I recently had a conversation with a friend on twitter regarding non-conference road game scheduling for Pac-12 and SEC teams which resulted in some disagreement about the extent to which SEC and Pac-12 teams travel for non-conference road games. There has been plenty of recent discussion about the SEC’s decision to stay at eight league games, despite having 14 current teams; a decision which means that after this year Alabama won’t play Florida again until the year 2021, when my current five-year-old preschooler will be well into Junior High School. Good call SEC. But that topic is actually not the main point of this article. The main point of this article was to identify and illustrate the non-conference road scheduling behaviors and patterns of SEC and Pac-12 teams over recent history. All data presented graphically or otherwise in this article come from fbschedules.com.
For both Pac-12 and SEC analysis, I exclude bowl games for teams in both conferences. I included neutral site games as road games for both teams in the few instances where they occurred. All of the analysis in this article includes the seven seasons spanning 2008-2014, inclusive (note that 2014 includes games scheduled for this fall).
Pac-12 Non-Conference Road Scheduling
Between 2008-2014, Pac-12 teams played 84 total non-conference road games. Utah led all Pac-12 teams with 10 non-conference road games played during that period. USC (9) followed closely behind, followed by Oregon State, Stanford, UCLA, and Washington State, who all had eight games. Oregon (4) and Arizona State (5) had the fewest.
The chart below illustrates the same data, but further differentiates the distribution of each team’s non-conference road games into the time zone in which the game was played. Stanford and USC have a noticeable presence in the Eastern time zone. This is in large part due to the seven combined games played by USC or Stanford at Notre Dame between 2008-2014. Utah and Washington are the only two Pac-12 teams to have played a non-conference road game in all four time zones during this period.
SEC Non-Conference Road Scheduling
Mississippi State was the leader among SEC schools in scheduling road games outside of the conference with 8 road games played between 2008-2014. Georgia, Vanderbilt, and South Carolina were the next most aggressive schedulers. At the very bottom of the list is Alabama, who has played two non-conference road game since 2007 (at Duke, 2010, at Penn State, 2011). How truly pathetic is that? Yes, Alabama…you are one of the top teams (if not the best team) in college football. So why not act like it? Go play somebody on the road. Anybody. Instead, Alabama fans were treated with these exhilarating home games between 2008-2014: Western Kentucky (twice), North Texas (twice), Chatanooga (twice), Georgia State (twice), Kent State, Georgia Southern, FAU, Western Carolina, Tulane, and mighty FIU. It is little wonder why SEC average attendance has decreased in each of the last four seasons. (See Note 0).
During the period of 2008-2014, the (12) Pac-12 teams played 84 non-conference road games. During the same period, the (14) SEC teams played a total of 64 non-conference road games. The SEC played 20 less non-conference road games despite having two more teams (See Note 1). The chart below illustrates the number of non-conference road games played (2008-2014) by each conference , and normalizes by the number of teams (12 or 14) and the number of seasons in the data (7 years, 2008-2014). The results is the “average” number of non-conference road games played by a team in each conference, broken up by time zone. It shouldn’t be surprising that the Pac-12 averaged more non-conference road games in the Pacific and Mountain time zones given the Pac-12 geography. What is surprising, is that the Pac-12 averaged more non-conference road games than the SEC in the central time zone, and nearly the same number of road games in the eastern time zone. It bears mentioning that there are certainly more teams in the central and eastern time zones than there are in the pacific and mountain time zones. So it is expected that there would be a “lean” in the chart below to the more east-ward time zone. But this doesn’t change the glaring infrequency with which SEC teams have traveled west. In fact, in the seven year span between 2008-2014, only three SEC teams have even ventured into the Pacific time zone (LSU @ Washington – 2009, Ole Miss @ Fresno State – 2011, Tennessee @ Oregon – 2013). Ditto for the Mountain time zone (Georgia 2008, 2010; Missouri 2009,2011; Texas A&M, 2008). By contrast, Pac-12 teams have played road games in the Eastern time zone 29 times, and in the central time zone 23 times in the same time period!
The chart below sums up the columns from each time zone and represents the average number of non-conference road games played by a Pac-12 or SEC team over the 2008-2014 time period. The results speak for themselves.
Pac-12 in Texas
As a final observation, completely void of SEC comparison, I became interested in the number of Pac-12 teams that were scheduling games in Texas. Utah has been recruiting Texas, Louisiana, and Florida heavily over the past few years. The heavy recruiting push into Texas seemed to be implemented most noticeably when Utah was in the MWC. Utah played at TCU/Texas A&M in 2004, 2005, and 2007). Since then, Louisiana and Florida have become heavy recruiting grounds for the Utes as they have sought to upgrade overall Pac-12 athleticism and speed. It seems that it would be wise (and advantageous) for Utah to schedule some non-conference games in the states where they spend a considerable amount of time recruiting, but they have not. Utah has not played a non-conference game in Texas since 2007 (See Note 2). Ditto for Louisiana and Florida. As of the time of this article, Utah also does not have any future non-conference games scheduled in Texas, Louisiana, or Florida. It’s hard to fault Utah, who as I noted earlier, has played more road non-conference games than any other Pac-12 team since 2008. However, for as many players as Utah has from the Texas, Louisiana, and Florida areas it is surprising they have not played a non-conference game in one of those areas. UCLA (Texas A&M), Arizona State (Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UTSA), and Arizona (Houston, UTEP, UTSA) have recently, or will shortly play teams in Texas. Those games are certain to prove invaluable to their exposure and recruiting efforts in Texas. While the Fresno State game is good for Northern California recruiting, I’d personally like to see a “Tier 2″ team from the Texas area instead, if only to help recruiting and to help retain the players from Texas who we already have. All things equal, ASU/AZ have an extra recruiting card to play when they can say “we will play here in Texas two times during your son’s college career”. Utah needs to schedule a game in Texas, Louisiana, or Florida yesterday if they plan to continue recruiting those areas. I’d also like to see some non-conference scheduling news for Utah happen soon, as Utah and Cal are the only two schools in the Pac-12 (per fbschedules.com) without multiple non-conf games already scheduled past 2017.
NOTE 0: The charts in the article have omitted the Alabama @ Penn State game in 2011, by mistake.
NOTE 1: The reader will note that Utah, Colorado (Pac-12) and Texas A&M, and Mizzouri (SEC) were not part of the Pac-12/SEC, respectively, during a portion of the 2008-2014 period. Their non-conference road games are included during the few years each team was part of their previous conference.
NOTE 2: Utah played in the Sun Bowl in El Paso in 2011, but this was a bowl game, which hasn’t been considered as a “non-conference” road game for purposes of this article.