Moving to 9 league games? Alabama coach Nick Saban said LSU will be one of Crimson Tide’s three permanent opponents

Alabama coach Nick Saban speaks at 2022 SEC Media Days in Atlanta. Photo by Tim Buckley

With the league’s athletic director and presidents expected to meet this month to approve a scheduling model for Southeastern Conference football teams in 2024, one of the nation’s foremost voices believes he already knows one game LSU will play.

Long-time Alabama football coach Nick Saban, who led LSU to the 2003 national championship, told Sports Illustrated Friday he believes the SEC will play a nine-game conference schedule with three permanent opponents and six rotating teams. Although the measure hasn’t been formally opted by the league which welcomes Oklahoma and Texas for the ’24 season, Saban said the Crimson Tide has been “given” Tennessee, Auburn and LSU.

“We got three teams and two of them are in the top 10 and the other is in the top 10 a lot,” Saban told SI. “Look historically over a 25-year history, and the three best teams in the East are Georgia, Tennessee and Florida. You look historically at 25 years, Alabama, LSU and Auburn are the three best teams in the West. So, we’re playing them all.”

LSU executive deputy athletic director Verge Ausberry, who handles football scheduling for the Tigers, said on the Feb. 14 edition of Tiger Rag Radio the SEC was trending toward a nine-game league scheduling format but that until the league’s hierarchy – athletic directors and presidents – meet this month, nothing is imminent.

“We don’t know that yet and it’s still early in this process,” Ausberry said. “Hopefully by the spring meetings we’ll have some direction whether we’ll have eight or nine games. I like the nine-game schedule. That helps us a lot with our conference schedule and the type of teams we play. It really helps our strength of schedule. It’s another loss for somebody else in the SEC.

“The nine games is something we’ve been looking at a long time, changing the permanent opponents and things of that nature,” Ausberry said. “We kind of like the direction it’s going.”

Saban’s comments suggest the SEC is close to a resolution with the nine-game model winning out over the eight-team schedule, the latter matching one permanent opponent and seven rotating teams.

Saban went on as far as to say the conference was taking a 10-year success metric into account when attempting to equitably pair teams. He said the league discussed taking the following variables – rivalry, geography, (scheduling) balance – into account before rendering a decision.

“I like playing more SEC games,” Saban said. “I think it’s good for the game and good for the fans. I think they have a better chance to get the parity right doing the eight games. I’m talking about the balance of who has who.”

Ausberry believes geography and long-time rivalries will be given consideration but may not be a determining factor.

“There will be some changes,” he said. “Many old rivalries are going to change. It’s just the way it’s going, the way the business is going, the business model is going. It’s going to be what people are interested in seeing. Nobody really knows what’s going to happen yet until there’s more meetings about this.”

A study by SI between the 2013-2022 seasons showed the top half of the SEC by winning percentage consists of the following: Alabama (88.8), Georgia (79%), Oklahoma (78.2%), LSU (63.4%), Florida (57.3%), Texas (54.3%). Auburn (53.6%) and Texas A&M (53%).

Ausberry’s also a proponent of the nine-game schedule because more league games will impact a team’s strength of schedule which will be a key component in college football’s expanded 12-team playoff that begins with the ’24 season.

“With the expansion of the playoffs it helps to play a schedule like this, it doesn’t hurt you,” he said. “I think it helps you at the end of the day.”

The addition of Oklahoma and Texas as conference members next season forced Ausberry to look at the long-term stability of LSU’s non-conference schedule. The Tigers had a non-conference game scheduled with the Sooners in ’27 and the Longhorns were also expected to satisfy the back end of a home-and-home series after the Tigers took a 45-38 win in Austin, Texas in 2019.

Ausberry added a game with Houston to open the ’27 season at NRG Stadium in Houston to replace the Oklahoma game.

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