Opinion: It’s fair to wonder if Alabama is ‘copying’ UGA’s non-conference scheduling philosophy
One of the most ludicrous SEC storylines in recent years has been the notion that former Alabama assistant Kirby Smart has been copying the Crimson Tide since becoming Georgia head coach in 2016.
The supposed examples of Smart trying to be like Alabama include Sanford Stadium’s LED lights, care packages sent to Bulldogs alumni in the NFL and the decision to hire longtime Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran this offseason.
Frankly, these suggestions are silly. And UGA fans could be forgiven for laughing at the notion.
However, DawgNation should at least pay enough attention to the subject to notice the irony that –as many Alabama fans call Smart a “copycat” — the Crimson Tide are actually copying Smart in a key area.
Have you noticed what Alabama has recently done with its non-conference scheduling?
Alabama announced this week that it would play a home-and-home series against Ohio State in 2027-28 — nearly eight months after UGA made a similar announcement about a series with the Buckeyes.
Likewise, in April of 2018, Alabama announced it would play a home-and-home series against Notre Dame — less than a year after UGA had been the talk of college football when tens of thousands of Bulldogs fans “took over” the Fighting Irish’s campus in the first DawgNation Invasion.
UGA’s upcoming games against Ohio State and the recent battles with Notre Dame are examples why Smart has been credited with “leading the charge” toward more challenging non-conference schedules and away from the neutral site games that have been commonplace near the beginnings of seasons. Alabama coach Nick Saban — perhaps reluctantly — is seemingly now following in his footsteps.
As recently as 2017, when Alabama made the College Football Playoff despite not winning the SEC West, Saban drew some criticism for his scheduling philosophy.
“Nick’s been manipulating college football schedules at Bama for years,” national radio host Colin Cowherd said at the time. “Nick schedules out-of-conference games only on neutral fields. They’re doing it again next year. They’ll face Louisville in Orlando… He won’t go on the road.”
Whether Cowherd’s take on Saban is correct or not, Alabama soon won’t have the luxury of avoiding non-conference road games anymore. A change that Saban says he supports.
“We try to schedule the best teams we can schedule, and we’re trying to do that in the future as well,” Saban said last September. “I’ve said my opinion about playing 12 Power Five schools. That’s what I’d rather do… I’d rather play 10 SEC games and play two other Power Five schools so all the games are exciting for the fans — all the games are good football.”
However, it’s fair to wonder if these better games against tougher future opponents for Alabama would’ve ever happened had Smart not started the trend first.
In future seasons, in addition to the upcoming games vs. Ohio State, UGA will also play home-and-home series against Clemson, Florida State, Oklahoma, Texas and UCLA.
Smart has stated his reasoning behind the aggressive scheduling in blunt terms.
“I want to have the best players, I want to play the best teams. Kids come to this college to play big games,” Smart has said. “They do not come to play, I would never name anybody, but they don’t come to play anybody they haven’t seen before. They want to play the best teams, so we want to go schedule the best teams.”
Scheduling the biggest games against the best teams is indeed what Smart has done, and now Alabama is doing it too.