Alabama’s schedule has at least one big non-conference opponent a year
With Nick Saban as the head coach of the Crimson Tide, Alabama’s schedule has consisted of one big non-conference game a year. Through the 13 years with Saban at Alabama, the Crimson Tide have had 11 neutral site non-conference games. The other two was a home-and-home matchup against a ranked Penn State Nittany Lions in 2010 and 2011. Of the total 14 non-conference games against power-five teams, eight of the games have been against ranked opponents. Seven of the eight games have either been played in Arlington, Texas or Atlanta, Georgia. The Tide try to make a non-conference schedule worthy to get the playoff committee’s attention. Before coach Saban arrived at Alabama, the Tide only had two opponents against a team from a major conference in four seasons. Those teams were Duke Blue Devils in 2006 and #1 Oklahoma Sooners in 2003.
The Tide make the neutral site games against power five non-conference opponents who are expected to be ranked. In the 2017 season, #1 Alabama Crimson Tide battled the #3 Florida State Seminoles in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta, Georgia. This was one supposed to be one of the most exciting matchups throughout the entire 2017 College Football. Instead, the Crimson Tide won decidedly in part due to major injury to Seminoles quarterback Deondre Francois. The Tide were criticized for their schedule in 2017 especially with the downfall of the Seminoles. The last two opening matchups for Alabama have been against an unranked Louisville last season and Duke this season. Last season, Louisville faced Alabama without 2016 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. Alabama was the first opponent for Duke with quarterback Daniel Jones this season.
Matchups against smaller schools are a necessary evil
Whenever a power five team creates a football schedule, they create matchups that fit around their conference matchups. Most teams try to boost their schedule with tougher opponents to gain favor for the playoff committee. For Alabama in 2017, it was the #3 Florida State Seminoles. For Clemson, they created a home-and-home series against the Texas A&M Aggies. Georgia created a matchup with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this season. Every team creates matchups against lower echelon teams because they are easy to schedule fillers. There are perks for both teams, for better/more established teams, they can use the game to play their starters less and focus on building their team’s weaknesses. For a group of five conference or FCS program, they earn a paycheck worth up to close to a million dollars.
While these “cupcake” matchups are not ideal for the week-to-week fans who want a playoff-caliber match every week from teams, they are essential. They can build the lower level schools that essentially lose money every year playing football. For the bigger schools, they get the chance to recover their team if they play efficiently. Their matchup can also put the smaller schools on the map of the college football nation when an upset occurs. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl turned the Boise State Broncos into a household name when they beat a top 10 ranked Oklahoma Sooners. The first week of this season, Georgia State embarrassed the Tennessee Volunteers. Last week, the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers beat a Les Miles coached Kansas Jayhawks team. They got the huge paychecks and the win over a huge power five conference opponent.
Bigger games are to come
Coach Saban was very open about his displeasure with other top-level teams not wanting to play the Crimson Tide during the season. Apart from the Tide canceling a home-and-home series with the Michigan State Spartans, they have been very open to playing highly ranked non-conference opponents in the regular season. The belief with the canceled series with Michigan State, coach Saban would like to play them in a neutral site home. Even with the rant of his displeasure of the media’s take on these “cupcake” games, Alabama’s schedule will have some noticeable non-conference games in the future.
Next season, the Tide will have a neutral-site rematch against the USC Trojans in Arlington, Texas. The Tide and the Trojans last faced each other at the beginning of the 2016 season. In the 2021 season, Alabama will face the Miami Hurricanes in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta, Georgia. Then the Tide will focus on home-and-home series against the Texas Longhorns in 2022 and 2023. Alabama will play another home-and-home series with the Wisconsin Badgers in 2024 and 2025. From then, the Crimson Tide will have a home-and-home matchup against West Virginia in 2026 and 2027. In 2028 and 2029, Alabama will face the Notre Dame Fighting Irish first in South Bend, Indiana and then Tuscaloosa. Finally, Alabama has a home-and-home series planned with the Oklahoma Sooners in 2032 and 2033.