Permanent SEC foes involve strange geography
There were many cross words coming out of the Southeastern Conference Spring Meeting in Destin, Fla., over cross-divisional rivalries, also known as permanent opponents.
LSU Chancellor Mike Martin, athletic director Joe Alleva and football coach Les Miles argued vehemently against them. They said having LSU play two-time BCS champion Florida every year while Mississippi State plays Kentucky — the Bulldogs’ only SEC title came in 1941, the Wildcats haven’t won the conference since 1976 — fosters a competitive imbalance in a conference where the competition couldn’t be fiercer.
Ultimately, the LSU side was as outmanned as North Texas is likely to be when it visits Tiger Stadium on Sept. 1. Existing permanent opponents will stand and two more cross-divisional rivalries were created with the addition of Texas A&M and Missouri.
Those teams couldn’t have more geographically different situations in terms of their permanent opponents.
Missouri, placed in the SEC East though it lies farther west than all but two SEC teams (A&M and Arkansas), Will play SEC West denizen Arkansas. Those two schools are separated by just 309 miles, the third-shortest distance between permanent opponents behind only Auburn-Georgia (173 miles) and Ole Miss-Vanderbilt (232).
Meanwhile, Texas A&M and South Carolina fans will have to make what will amount to an annual pilgrimage to watch the Aggies or Gamecocks play on the other’s home turf. The two schools lie on the western and easternmost boundaries of the SEC, and are separated by a whopping 1,074 miles.
Border war or overnight car trip, there are plenty of brilliant and budding rivalries in the SEC. Here’s a look at this year’s cross-divisional games, though it is important to note that the conference is operating under a temporary scheduling format in 2012. Some of these games won’t repeat in 2013:
Sept. 8, Florida at Texas A&M: As if the Aggies weren’t already geeked up about their first game as an SEC member, Florida coach and former Texas and LSU defensive coordinator Will Muschamp threw gasoline on the bonfire with an offhand comment at a Florida booster club meeting earlier this year.
“You ever been to College Station?” Muschamp asked his audience. “It’ll be the only time you go.” Same could be true for Muschamp if he doesn’t start winning games like this one.
Oct. 6, LSU at Florida: The Tigers may go into the season as the favorite in every game, but The Swamp is still The Swamp. The Gators will be eager to prove themselves after getting crushed 41-11 at LSU last season, but the Tigers have clearly regained the upper hand in this series and have won three of the last five in Gainesville.
While LSU may be playing this game under protest, it’s worth remembering the Tigers and Gators have played every year since 1971 and produced a string of dramatic encounters, including LSU’s 33-29 win at Florida in 2010.
Oct. 13, South Carolina at LSU: Steve Spurrier is talking trash again, which means he believes he’s got a pretty good team. The Gamecocks will start the season in the top 10 as co-SEC East favorites with Georgia (which plays in Columbia on Oct. 6) and should saunter into Baton Rouge 5-1 or 6-0. This could easily be a preview of the SEC Championship Game on Dec. 1.
Oct. 20, Alabama at Tennessee: What once was a rivalry has devolved into an annual rout on the third Saturday in October, with the Crimson Tide winning five straight. Some are predicting a bounce back season for the Volunteers this season and this game — even if it ends in a sixth straight defeat — will be a stern measuring stick.
Nov. 10, Arkansas at South Carolina: This is the final year the Razorbacks and Gamecocks are each other’s permanent opponent (FYI, it’s 914 miles from Fayetteville to Columbia) and this one promises to be a thriller. Both teams come into the season harboring dark-horse national title hopes, and there’s a good chance at least one of them could still be in contention when this titanic encounter rolls around.
Nov. 10, Georgia at Auburn: In the South’s oldest rivalry, Georgia has been dominant of late, winning five of the last six showdowns. The Bulldogs will likely go to The Plains hoping to stay in control of the SEC East or face a must-win to stay in contention.
Nov. 24, Missouri at Texas A&M: In the near future, this will be the annual spot on the schedule for the LSU-A&M game, but for now the two former Big 12 rivals square off in the season-ending “Expansion Bowl.” Neither will likely be playing for a spot in Atlanta, but the winner will certainly enhance (or secure) its bowl prospects.