Auburn’s long-standing tradition of capping conference play with UGA and Alabama dates back to the 1962 regular season; and from 1999-2011, the Tigers found a rhythm with the Bulldogs/Crimson Tide finish — splitting the home/away obligations every year.
For example, when Auburn played UGA at home, it would subsequently travel to Alabama — and vice versa the following year.
But substantive change came three years ago, when the SEC added Texas A&M (West division) and Missouri (East division) as the 13th and 14th members. Consequently, the conference’s master schedule had to be adjusted, accommodating for two seven-team divisions, while preserving the permanent crossover rivalries that were already in place (Alabama-Tennessee, LSU-Florida, Auburn-UGA, etc.).
For Auburn, this created a good news/bad news situation for November: With odd-numbered years, the Tigers would host the Bulldogs and Crimson Tide; and for even-numbered years, Auburn would stack trips to Athens, Georgia and Tuscaloosa, Alabama.
Fast forward to Saturday’s broadcast of Auburn-UGA (the Bulldogs rallied for a 20-13 win): During a break in action, the CBS play-by-play announcer vaguely alluded to how the Tigers are primed for a bounce-back season next year, presumably because of the large number of starting returnees and/or infusion of blue-chip recruits, like 5-star defensive end Marlon Davidson (Greenville, Alabama) and 4-star wide receiver Eli Stove (Niceville, Florida).
Well, it’s great to be so optimistic about the Tigers’ chances for contending in the SEC West next season; but it’s also tough to readily endorse, given Auburn’s road slate of Mississippi State, Ole Miss, UGA and Alabama. Throw in home dates with Clemson and LSU — which may both garner top-5 preseason rankings next August — and a berth in the College Football Playoff seems like a long shot.
Plus, Auburn’s quarterback tandem of Jeremy Johnson (61 passing yards, 31 rushing vs. UGA) and Sean White (1 of 5 passing) must make monumental strides in the offseason, in terms of avoiding the 2016 grouping of bottom-tier SEC passers.
And that’s saying a lot … for a conference which only has one 3,000-yard passer this late in the 2015 season (Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly).
Jay Clemons, the 2015 national winner for “Sports Blog Of The Year” (Cynopsis Media), has previously written for SI.com, The National Football Post, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports.