The Big 12-S.E.C. Pigskin Challenge: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

College basketball has such early-season out-of-conference showdowns as the S.E.C.-Big East Hoops Challenge. Southeastern Conference football teams are criticized for their lack of cross-sectional out-of-conference scheduling. Is it time to solve the latter problem by adopting the former approach on the gridiron as well as the hardwood?

Although I proposed something like this back in October 2005, my original idea was more for comparative purposes. Why don't we give this a whirl, though:

The Big 12 and the S.E.C. agree that, at some predetermined date for which future schedules have not yet been set, the two conferences will arrange a two-year home-and-home deal pitting the leagues against one another, from top to bottom, in each member school's season opener.

Every team in each conference will hold open the Saturday of Labor Day weekend for the Big 12-S.E.C. Pigskin Challenge. Following the end of the preceding season, the lineups would be announced, based upon the order of finish in the autumn just concluded.

Already, my idea is winning influential converts.

Granted, this would mean finalizing the schedule less than eight months before the games were to be played, but it isn't as though teams from these two conferences haven't agreed to play one another at the last minute before, so any resulting inconvenience could be accommodated.

The winner of the Big 12 championship game would open the following season by playing the winner of the S.E.C. championship game. The same would go for the losers of the respective league title tilts, on down through the lineup until the worst team in one league played the worst team in the other.

Since the games would be ranked in order from first through 12th, the contests between combatants with odd-numbered rankings would be hosted by the Big 12 team in the first year of the series and by the S.E.C. team the following year. The even-numbered outings would begin at the S.E.C. site and switch to the Big 12 locale the following fall. In order to ensure that each squad would host one home game, the pairings from the first year would be retained for the second year, regardless of the order of conference finish in the inaugural season of the series. (In other words, the order of finish in Year X would determine the scheduling for Years X+1 and X+2.)

While there is room for argument over the exact ordering of the teams, a reasonable way to go about it would be to go by conference record first, then overall record in the event of a tie in conference records, then national rankings in the event of a tie in overall records.

Also among the tiebreakers was whether I happen to hate your team.

Using such a system, here is what the lineup would look like for Labor Day weekend 2007 if this notion were to be implemented for next fall:

Florida at Oklahoma
Nebraska at Arkansas
Louisiana State at Texas
Texas A&M at Auburn
Tennessee at Missouri
Texas Tech at Georgia
Kentucky at Kansas State
Oklahoma State at South Carolina
Alabama at Kansas
Baylor at Ole Miss
Vanderbilt at Colorado
Iowa State at Mississippi State

Granted, the Crimson Tide's 2006 season (6-7 overall and 2-6 in S.E.C. play) probably is not indicative of where 'Bama now stands and I expect that a Nick Saban-coached squad would throttle the Jayhawks.

Likewise, Dan Hawkins's Buffaloes most probably will have improved enough from their 2-10 campaign to be up to the task of smashing the Commodores in Boulder. Other than those two outings, though, it's hard to call any of those an absolute mismatch.

Of course, Georgia did beat Colorado . . . and Vanderbilt did beat Georgia . . . so, if Colorado played Vanderbilt . . .

The Bears and the Rebels would be competitive with one another. The Cowboys' trip to Columbia could make for an exciting night game. A clash between the Bulldogs and the Red Raiders would be a shootout (as it was in 1993) and likely a close game (as it was in 1996).

At the uppermost tier, a battle between Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops in Norman would be quality prime-time entertainment and it would be fun to watch the embattled Houston Nutt lead his team against the team he could have been coaching. The talent on the field in Austin for an L.S.U.-Texas showdown would be ridiculous and these interconference connections would add an element of intrigue:

Gene Chizik: Iowa State head coach, former Auburn defensive coordinator
Dennis Franchione: Texas A&M head coach, former Alabama head coach
Les Miles: L.S.U. head coach, former Oklahoma State head coach
Guy Morriss: Baylor head coach, former Kentucky head coach
Bob Stoops: Oklahoma head coach, former Florida defensive coordinator

There are a lot of practical problems to such a proposal, but it would generate substantial interest and squelch a great deal of criticism. If the two premiere Southern college football conferences can't meet up in the postseason as frequently as any of us (particularly in the S.E.C. East) would like, maybe we can square off at the start of September to make up for our inability to knock heads at the start of January.

Go 'Dawgs!

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