14 games that college football fans deserve to see happen
Unfortunately for college football fans, teams from the Big Ten and SEC rarely face each other more than once in the regular season. Why should we have to wait until late December and early January to see these two conferences clash in bowl games?
In an effort to spice up the non-conference slates of both leagues, I propose the following matchups. As a bonus, I have suggested a slogan to promote the proposed two-year series.
Ohio State vs. Alabama
Promotional Slogan: Our dearly departed and highly revered head coach was better than yours!
Series History: Alabama leads 3-1
Ohio State vs. SEC: 5-11-1*
Alabama vs. Big Ten: 11-5
All four previous contests occurred at neutral sites: twice in the Sugar Bowl plus once each in the Citrus Bowl and in the long-gone Kickoff Classic. Of the Buckeyes’ 17 games against SEC opponents, only five occurred during the regular season. Ohio State has only played in one SEC stadium (at LSU in 1987).
Alabama has played at the home stadium of just two members of the Big Ten. The Crimson Tide has made the trip to University Park, Pa., to play Penn State six times. However, the Tide has traveled to Happy Valley only once since the Nittany Lions joined the Big Ten in 1990. The other trip to Big Ten country occurred in 1928 when the Crimson Tide lost at Wisconsin.
*One win versus the SEC, over Arkansas in Sugar Bowl at the end of the 2010 season, was later vacated.
Michigan vs. LSU
Promotional Slogan: Les Miles Bowl
Series History: None
Michigan vs. SEC: 13-7
LSU vs. Big Ten: 9-5-1
Despite Big Ten versus SEC tie-ins with multiple bowls since the early 1990s, these two highly successful programs have never met on the gridiron.
Michigan has never travelled down south to an SEC stadium. The Wolverines’ first five contests versus the SEC, which were played between 1934 and ‘69, all took place in Ann Arbor. Since then, 13 of the next 15 were in bowls. Michigan also hosted Vanderbilt in 2006 and faced Alabama in Arlington, Texas, in ‘12.
LSU has played at three Big Ten stadiums (Wisconsin in 1971, Indiana in ‘77 and Ohio State in ‘88). Six matchups occurred in bowls and three at off-campus venues during the regular season.
This game does raise one question: For which team would the Mad Hatter be rooting?
Penn State vs. Florida
Promotional Slogan: Why Not Play Each Other in September?
Series History: Florida leads 3-0
Penn State vs. SEC: 16-20
Florida vs. Big Ten: 12-7
All previous meetings occurred in bowls played in the Sunshine State.
The Gators have played four times in the home stadium of a Big Ten team. However, they have not done this since a trip to Evanston in 1965. The other three visits occurred before World War II; two of those were to the University of Chicago, a former member of the Big Ten.
Penn State has faced 10 of the current members of the SEC. However, only five of those games occurred in home venues, including at Missouri and at Texas A&M before either had joined the SEC. The Nittany Lions have only faced an SEC opponent in the regular season twice since joining the Big Ten in 1990 – a home-and-home series vs. Alabama in 2010-11.
Michigan State vs. Auburn
Promotional Slogan: Battle of Little Brothers
Series History: Auburn leads 1-0
Michigan State vs. SEC: 5-9
Auburn vs. Big Ten: 6-4-2
These two programs have experienced quite a lot of success since 2000. Nevertheless, they are still overshadowed by an in-state rival in the same conference. And the history between these two programs consists of one game, which Auburn won way back in 1938 (Orange Bowl).
No Big Ten member has ever played in Auburn. Ohio State is the sole member to face Auburn in the state of Alabama (in Montgomery in 1917). The Tigers’ only trip to Big Ten country was back in 1931, up to Madison. All the other matchups have occurred in bowls.
Eight of Michigan State’s 14 meetings with an SEC opponent have happened in bowls. The Spartans have only visited one SEC stadium (Kentucky in 1944 and ’46).
Nebraska vs. Arkansas
Promotional Slogan: Cotton vs. Corn Clash
Series History: Arkansas leads 1-0
Nebraska vs. SEC: 17-7-1
Arkansas vs. Big Ten: 1-6-1
The self-image and general mood of the residents of the states where these two universities are located are greatly affected by the success (or lack thereof) of their respective football team. This provides an opportunity for each to square off against an equally rabid fan base that travels in large numbers. They can boast about conference and national titles from last century while lamenting none won in the current century. Also, they can argue about which shade of red is superior.
AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, seems like the ideal location for this game. A sizeable number of Arkansas alumni reside in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including none other than Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. Selling their portion of tickets would not pose a problem. Nebraska needs a presence in Texas again in order to boost recruiting. Losing annual games there turned out to be a downside of leaving the Big 12. The Razorbacks won the only meeting in the Cotton Bowl following the 1964 season.
The Cornhuskers have ventured into three SEC venues, all during the 1970s and ‘80s, compiling a 1-1-1 record. Despite their past success against the SEC, Nebraska has lost four of the five meetings since 2000.
It has been quite a while since the Razorbacks have ventured into Big Ten country. Arkansas played at Wisconsin in 1912 and Iowa in ’25.
Illinois vs. Missouri
Promotional Slogan: Battle by the Arch
Series History: Missouri leads 17-7
Illinois vs. SEC: 0-5
Missouri vs. Big Ten: 39-48-4
With the exception of Rutgers, Missouri has faced every current member of the Big Ten at least twice. Starting in 1902 and continuing to the present, Missouri’s longest stretch without playing an opponent from the Big Ten was 1915-24. In fact, from 1983-94, the Tigers played at least one Big Ten opponent every season.
In contrast, Illinois has played a total of five games against SEC foes in program history, which dates back to 1890.
The resumption of this border rivalry seems more appropriate than matching either team against someone from the other conference for the first time. These teams have faced each other six times since 2000, all in Saint Louis. They played each other on campus 15 times from 1966-94. This series deserves to be re-started, either on campus sites or in Saint Louis.
Indiana vs. Kentucky
Promotional Slogan: We’re Not Just About Basketball!
Series History: Indiana leads 18-17
Indiana vs. SEC: 17-19
Kentucky vs. Big Ten: 18-22
These inter-state rivals had faced each other annually from 1979 until 2005 with the exception of 1981, ’82, ‘85 and ‘86. Kentucky has faced Indiana more than the rest of the Big Ten teams combined. The same can be said of Indiana’s number of games versus Kentucky compared to the Hoosiers against the rest of the SEC.
If these two decide that their home stadiums lack the seats to accommodate the expected large crowds, perhaps they could copy the growing trend of playing in NFL venues on Labor Day weekend? Indiana’s “home” game could take place in Indianapolis while Kentucky’s “home” game would occur in Cincinnati.
Northwestern vs. Vanderbilt
Promotional Slogan: The “We Are Smarter Than You and Everyone Else in Our Conference!” Series
Series History: Northwestern leads 2-1-1
Northwestern vs. SEC: 3-8-1
Vanderbilt vs. Big Ten: 8-17-2
This is an opportunity for the players to put aside bragging about their high SAT scores and even higher amounts of tuition they avoided paying due to their athletic scholarships. Actually, this would be a fun trip for the visiting fans of the only private universities in each conference. They would visit another great city having multiple cultural landmarks with football as the excuse for the trip. Of the four previous meetings, only one was played in Nashville; the rest were in Evanston.
In yet another way that Vanderbilt distinguishes itself from the rest of the SEC, the Commodores have never faced a Big Ten team in a bowl game. That is not to say that the Commodores have never played anyone from the Big Ten. In fact, they have ventured into five different stadiums of current Big Ten members a number of times: Michigan (1905, ’06, ’08, ’11, 14, ’23, ’69 and 2006), Minnesota (1924, ’29, ’30 and ’59), Ohio State (1931 and ‘33), Purdue (1941), Northwestern (1947, ’52 and 2012) and Indiana (1979).
Despite the Wildcats’ weak record versus the SEC, they have won three of their five most recent contests against conference members. Of the 12 total games against current SEC members, half have occurred in the past 20 seasons. Four occurred in bowls, all in Florida.
Wisconsin vs. Ole Miss
Promotional Slogan: Tailgating War
Series History: None
Wisconsin vs. SEC: 4-11
Ole Miss vs. Big Ten: 0-3-1
On one side, there will be bratwursts on the grill with plenty of beer and cheese on the side. On the other, fried chicken and barbecued pork accompanied by plenty of sweet tea, all served under chandeliers. The fine dining might make the game seem secondary.
The Badgers have only played at one SEC stadium, at LSU in 1972. Of the 15 meetings with SEC opponents, 13 were at off-campus sites. Ten occurred in bowls while the three most recent were at neutral venues to open the respective season.
The Rebels ventured into Big Ten venues on three occasions from 1929-32, the last time they faced a team from the conference during the regular season.
Maryland vs. South Carolina
Promotional Slogan: Escapees from the ACC Series
Series History: Maryland leads 17-11
Maryland vs. SEC: 26-30-2
South Carolina vs. Big Ten: 7-4
The Terrapins have faced eight other SEC programs more recently than their last tangle with their former conference neighbor. Given that Maryland already has an extensive history versus SEC competition, why not choose an opponent it has not seen in more than four decades? These two faced each other every season from 1926-29, 1945-49 and1953-71. The last series occurred when both were members of the ACC. These two are overdue for a renewal of their long dormant series.
Maryland has faced every current SEC member other than Arkansas at least once. However, the Terrapins have not played any SEC opponent since bowl games after the 2001 and ‘02 seasons. Their last regular season contest against an SEC foe was back in 1987.
The last seven occasions when the Gamecocks have faced a Big Ten team happened in bowls, winning five of those matchups.
Minnesota vs. Georgia
Promotional Slogan: Hypothermia vs. Hyperthermia
Series History: None
Minnesota vs. SEC: 4-2
Georgia vs. Big Ten: 10-4
College football fans with a sadistic streak would like to schedule this game in early August to see the Gophers melt in Athens. The following season, the Bulldogs would head to Minneapolis in late December to freeze. Fortunately for the players, the NCAA’s scheduling rules would prevent both daunting possibilities.
The Bulldogs have not headed north to face a Big Ten opponent since their trip to Ann Arbor in 1965. And they had made just two other such trips prior to that. Since then, Georgia has tangled with Big Ten foes11 times, all in bowls located in Florida.
Minnesota’s only excursions southward to square off against SEC opponents occurred in four bowl games. The Gophers did host Vanderbilt in 1959.
Iowa vs. Mississippi State
Promotional Slogan: Rural Bowl
Series History: None
Iowa vs. SEC: 4-6
Mississippi State vs. Big Ten: 2-5
Mississippi State fans will be relieved to find out that, despite first glance, their opponents are not the Pittsburgh Steelers. Iowa’s fans would learn about another use for cowbells besides keeping track of their livestock.
All of Iowa’s contests against the SEC have been played at neutral sites.
The first five of Mississippi State’s games versus the Big Ten took place at Indiana (1920, ’26, ‘32) and at Illinois (1923, ‘80). The other two happened in the Gator Bowl during this decade.
Rutgers vs. Tennessee
Promotional Slogan: Rock ‘n’ Roll vs. Country Music
Series History: Tennessee leads 3-1.
Rutgers vs. SEC: 6-11-2
Tennessee vs. Big Ten: 11-4
This is not just an athletic contest; it is also a clash of musical culture. The flagship university of the home of The Shirelles, Bon Jovi, and The Misfits would face the namesake university of the land of the Everly Brothers, Chet Atkins and Lady Antebellum. Fans of the Scarlet Knights will be subjected to more renditions of “Rocky Top” than they would have ever wanted to hear. Big Orange Nation will find out if Rutgers even has a fight song.
These two have not faced each other since 2002. Three of the previous meetings occurred in Knoxville.
Rutgers has only hosted an SEC team on campus once (Arkansas in 2013). Rutgers’ six other “home” games against an SEC opponent were played at the New York Giants’ stadium.
Despite 15 contests against a member of the Big Ten, Tennessee has never ventured into enemy territory. Of those games, all but one occurred in bowls. Coincidentally, two of those previous matchups occurred in New Jersey (vs. Wisconsin in 1981, vs. Iowa in 1987).
Purdue vs. Texas A&M
Promotional Slogan: Engineer Bowl
Series History: Purdue leads 1-0
Purdue vs. SEC: 1-4
Texas A&M vs. Big Ten: 6-9
Purdue’s only trip to an SEC venue was to Vanderbilt in 1942. The Boilermakers were returning the visit that the Commodores had made the previous season. The other three matchups took place in bowls.
Texas A&M has played Big Ten opponents in Texas eight times. However, only once did the opponent come to College Station (Illinois in 1975). The only previous meeting between the Aggies and Boilermakers occurred in Dallas in 1967.
These programs might decide to face each other at a neutral venue instead of in their on-campus stadiums. In that case, perhaps students from their highly acclaimed engineering programs could build a road to a point halfway between their campuses and then construct a venue there.
A review of these suggested games shows a variety. Three re-ignite dormant series between programs with a long history between them. A handful of these could give the combatants a chance to face the opponent on its home field after having only previously played at neutral venues. A few matchups would allow teams to face each other for the first time.
So, Jim Delaney and Greg Sankey, can we make these happen?
— Written by John La Fleur, who is part of the Athlon Contributor network. A graduate of Michigan State and LSU, La Fleur also has been a Saints fan since he was old enough to understand football. Follow him on Twitter @FBConnoisseur.
(Top photo courtesy of Getty Images)