This morning, I reviewed Auburn's non-conference scheduling during the period from 1916 to 1958, during which the Plainsmen regularly played Alabama at Birmingham (when the series was not interrupted) and faced Georgia at Columbus.
Nevertheless, it is one thing for us to compare Auburn's scheduling to Georgia's in a period in which the 'Dawgs were traveling extensively; it is quite another to look at the Plainsmen's out-of-conference slates for a more recent period.
Playing this team in 2004 would have improved Auburn's strength of schedule.
Let us, therefore, examine the Tigers' scheduling practices between 1964 and 1988. I have selected this particular period for three reasons.
First of all, Georgia Tech withdrew from the Southeastern Conference in 1963. League realignments in the A.C.C. and the S.E.C. have caused a number of traditional rivalries (like Florida-Miami and Georgia-Clemson) to become intermittent rather than annual, and the Auburn-Georgia Tech rivalry was among the casualties.
While the Plainsmen and the Yellow Jackets have met only infrequently in the last 18 seasons, their grudge match used to be a yearly affair and the Ramblin' Wreck's departure from the S.E.C. initially did not alter this arrangement.
In fact, Auburn and Georgia Tech played every year from 1964 to 1987, continuing their home and home arrangement for 24 consecutive seasons after it ceased to be a league game. Accordingly, I have selected 1964 as the starting point for this analysis, as this was the year that Auburn's ongoing series with Georgia Tech became an out-of-conference matchup.
After the infamous track-greasing incident of 1896, Auburn's president and athletic director borrowed a horse and buggy from the president of Colonial Bank and drove to Louisville to hire Bobby Petrino, who would become a great offensive mind just as soon as the forward pass was legalized.
Secondly, 1988 was the last year that the Iron Bowl took place at Legion Field before 'Bama began playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 1989. While the battle for in-state bragging rights returned to Birmingham in some of the seasons thereafter, 1988 was the last year that the Alabama-Auburn game remained a perennial neutral site contest.
For that reason, I have picked 1988 as the last year of the survey period, since that season represented the end of an era as far as Auburn's annual battle with Alabama was concerned.
I observed previously that Florida is the only other school to face precisely the same impediments to out-of-conference scheduling that Georgia encounters. The Gators, like the Bulldogs, have a yearly conference showdown at a neutral site and an annual season-ending battle with an in-state rival from a neighboring league.
However, it isn't entirely accurate to say that only Georgia and Florida encounter this particular problem. For the period I am analyzing, the Tigers were confronted with precisely the same conundrum as the 'Dawgs: Auburn, like Georgia, played an out-of-conference home and home series with Georgia Tech while maintaining an important S.E.C. rivalry at a neutral site.
Finally, the period from 1964 to 1988 happens to coincide exactly with the coaching tenure of Vince Dooley in Athens. Since it was during Coach Dooley's quarter-century on the Georgia sideline that the Red and Black allowed their tradition of scheduling non-conference road games outside the region to fall by the wayside, it is useful to examine what a major Bulldog rival was doing during the same period.
Gratuitous pregame picture of Vince Dooley with his arms folded.
Since the Tigers are notorious for their weak out-of-conference scheduling, it is mildly surprising that the Plainsmen played as many as 17 road games against non-S.E.C. squads other than Georgia Tech during the 25-year period under consideration.
Four of those games were against A.C.C. member institutions, including trips to Clemson in 1968 and 1970, to Wake Forest in 1979, and to North Carolina in 1987. Another such contest was a road trip to Memphis State in 1976.
Nine of the remaining dozen games also were within the region, although six of them involved treks to the farthest reaches of the South, to South Florida, Texas, and Virginia.
Auburn faced Miami at Coral Gables in 1967 and 1974, Baylor at Waco in 1975, Virginia Tech at Blacksburg in 1978, Texas Christian at Fort Worth in 1980, and Texas at Austin in 1984. The other three regional road trips were to face Florida State at Tallahassee in 1975, 1977, and 1984.
That just leaves three out-of-conference contests played on the road by Auburn during the period that Vince Dooley was coaching in Athens.
In those games, the Plainsmen faced Arizona at Tucson in 1976, Kansas State at Manhattan in 1978, and Nebraska at Lincoln in 1981.
No, not that Manhattan!
For the most part, while Auburn's situation was analogous to Georgia's, so was the Tigers' scheduling.
The Plainsmen played A.C.C. teams such as Clemson and generally remained within toilet-papering distance of Toomer's Corner . . . yet, even as Auburn faced the identical limitations of a home and home series with Georgia Tech and an S.E.C. neutral site grudge match, the Tigers still managed to make regular season trips to the Grand Canyon, the prairie, and the cornfield to take on two sets of Wildcats from somewhere other than Lexington, Ky., and a Cornhusker squad that went to the Orange Bowl and finished the season ranked 11th in the A.P. poll.
If Auburn can overcome those restrictions long enough to face Nebraska on the road, surely Georgia can overcome those same restrictions long enough to face Michigan in Ann Arbor.
For crying out loud, we're not going to let ourselves be out-scheduled by Auburn, are we? Lilly-livered, yellow-bellied, homecoming-game-against-The-Citadel, strength-of-scheduled-themselves-out-of-the-national-title-game-in-2004, dropped-Florida-State-for-Appalachian-State Auburn? Say it ain't so, Damon.
Write your athletic director today.