In this expansion blitzkrieg, everybody is an expert and information changes every hour. The most current information appears to suggest that Texas A&M is headed to the SEC, having gathered enough support from its board of regents to break away from the Longhorns and come play with the big boys. So the question now turns to who the mysterious 14th SEC team will be. The league may go to 16 at some point, but the best bet for now is adding one at a time.
On Friday, we asked you who should come with the Aggies; as we approach 1,000 votes, Virginia Tech continues to dominate the poll. I still think the Hokies are absolutely the best move for the SEC among the ten teams in that poll, and I also think they would be a positive presence in terms of their direct impact on Tennessee, as it would create an instant rivalry. A&M and VT would add one team to the East, one team to the West, and few complications in terms of scheduling.
But we didn't include Oklahoma in that poll, because information on Friday suggested that Sooners were a lock to head to the Pac-x with Texas. And that may still be the case. There are rumors out there that the SEC wants Oklahoma (no doubt), and that Oklahoma, in her heart of hearts, would rather go to the SEC than play out west. But the fear of leaving Texas and Oklahoma State behind may ultimately keep them with their Big 12 brethren.
But because we shouldn't underestimate the drawing power of the SEC, and because A&M has apparently just given them an excellent example to follow, let's allow ourselves to assume that Mike Slive pulls a giant coup and steals A&M and Oklahoma. I noted in the comments a couple places last week that I didn't want Oklahoma without Texas. But the more I've come to believe that there are not that many important differences between Texas and Texas A&M, the more I've moved from that opinion about Oklahoma. And I think we'd all agree that Mike Slive would not hesitate to take an A&M/Oklahoma package to make 14.
So if the SEC goes to 14 by adding Texas A&M and Oklahoma, what sort of impact would that have on the other 12 schools? Divisional alignment instantly comes into play, especially adding two teams from the west. The most logical way to realign the SEC would be to take two teams from the SEC West to the SEC East, and move one team back the other way. And my map says the most likely move is Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East, Vanderbilt to the SEC West.
If all of that happens? There will be no bigger winner than Tennessee.
It sounds like an absolutely crazy thought, moving Alabama and Auburn to the East. And for the SEC as a whole, it is. Your new divisions would look like this:
- SEC East: Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee
- SEC West: Arkansas, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt
Right now, that's a two or three horse race in the West...but I think things would balance out over time. Meanwhile, the East is the ultimate gauntlet from day one.
Let's also assume that the SEC goes to a nine game conference schedule, with each team playing the other six teams in its division, one annual rival, and two rotating opponents from the other division. If the conference valued the current annual rivalries, what about something like this?
- Florida vs. LSU (current)
- Kentucky vs. Mississippi State (current)
- South Carolina vs. Arkansas (current)
- Alabama vs. Oklahoma
- Auburn vs. Texas A&M
- Georgia vs. Ole Miss
- Tennessee vs. Vanderbilt
While Alabama would no doubt love to keep its game with LSU, I think the league would value the Florida-LSU matchup more simply because of the current structure. And again, there are layers of assumption here, but I do think it's a safe bet that if Vanderbilt goes West, its most natural rivalry is with us. You would have to invent a rivalry with any other team (which is what we're doing with Alabama/Oklahoma, but really, how great would that be?) for the Vols; Vandy would make the most sense.
Again, it seems like a jarring thing putting the two Alabama schools in the SEC East. Because every other SEC East team would be picking up an annual game against the Crimson Tide...except us.
You're also making the East tougher because - no offense - you're taking away a free win by removing Vanderbilt from the equation. So now every other SEC East team doesn't get to play Vanderbilt anymore...except us.
Playing Alabama every year would be nothing new for us. And under this structure, we'd get to keep playing Vanderbilt while everyone else lost that W. While this sort of move would be a watershed moment for the SEC, for Tennessee? All we're doing is picking up an annual date with Auburn...and I've missed those guys anyway.
Don't forget: AU was Tennessee's second biggest rival until the last time we played this expansion game in 1992, and the matchup was lost. If you're going to expand, your conference is going to get tougher, period. But if all we add is the rebirth of the Auburn rivalry? This whole scenario is win-win-win for Tennessee.
(Sidenote A: Actually, the real winner in this scenario? Vanderbilt. Free from the bonds of the SEC East and left only to play a rebuilding Tennessee team, the Dores could find themselves bowl eligible more often than not.)
(Sidenote B: The SEC could also consider moving Kentucky to the SEC West...but it would still be likely that Tennessee would be their annual rival, and until they beat us, I'll continue to assume victory.)
(Sidenote C: Could this entire scenario unfold the same way if Slive didn't get Oklahoma, but later went after Missouri, or even Kansas (basically any school west of the Mississippi)? Perhaps, though some annual rivalries would need to be adjusted - Alabama/Kansas doesn't have quite the same appeal as Alabama/Oklahoma.)
Look at it this way: under this format, here are the brand new annual games current SEC East teams would play:
- Florida: Alabama, Auburn
- Georgia: Alabama, Ole Miss
- Kentucky: Alabama, Auburn
- South Carolina: Alabama, Auburn
- Tennessee: Auburn (and keeps Vanderbilt)
We're several steps of assumption and lots of prayer away from this becoming a reality. But if Slive somehow gets Oklahoma in the fold, this scenario suddenly becomes a very real possibility. And if it were to take place, Tennessee would be the single biggest winner in terms of scheduling and increased difficulty in this entire expansion game.
Will all of this happen? Who knows...but it's fun to dream.