How Verge Ausberry, LSU approach modern-day football schedules

There is art to scheduling college football games.

Just ask Verge Ausberry, LSU’s associate athletic director who has handled football scheduling since 2007.

“Our ultimate goal is to hold the crystal ball over our head,” Ausberry said. “There’s ways of doing that.”

There’s strategy involved — more now than ever.

The College Football Playoff begins this season, and a committee will use strength of schedule as a key determining factor in seeding the nation’s top four teams in the sport’s first playoff.

Ausberry’s job — already important — just got a lot more significant.

LSU announced earlier this week a home-and-home series with UCLA starting in 2021, and the school is in the final stages of a deal to play a home-and-home against Syracuse starting in 2015.

The Tigers have contracts with major conference teams Arizona State, Wisconsin, North Carolina State and Oklahoma.

In a recent interview with The Advocate, Ausberry explained how he approaches scheduling nonconference football games — from the who to the where to the why to the when.

He touched on LSU’s recent influx in neutral site football games and the future of that.

He examined how his scheduling strategy will change with the CFP, and how a nine-game Southeastern Conference schedule — if the league moves to such — will affect his nonconference scheduling.

The philosophy

Ausberry’s scheduling philosophy is similar to most SEC schools.

He likes to schedule one major conference school and have three “buy” games — lower-level opponents which LSU pays to play. One of the three “buy” games will be a team from the Football Championship Subdivision.

LSU has used or will use this format in 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016 and will likely follow it in 2015, too.

It is somewhat of a change from past schedules. The school did not play FCS teams in 2006, 2007 and 2009. In 2010 and 2011, the Tigers played two major conference schools.

Things have changed, though.

“Right now, we’re going to stick with the model,” Ausberry said. “We’re not doing anything different than anybody else.”

Eight of the other 13 SEC teams will follow that format next season.

Four of the five not following that format do not play a major conference team. Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M play three mid-majors and an FCS.

Georgia has two major conference opponents. The Bulldogs play Clemson along with their yearly meeting with Georgia Tech.

The changes

LSU’s format of playing one major conference team, two mid-majors and an FCS will not change with the CFP, Ausberry said. It will, however, be imperative to always have that major conference team on the schedule.

The program has ensured that with the recent contracts with the aforementioned schools — Arizona State, Syracuse, UCLA, Oklahoma, NC State and Wisconsin.

The last time LSU did not play a major conference team in the non-conference schedule was 2008.

Don’t look for it to happen again.

“They’re going to (look) at a lot of statistics on games, how much you won by, who you played,” Ausberry said of the CFP committee. “There are some things the SEC has sent out to all of us to take a look at (about) how the new process is going to work. … We’re all kind of like, ‘Let’s just see how this plays out.’ I think our schedules strength wise looks pretty good from here on out.”

The Southeastern Conference may move from an eight- to a nine-game conference schedule.

That would trim LSU’s non-conference schedule from four to three games, but it wouldn’t much affect the format. LSU would still play an FCS school, Ausberry said, unless the SEC banned it from doing so.

The Big Ten has decided not to play FCS teams any longer.

FCS schools are cheaper “buy” games, costing half of what a mid-major would (about $500,000) sometimes.

The neutral site

When LSU travels to play Wisconsin at Lambeau Field in 2016, the Tigers will be playing their fifth neutral site game in seven seasons.

And more neutral site games could be on the way, Ausberry said.

“We like neutral site games,” he said.

Why? It helps grow LSU’s brand to a national audience, makes the school a ton of money and boosts the recruitment of students and student-athletes, Ausberry said.

“The world has changed,” Ausberry said. “Everybody says LSU’s brand is already big. I say, ‘Yeah, but you can’t ever stop growing.’ You either get better or worse every day. You’ve got to keep working on that brand.”

The money is a big part as well.

LSU will make a combined $5.4 million from the two-game deal with Wisconsin.

Ausberry has fielded calls from multiple big-city venues about hosting a neutral site game involving LSU. He would not reveal those who have called.

LSU would “love” to play a neutral site game in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Ausberry said. For now, talks between the entities in New Orleans and LSU are not serious.

Is money a sticking point? Maybe.

New Orleans lost out to Glendale, Ariz., on hosting the CFP playoff national championship game in 2016 after, reportedly, bidding half of what Glendale bid.

“You’ve got to put some money out there,” Ausberry said. “Those people want LSU as a brand. They want us. They’ve all called. All of these different ones.”

But, he added, “We can’t ever give up on New Orleans. New Orleans will always be a recruiting hotbed for us, not only with student-athletes but students.”

Recruiting is, maybe, the biggest factor in neutral site games.

The recruiting game has changed, Ausberry said. High school players, especially those being recruited by LSU, are looking at one thing: the NFL.

Having NFL venues on your regular season schedules is a good start in recruiting a high school athlete.

“Every kid they mine out of high school and their parents are thinking about, ‘OK, we’re going to get a good education, but let’s talk about the NFL,’ ” Ausberry said.

Future LSU football nonconference opponents

2014

Aug. 30: Wisconsin (at Reliant Stadium, Houston)

Sept. 6: Sam Houston State

Sept. 13: Louisiana-Monroe

Sept. 27: New Mexico State

2015

Oct. 3: Eastern Michigan

Nov. 14: Western Kentucky

Notes: Syracuse expected to be added, and another opponent being finalized

2016

Sept. 3: Wisconsin (at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.)

Sept. 10: Southern Miss

Sept. 17: Jacksonville State

Oct. 15: South Alabama

Note: Order might change.

2017

Sept. 2: Georgia Southern

Sept. 9: N.C. State

Sept. 30: Troy

Notes: Syracuse expected to be added; N.C. State game likely will be pushed back.

2020

Sept. 12: at N.C. State

Note: N.C. State game likely will be pushed back.

2021

Sept. 4: at UCLA

2022

Sept. 10: at Arizona State

2023

Sept. 9: Arizona State

2024

Aug. 31: vs. UCLA

Note

The dates are subject to change, based on the Southeastern’s Conference possible move from eight to nine conference games.

Series with Oklahoma

LSU and Oklahoma have agreed to play a home-and-home series. The series was originally scheduled for 2018 (at Oklahoma) and 2019 (at LSU) but has been moved to dates not yet set after the 2019 season.