We are nearing the end of the road for this phase of radical realignment, as 109 of the 119 Division I-A college football programs (not including the Division I-AA Ivy League) have found their way into Conference U.S.A., the Pac-10, the Western Athletic Conference, the Big West, the Mid-American Conference, the Southwest Conference, the Central Conference, the Big Ten, the Big East, the Atlantic Coast Conference, or the Southern Conference, so now it is time to place the remaining 10 teams in the reconfigured Southeastern Conference:
By gathering the Alabama, Florida, and Georgia schools into a single conference, we preserve the traditions of the Iron Bowl and the World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party, revive the lapsed rivalry between the Gators and the Hurricanes, and restore the status of the annual clash between the Bulldogs and the Yellow Jackets as a conference game, which, in effect, it was for 70 years. (Georgia and Georgia Tech were among the seven institutions represented at the organizational meeting of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association in 1894, both schools were charter members of the Southern Conference, and both institutions were among the original members of the Southeastern Conference, from which the Ramblin' Wreck withdrew in 1964. Accordingly, I didn't so much kick the Yellow Jackets out of the A.C.C. as restore them to their previous affiliation.)
Radical realignment . . . bringing back a college football landscape this gruff, humorless curmudgeon would recognize and greet with a disapproving grunt through his perpetual scowl!
An extra wrinkle is added by the fact that Georgia Tech has shared coaches in common with Central Florida (George O'Leary) and Troy (Chan Gailey). (The Golden Tornado scheduled the Golden Knights in 1996, 1999, and 2000 and took on the Trojans in 2006. Three of those four games remained in doubt in the fourth quarter.) Mark Richt would get the chance to coach against his alma mater in Coral Gables and Nick Saban's trips to Miami to lead his Alabama squads against the Hurricanes might make for an interesting homecoming, as well.
Since moving up to the Division I-A ranks in 1996, U.C.F. has played within a touchdown of Arkansas (27-20 in 2001), Auburn (10-6 in 1998), Georgia (24-23 in 1999), Georgia Tech (27-20 in 1996 and 21-17 in 2000), Mississippi State (35-28 in 1997), Ole Miss (24-23 in 1997), Penn State (27-24 in 2002), and South Carolina (33-31 in 1997) in a series of road losses, with the Golden Knights claiming victory at Alabama (40-38 in 2000).
Likewise, since making the leap to major college football in 1996, the Blazers have been competitive when falling to Georgia (16-13 in 2003), Kansas (39-37 in 1998 and 23-20 in 2000), Mississippi State (16-10 in 2006), Missouri (31-28 in 1999), Oklahoma (24-17 in 2006), Pitt (26-20 in 2002), and Tennessee (17-10 in 2005) while registering upset wins along the way over L.S.U. in Baton Rouge (13-10 in 2000) and Mississippi State (27-13 in 2004).
Before you scoff at the Blazers' win over Mississippi State in 2004, please bear in mind that not everyone beat M.S.U. that year.
Troy rose through the ranks a bit later than U.A.B. and U.C.F., arriving in Division I-A in 2001. Since that time, though, the Trojans have beaten Mississippi State (21-9 in 2001) and Missouri (24-14 in 2004) while dropping tight ballgames against Florida State (24-17 in 2006), Louisiana State (24-20 in 2004), and Mississippi State (11-8 in 2002).
South Florida also began playing college football at the highest level at the turn of the new millennium, scoring a 35-26 victory at Pittsburgh in its inaugural Division I-A season in 2001 before joining the Big East and posting marquee wins over Louisville (45-14 in 2005) and West Virginia (24-19 in 2006). The Bulls and the Trojans each capped off last season with a convincing bowl victory and both squads are scheduled to face current S.E.C. opponents next fall.
Since moving up to Division I-A, Troy has not tangled with U.C.F. or with U.S.F. Otherwise, these four young programs are quite familiar with one another, though. Presently, South Florida holds a 2-0 series lead over Central Florida, Central Florida holds a 4-0 series lead over U.A.B., and U.A.B. holds a 3-1 series lead over Troy. The Blazers and the Bulls are 1-1 against each other.
Plus which, wouldn't you like to see this resume-forging, ineligible-player-fielding, nasty piece of work back on the visiting sideline in Sanford Stadium just so we could slap him around a little?
This revised version of the Southeastern Conference would give Troy and U.A.B. the chance to compete with Alabama and Auburn while affording Central Florida and South Florida the opportunity to go up against Florida and Miami. While these newer programs with substantial potential worked their way up to their full fighting weight, though, S.E.C. fans would be able to enjoy watching the Bulldogs, the Crimson Tide, the Gators, the Hurricanes, the Plainsmen, and the Yellow Jackets battle it out for conference supremacy.
Coming soon . . . the bowl tie-ins under the new conference alignments.