When you stack up all 128 FBS teams on a map, a lot of the conference affiliations don’t make sense. (More on that here). In fact, only two SEC teams’ closest neighbors are in-conference schools.
Ole Miss is 31 miles closer to Memphis than hated rival Mississippi State, and we’ll get what could be one of the final Tigers-Rebels football matchups this weekend (7 p.m. ET, TV network varies based on location).
It got us thinking: Which school is Tennessee’s “Memphis?” What about the rest of the conference?
We did some research and broke it down below.
- Closest FBS school: Mississippi State (84 miles)
- Closest non-SEC FBS school: Troy (155 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Samford (56 miles)
Alabama-Mississippi State is the only SEC rivalry in which the two teams are each others’ closest FBS neighbors. And while Samford is Alabama’s nearest potential punching bag, the two have not scheduled a matchup since World War II.
- Closest FBS school: Tulsa (109 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Missouri (295 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Missouri State (117 miles)
Arkansas’ 2012 win over Tulsa made it 18 straight victories against the Golden Hurricane, dating back to 1977. When that series left off, a new rivalry against Missouri began; we’ll likely be treated to Tigers-Hogs games on Black Friday for years to come.
- Closest FBS school: Troy (73 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Alabama (156 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Alabama State (53 miles)
We all know the Iron Bowl basics, but the lack of any on-field history between Auburn and Troy is slightly perplexing. The Tigers likely feel they would have too much to lose by scheduling a non-conference game against an in-state opponent, and Alabama has adopted a similar stance.
- Closest FBS school: South Florida (123 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Auburn (318 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Jacksonville (77 miles)
We’ve only ever seen one Florida-USF matchup (a 38-14 Gators win in 2010), and Auburn’s status as a cross-divisional team means they don’t play Florida often. Jacksonville has only supported a football program for 18 years, so it might be awhile before we see a series start up in Gainesville.
- Closest FBS school: Georgia Tech (68 miles)
- Closest SEC school: South Carolina (164 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Kennesaw State (82 miles)
The Bulldogs and Yellow Jackets have a long history with one another, while the SEC divisional alignment means we also get an annual Georgia-South Carolina matchup.
- Closest FBS school: Louisville (79 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Tennessee (170 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Eastern Kentucky (26 miles)
Much like Georgia-Georgia Tech, we get a Kentucky-Louisville rivalry game every November. The Wildcats also play Tennessee every season, but the Vols have won 30 of the past 31 matchups.
- Closest FBS school: Louisiana-Lafayette (57 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Mississippi State (302 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Southern (12 miles)
Along with Missouri, Texas A&M and Florida, the Bayou Bengals are geographical outlier in the SEC; the nearest conference opponent is a 5-hour drive away. But there are plenty of nearer FBS options. Chief among them is Lafayette, which is 0-22 in a series that began 114 years ago.
- Closest FBS school: Memphis (72 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Mississippi State (103 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Mississippi Valley State (92 miles)
We mentioned the Memphis series in the introduction. Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork told us it would be “difficult” to extend the football rivalry past 2019, but that the schools will continue to compete in other sports.
- Closest FBS school: Alabama (85 miles)
- Closest non-SEC FBS school: Memphis (161 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Mississippi Valley State (99 miles)
Mississippi State is in sort of a no-man’s land when it comes to the FBS map. Memphis is much closer to Ole Miss, but is still the natural non-SEC rival for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State has won 12 straight against the Tigers, with the most recent meeting taking place in 2011.
- Closest FBS school: Kansas (167 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Arkansas (295 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Missouri State (166 miles)
We’d love to see Mizzou and Kansas renew the “Border War,” a rivalry that has roots in brutal pre-Civil War bloodshed. Kansas has not been keen about restarting negotiations, while Missouri has been interested in a rekindling since Day 1 of its Big 12 departure. A new Black Friday rivalry with Arkansas could develop into legitimate bad blood.
- Closest FBS school: Clemson (135 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Georgia (165 miles)
- Closest FCS school: South Carolina State (41 miles)
Clemson-South Carolina is another of those November non-con rivalries that’s common in SEC-ACC country. It’s fluctuated throughout the years — with Clemson winning the past two and South Carolina winning the five before that — but has been a pretty even matchup since the 1940s.
- Closest FBS school: Appalachian State (160 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Vanderbilt (179 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Western Carolina (91 miles)
This year was the first time that Tennessee agreed to play Appalachian State. It nearly lost the season opener, needing some dumb luck in fourth quarter and overtime to defeat the Mountaineers. It’s a safer bet to stick with Vanderbilt as a lone geographic rival even if the Vols have defeated the Commodores in 30 of their past 33 meetings.
- Closest FBS school: Baylor (90 miles)
- Closest SEC school: LSU (341 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Prairie View A&M (50 miles)
With a bevy of in-state schools surrounding it, Texas A&M made cartographers scratch their heads when the Aggies decided to play a bunch of Southeastern Conference teams every season. For better or worse, they’ll be logging tons of travel miles until the SEC decides to expand further into the Lone Star State.
- Closest FBS school: Middle Tennessee State (38 miles)
- Closest SEC school: Tennessee (179 miles)
- Closest FCS school: Tennessee State (2 miles)
An off-and-on agreement with Middle Tennessee State allows mid-state Tennesseans to attend road games at low cost, but there’s not much oomph to the Commodores-Blue Raiders “rivalry.” Maybe the Commodores will link up with Memphis (202 miles away) now that Ole Miss is keeping the Tigers off its future schedules.