I've not attempted to publish one of these before, so please excuse me if I ramble or if I am unaware of any standard protocol for these things. But with many months to go until football season, and a recent trip to Florida Field behind me (both purposeful and sober, mind you) I felt the need to let some of my thoughts out. Thanks for reading:
Earlier this basketball season I watched as an inspired but over-matched Bulldogs team took on the #1-ranked, National-Champion-to-be Kentucky Wildcats in Stegeman Coliseum. It was demolition, but it was worth the price of admission to watch them work. Since matriculating in 2001, this is the only time I am aware of witnessing a visit from an eventual national champ in a revenue sport while they were also #1 in the polls. Florida would have also visited, of course, in each of their 2006 and 2007 championship years but I don't recall their exact ranks at the time. So in basketball at least, home visits from championship-caliber opponents have become the norm in the SEC.
But that got me thinking that surely--with the SEC's longstanding string of domination in football--surely I must also have seen some champions visit Athens in that other sport, right? Nope. I have never seen a team destined to win an MNC play in Sanford Stadium. Please allow me to elaborate, starting in 2003 with Saban's first title:
2003: Played LSU in Baton Rouge and in Atlanta
2004: (for good measure) Played Auburn in... well, Auburn
2006: Played Florida in Jacksonville
2007: Did not play LSU
2008: Played Florida in Jacksonville
2009: Did not play Alabama
2010: Played Auburn at their house again!
2011: Did not play Alabama (but played title-game participant LSU in Atlanta again)
There's a string of scheduling bad luck there where we always seem to play the upcoming National Champs either in their home state or not at all. But I think this illustrates a good point--namely that the additional cross-division scheduling allowed by going to a 9-game schedule will not actually guarantee more good football is played in Athens. Probably just that more TV revenue arrives after the season.
While I think that point is undebatable, I would also like to ask the following question based on the list above: Why do we still play UF in Jacksonville? Conference scheduling is luck of the draw, as indicated, but there is some additional assurance involved with teams within the Eastern division. Had it not been at a neutral site the UF game would have been played in Sanford both in 2006 and 2008. So again I ask, what could be more natural than visiting beautiful downtown Athens on a lovely Halloween afternoon and then enjoying the presence of your school's biggest rival in your very own stadium? If we want a consistenly more impressive slate of home games than we have waiting for us in the upcoming fall then I submit that the answer is not a ninth conference game.