Ray Tanner believes South Carolina will play a season-opening football game in Atlanta in the near future. More than that, the Gamecocks athletic director believes a footballing scheduling evolution is taking place in the SEC.
“Just take the two of us here, what would we rather see?” Tanner asked a reporter this week during the SEC’s annual spring meetings. “You want to see a good matchup, two big teams playing each other, and that evolution does seem to be in process.”
Already this year, Alabama and Oklahoma, Texas and Florida, and Georgia and Clemson have announced football series. SEC teams have those teams plus Notre Dame, UCLA, Stanford, Miami and Southern Cal, among other Power 5 opponents, on future non-conference schedules.
“I have been watching that,” Tanner said. “I tend to like that evolution. I think that is what your fan base seeks and is more interested in.”
Tanner is interested in playing a big-name non-conference opponent in the future, he said. So interested, that he has joked with Texas athletics director Chris Del Conte about it in NCAA baseball selection committee meetings.
“I’m like, ‘Hey, let’s go. Let’s have a football game,’ ” Tanner said.
The Longhorns’ card may be full considering they already are on the future schedules of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and LSU, but Tanner is in conversations about other games. Twice last week, he spoke twice to Gary Stokan, the president of Peach Bowl Inc., which also runs the early season college football games in Atlanta.
The Gamecocks already have turned down an opportunity to play one of the early games in Atlanta because it was on a Monday night, Tanner said.
“We just haven’t had the right matchup for us, the one that I thought has been perfectly aligned,” he said. “It hasn’t fit yet, but I think it will.”
Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said this week he would be willing to play any non-conference opponent.
“We love the neutral site game whether it’s in Charlotte or Atlanta. We had discussions two years ago about maybe Orlando,” Muschamp said. “We are aggressive as far as those things are concerned. I think it’s good for our fan base. I think it’s good for our program, the exposure it gives the program to play a challenging schedule.
“We already have one with our league and our rival, but playing another Power 5 team, I am all for it.”
South Carolina, Florida and Georgia are the only SEC teams with two Power 5, non-conference opponents on a future schedule in the same year. All three end their season with an in-state rival from the ACC. The Gamecocks play North Carolina and Clemson out of conference this fall.
Dwindling attendance in college football is one factor in the desire to schedule more appealing non-conference games, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said this week.
“You have seen some of our programs announcing pretty aggressively a little bit different scheduling philosophy,” he said. “I think that’s an acknowledgment of wanting to make sure people are attracted to our games.”
Nobody in the conference has scheduled more aggressively Georgia of late. The Bulldogs have Notre Dame, Oklahoma, UCLA, Virginia, Texas and Clemson on upcoming schedules. Georgia has been adding big-name opponents so regularly that some have wondered if Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart is positioning his team for an expansion of the College Football Playoff to eight teams.
“I’m not forecasting that, but I am forecasting that we’re going to have a strength of schedule that’s going to allow us, whether it’s one, two, three, four, eight teams, to be one of the teams in the conversation because of who we play,” Smart said. “I just think that’s the way football is headed, I’ll be honest with you. I think going out and playing tougher opponents is a good thing. I think that it’s the best thing for the game.”
SOUTH CAROLINA 2019 SCHEDULE
Aug. 31 — North Carolina (2-9 last season)* 3:30 p.m., ESPN
Sept. 7 — Charleston Southern (5-6) noon, SEC Network
Sept. 14 — Alabama (14-1) 3:30 pm, CBS
Sept. 21 — at Missouri (8-5)
Sept. 28 — Kentucky (10-3)
Oct. 12 — at Georgia (11-3)
Oct. 19 — Florida (10-3)
Oct. 26 — at Tennessee (5-7)
Nov. 2 — Vanderbilt (6-7)
Nov. 9 — Appalachian State (11-2)
Nov. 16 — at Texas A&M (9-4)
Nov. 30 — Clemson (15-0)
USC’s known future non-conference games, division crossovers
08/31 - vs North Carolina (in Charlotte, NC)
09/07 - Charleston Southern
11/09 - Appalachian State
11/30 - Clemson
09/12 - East Carolina
11/28 - at Clemson
TBA - Coastal Carolina
TBA - at LSU
09/11 - at East Carolina
09/25 - Troy
11/27 - Clemson
TBA - vs Auburn
09/03 - Georgia State
09/24 - Charlotte
11/19 - Wofford
11/26 - at Clemson
TBA- at Arkansas
09/02 - vs North Carolina (in Columbia, SC)
11/25 - Clemson
TBA - vs Mississippi State
09/21 - vs Akron
11/30 - at Clemson
TBA - at Alabama
09/20 - at Appalachian State
11/29 - Clemson
TBA - vs Mississippi
11/28 - at Clemson
11/27 - Clemson
TBA - Appalachian State