in Arizona. The Tigers follow up with home games against Tulane and Kent State, then plays Samford at home as the Bulldogs fill the week-before-the-Iron-Bowl slot for Auburn.
The Oregon game gives Auburn a lot of fan interest for its appeal and the Samford game at least is an in-state team getting the opportunity to play against the Tigers for a (presumably) big check. Not a lot of interest in Tulane and Kent State, but everyone knows, just as with ever Power 5 school, these games offset the gauntlet that is the conference schedule and the aim to win enough games to earn a bowl invitation. Auburn’s home schedule is enhanced with games against Alabama and Georgia.
How does the rest of the league look? Let’s take a peek.
Perhaps the best non-conference schedule in the league belongs to South Carolina. The Gamecocks will open the season against North Carolina in a rivalry game to be played in Charlotte and they play Charleston Southern, an in-state school, the following week. On Nov. 9 they take on Appalachian State, which (ask Michigan and recently Penn State this season which barely beat the Mountaineers) is no easy task, then in the season-finale its rival Clemson at home.
Florida has another good non-conference slate, from start to finish. The Gators open the season against Miami in Orlando and end the year with its annual rivalry game against Florida State at home. UT-Martin and Towson are the other non-con opponents, but the other two games make it a good slate. Georgia is playing Notre Dame at home on Sept. 21 and finishes the regular season against rival Georgia Tech on the road. Murray State and the dangerous Arkansas State fill the other two slots.
LSU gets credit for scheduling Texas in Austin and for playing in-state school Northwestern State. Georgia Southern has given SEC teams trouble with its triple option in the past and Utah State fills the other slot.
The remaining non-conference schedules are ho-hum for the most part. Arkansas is playing Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky, all at home. Sure, there are some teams that can create problems, but on the surface not that great. Missouri at least is facing West Virginia and it has Troy visiting on Oct. 5, which according to LSU (last year) and Nebraska (this year) may be a mistake. Southeast Missouri State and a visit to Wyoming round out the slate, which all in all isn’t bad, really, and giving the Tigers credit for playing an in-state school.
Tennessee’s schedule is OK, with a home game against BYU the second week. There’s also Georgia State, UT-Chattanooga (in-state points) and UAB. All four are at home. Ole Miss welcomes Cal on Sept. 21 and travels to Memphis to open the season on Aug. 31, which the way the Tigers have been playing of late is no cake walk at all. Southeastern Louisiana and New Mexico State round out the slate.
Mississippi State opens against Louisiana-Lafayette in New Orleans then plays Southern Miss and Kansas State back-to-back at home and late in the year entertains Abilene Christian. Kentucky has Toledo and Eastern Kentucky to open the season and UT-Martin and Louisville to end the season. Texas A&M has a trip to Clemson in Week 2 and that should be another great game. The other three opponents are Texas State, Lamar and Texas-San Antonio for triple the in-state points. That’s great for fans in the state. Vandy heads to improving Purdue after opening the season against Georgia at home, then plays non-conference foes Northern Illinois, UNLV and East Tennessee State (in-state points) later.
Tommy Hicks, a Phenix City native, has covered sports in Alabama for more than 40 years. Contact him at