The SEC schedule for 2020 dropped this afternoon, and there are some significant changes to tradition - particularly in November. Before we delve into opinions and hot takes, let’s go through the facts first.
Auburn will have a pretty soft schedule to open the year in 2020. After several years opening with a big neutral site game, the Tigers will get to break in a new offensive line, defensive line, and secondary against Alcorn State. We’ll face off in Atlanta against UNC in week two, and head to Oxford to open the SEC slate in week 3. The Tigers will finish September against Southern Miss, and open October by hosting Kentucky for the first time since losing to Rich Brooks’s squad in 2009.
The first big change to the schedule will come on October 10th, when Auburn will have to go to Athens before November for the first time ever. This will also mark the first regular season edition of the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry before November since 1936.
Auburn will host Texas A&M on October 17th, which is usually Fall Break weekend. The University calendar hasn’t been released yet, though.
After a bye week, Auburn will go to Starkville for Halloween. The home slate will finish out with three straight home games against Arkansas, UMass, and LSU, and the Iron Bowl will remain in its traditional Thanksgiving Saturday spot. Yes, you read that right. We host LSU before going to Tuscaloosa to finish the season.
Auburn’s two biggest rivalries, UGA and Alabama, will remain on matching home/road rotations. However, they are split up, as College and Magnolia Superfan Josh Dub deduced earlier in the offseason.
A LITTLE EDITORIALIZING
In the first five weeks, the toughest game will likely be at Ole Miss, the only true road game in that span. This is a huge plus for Auburn. With a sophomore QB and brand new offensive line, Gus Malzahn (hopefully) will need some time to get the offense settled. The 2020 defense will also lose a lot from this season, although the talent of the depth there (and the fact that you can rotate depth in easier on defense) makes me considerably less worried about the defense. Auburn will be huge favorites in the Alcorn and Southern Miss game, and pending a huge reversal of fortunes, Auburn should be the better team in every game through mid-October.
So let’s talk about mid-October. Auburn will go to Athens and host Texas A&M before an off week. From a tradition-agnostic standpoint, I see this as a win. There’s obviously the chance Texas A&M takes off under Jimbo, but Auburn’s in the SEC West - you can’t avoid scheduling good teams back to back sometimes. If the UGA game is slated to stay in early/mid-October long term, this will likely be a landmark game in the SEC Schedule, just like the 3rd Saturday in October, the Cocktail Party being on Halloween weekend, and the Iron Bowl finishing off the year.
But Auburn isn’t tradition-agnostic. In fact, Auburn’s one of the most tradition-minded schools in college football. There’s a whole downtown economy based around Toomer’s Oaks and Drugstore. Moving the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry is a big deal, and I won’t tell anyone otherwise. I (a metro Atlanta native) am on record as saying the Georgia game usually matters more to me than the Iron Bowl. But unless the SEC was going to go back to having us alternate home games between Bama and UGA, it absolutely made NO SENSE to keep the two games together. Yes, it kills Amen Corner, but let’s be honest guys - that was killed when we stopped playing Florida every year.
If you can’t get passed moving the Georgia game, I can’t say anything else now to change your mind, so let’s move on. The other issue people have here is finishing with LSU and Alabama in consecutive weeks. This takes Auburn’s problem of facing its two biggest opponents in a three week span and compresses it down to consecutive weeks, with the benefit of playing the third biggest opponent and getting them at home. I’m not sure that this game will be here every year, but it’s certainly giving Auburn fans a case of sticker shock right now.
There’s a large contingent of Auburn fans who won’t even listen when you try to compare Auburn to Alabama or any other SEC school, and most of the time for good reason. But hear me out. Auburn will finish the year with LSU and Alabama, two of the perennial favorites in the division. While that seems like an unfair 1-2 punch, let’s look at what other top teams in the West are doing in November next year.
Outside of Auburn and Texas A&M, Alabama/Auburn/LSU/TAMU will all play each other in the last four weeks of the season. Also, the SEC has effectively eschewed SoCon Saturday, for better or for worse. Does this make life hell for SEC coaches? Sure it does. But this also all but guarantees that the West will be a round-robin tournament in November, short of Mississippi State making a surprise run at it. I’m all on board with that.
I’m happy about this schedule. Flat out. It separates the two biggest games in the schedule, which is a net positive for Auburn, even when you consider the placement of the LSU game. My biggest gripes are not getting a home Halloween game and the fact that the University’s fall break could very likely be the TAMU game, an issue that certainly didn’t help the 2017 Tennessee crowd.
Georgia isn’t falling off our schedule. It’s just moving to a different weekend. I’m just not that mad about it.