No conference has managed to have divisions and ensure every rivalry gets to remain annual. While we have a nearly perfect solution (the pod scheduling system, which will be linked to constantly throughout this post, so you’d better just click it now and get that out of the way), there’s another.
Trying to cram 12 or more teams into an eight- or nine-game schedule means some meaningful series will often go neglected. In 2019, the ACC Atlantic’s Wake Forest travels to the ACC Coastal’s North Carolina. While UNC faces Duke and guaranteed cross-division rival NC State every year, the Heels and Demon Deacons had only played twice since 2007, meaning the state’s four-way standoff is usually incomplete in football.
Here’s the catch: conference foes Wake and UNC are playing a non-conference game.
“This is a unique opportunity to play a regional rival in years that fall outside the normal conference rotation,” UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham said upon announcement. “We have a long history with Wake Forest that has historical value and will generate interest within our fans.”
The series has ancient local ties, extends one of football’s 50 most-played series, and makes the ACC feel a little more like an actual sporting association (rather than just a moneymaking venture), all without costing anybody a spot in the standings. Lifehack!
Since no conference is visionary enough to replace divisions with pod scheduling, let’s think about other teams who should look a conference enemy in the eye and say, “Do we have a problem? Do you wanna take it outside [the actual conference schedule]?”
You’d rather see any of the following than at least one of your usual non-con games, right?
Arkansas vs. Tennessee
Despite decent proximity, they’ve only played 15 times as SEC opponents. Every year in “non-con,” the nation’s two messiest programs would take each other to nine OTs (see their 2002 six-overtimer as top-10 teams) and fire each other’s coaches via 728-page FOIA dumps.
Duke vs. NC State
Let’s not forget the other quadrant of the Tar Heel State’s contentious Cook-Out Cup. The Wolfpack and Blue Devils played every year from 1924 through 2003 ... and only three times since. That’s stupid!
Obviously, they would play every year in a pod scheduling system. Have you ever seen that link before?
Northwestern vs. Rutgers
“Chicago’s” Big Ten team vs. “New York’s” Big Ten team! Fight over whose pizza is flatter!
Florida State vs. Georgia Tech, by Bud Elliott
These two previously played yearly, but now only every six seasons. They should play as non-conference opponents in the 10 of 12 years in which they do not play as part of the ACC schedule.
Georgia Tech is FSU’s closest geographic conference opponent, and Atlanta is a major alumni base. FSU is likewise one of the closest ACC opponents for Georgia Tech.
Having a drive-able rivalry in such a spread-out conference would be a good thing. It could also help recruiting for both schools, with Georgia Tech being able to show off more frequent games in Florida and FSU being able to sell a game in Atlanta.
Auburn vs. Florida, by Ryan Nanni (against his will)
Since the Gators invented football in 1990, they’ve gone 11-6 against Auburn.
But Auburn’s 4-1 against the Gators in this millennium. Three of those wins were the first Florida losses of those year, and two came with Florida ranked in the top four and Auburn not ranked at all.
As someone with a stake in this, I don’t like this series and definitely don’t think it should be played more often. For me, this is akin to watching Indiana Jones run through elaborate death traps, only he’s my son and he’s cramping up.
But you are not me (congrats!), so you should support the idea of Auburn ruining Florida every year.
Especially for the years when that doesn’t happen, meaning Auburn fans have to ponder losing to the Gators and Georgia, making the Tigers a mid-tier team in the SEC ... East.
Michigan vs. Minnesota, by Ryan (willingly)
It’s an old series (first played in 1892), though it hasn’t been particularly close, as Michigan’s only lost two of the last 26 games. But rivalry games don’t have to be balanced. It makes a win more satisfying for Minnesota and a loss more agonizing for Michigan.
The real pull is the trophy, the Little Brown Jug. The origin story is convoluted, but imagine that Jim Harbaugh brought a cooler to Minnesota, Minnesota won in an upset, Harbaugh forgot to take the cooler, and P.J. Fleck decided to paint the cooler. That’s essentially what these teams are fighting over.
Hydration is key, so Michigan and Minnesota should fight for the sacred beverage container every dang year.
Boise State vs. Nevada, by Alex Kirshner
A common Boise State non-conference slate features a Power 5 team, BYU, and a couple non-powers who aren’t on the Broncos’ level. Nevada isn’t a lot different from most of those programs, and will usually lose to Boise these days.
Except the Wolf Pack and Broncos have some genuine hate. They have proximity (a six-hour drive or a cheap flight) and lots of history that includes the FCS level, plus the most brutal loss in Boise State history.
They usually play as part of the Mountain West schedule, but whenever they don’t, Boise should fill the non-con rivalry void left by sending its in-state rival spiraling into FCS.