The SEC gave us an NFL-style schedule release (minus the dates) for the 2024 season on Wednesday night, providing us with a glimpse of what life will look like with Texas and Oklahoma in the fray. It’ll be an eight-game conference slate to start things off, with a likely change ahead for 2025.
So the league had some wiggle room to be creative here, creating new matchups while preserving the ones that matter the most. Quite honestly, they did a pretty good job.
Welcome Texas and Oklahoma!
The Longhorns and the Sooners are set to join the fun next year, and they got their first taste of their new lives on Wednesday night. New rivalries will be created, and old ones will come to the forefront again. Of course Texas-Oklahoma will remain on the schedule, but the Texas A&M-Texas, Arkansas-Texas and Missouri-Oklahoma rivalries have all been renewed, offering a new era of storied matchups under the SEC banner.
Texas was a big winner
Texas gets manageable road games at Texas A&M, Arkansas and Vanderbilt. They’ll host Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi State ... and Georgia. The Bulldogs are the one black eye here, but the rest looks fairly middle of the road to me. With Arch Manning coming down the pike in Austin, Steve Sarkisian and company is set up for a nice year one in conference play.
We talked a little about some new rivalries, let’s start here. Oklahoma will welcome Alabama to town in 2024, giving us a game featuring two of the top programs in college football over the last 25 years. The Sooners will also host Tennessee once again, meeting the Volunteers for the third time in the last decade.
If that wasn’t enough, Oklahoma gets road trips to LSU, then will go visit Hugh Freeze in year two at Auburn. Those four games look mighty difficult, especially considering Brent Venables’ struggles in year one.
The Sooners also get just three home conference games, thanks to the Red River Rivalry being played in Dallas.
Not as much variance as expected
We didn’t really know what to expect in terms of preserving rivalries, but the SEC certainly did that in a big way. Tennessee — at least for 2024 — keeps Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and Vanderbilt on the schedule. Alabama keeps Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. Georgia keeps Florida and Auburn, etc, etc. All the games that really matter (perhaps outside of LSU-Auburn?) are still on the schedule.
The SEC clearly didn’t want to rock the boat too much in a one-off situation. Now, what happens when a more permanent structure arrives and schedule rotation begins? That’s where this will get messy. But that’s not a problem until at least 2025.
Strength on Strength
The conference wasn’t playing when they said they’d create competitive balance. Kirby Smart will take his Georgia program back to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama for what’s sure to be one of the games of the year. The winner will more than likely be in the driver’s seat for the top spot in the conference standings, taking a big step towards getting to Atlanta.
Not only did the SEC schedule that blockbuster, but they also gave us Alabama at Tennessee and Alabama at LSU. If the Crimson Tide are going to wind up in Atlanta in 2024, they’re going to have to earn it.
Georgia will not only travel to Alabama, but they’ll host Tennessee. The Bulldogs will also travel to Texas — all after playing Clemson in Atlanta to open the season. That’s certainly a far cry from Georgia’s sham of a 2023 schedule.
Bigs are playing the bigs — no cakewalks allowed.
A nine-game format feels inevitable
2024 will be great, but let’s just remember that it’s a band-aid. The conference couldn’t come to an agreement on a permanent structure, so they punted until 2025. They can’t trot this make-it-up-as-you-go system again, and it eventually feels like the nine-game slate will win out. It makes the most sense to preserve rivalry games, and of course, generate more cash.
That’s more than likely going to leave each team with three permanent opponents going forward, meaning some of the secondary rivalry games won’t be played every year. That’s just the cost of doing business in today’s college football world.
2023 will be the last of a few things, so soak up every little tradition you can (RIP, CBS on SEC theme music). 2024 certainly will be a hybrid — a year of transition. What happens next in 2025 will likely shape the league for decades to come.