EDITOR’S NOTE: In this second installment examining Alabama football scheduling, A.P. Steadham looks ahead to a possible blockbuster kickoff game for the Crimson Tide in 2020.
Nick Saban is forever linked to the philosophy of growing his organization. Neutral site matchups are consistent with the strategy to expand the brand. The states of Florida, Georgia, and Texas have served as the beneficent hosts since his inaugural 2007 season. Alabama has competed in eight neutral site games (Jacksonville 1, Atlanta 4, Arlington 3) with a two-year home-and-away series hiatus vs. Penn State in 2010 and 2011.
The lucrative financial payout model continues for the next three seasons against a trio of Atlantic Coast Conference foes. Florida State (easily the nation’s most anticipated kickoff game this year) and Duke are scheduled for 2017 and 2019 at the newly constructed Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Camping World Stadium in Orlando will be the site of Alabama vs. Louisville in 2018. The central Florida venue performed a magical feat enticing television executives to resist the temptation of pairing an NFL stadium with at least one blue-blood program.
Gazing into a crystal ball for a suitable 2020 site and opponent finds Nick Saban and Alabama with interesting options. Currently, Nebraska, North Carolina, and USC are viable Power Five teams with open dates. The traveling road show commanded by Saban has attracted the attention from highly coveted prep stars. Will the see-saw approach between Arlington and Atlanta with the occasional dip into Florida change?
Chicago’s Soldier Field would be a new and intriguing venue in which to face the Cornhuskers in the heart of Big Ten country. Alabama last squared off against Nebraska in the 1978 (W 20-3) opening game at Birmingham’s Legion Field following their only trip to Lincoln, a 31-24 loss in 1977. The Tide holds a 3-2 edge in the series. Three post season games, a pair of Orange Bowls (1966, W 39-28 and 1972, L 8-38), and Sugar Bowl (1967, W 34-7) resulted in two victories and a loss. Saban has ventured to the Midwest in recent years to land recruits from Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, and close-to-the-Midwest Pennsylvania.
Charlotte’s Bank of America Stadium is a recent entry into the neutral site race and an attractive contender if the Tide’s opposition is North Carolina. A single game constitutes the entire history with the Tar Heels, a 24-10 win at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville at the end of the 1993 season. Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia are ACC states Saban has pillaged for talent.
Bama thrashed USC 52-6 to open the 2016 season at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. A return to the Lone Star state for the two college football heavyweights has emerged as the obvious destination in 2020, though there has been no confirmation from Alabama, USC, or the Arlington stadium.
USC and Alabama have an illustrious gridiron narrative originating with a regular season road game in Los Angeles and Rose Bowl victory (1938, W 19-7, 1946, W 34-14). Two home/home series, alternating between Los Angeles and Birmingham in the 1970s saw the teams split each time (1970, L 21-42, 1971, W 17-10, 1977 W 21-21, 1978 L 14-24). Alabama easily defeated the Trojans 24-3 at the 1986 Aloha Bowl in Honolulu. The Tide has a 6-2 series advantage. Gifted Texas athletes have found their way to Tuscaloosa during the Saban era, so perhaps the love affair continues with “Jerry’s World.” That Arlington game also opens the strings of a big purse.
A state-of-the-art stadium in Southern California is under construction with a 2020 summer tentative completion date. Would Nick Saban journey into the fertile West Coast recruiting territory to line up against USC in the Los Angeles Stadium and Entertainment District at Hollywood Park? Seems a far-fetched idea but the creative head coach has a history of boldness and living on the cutting edge.
Atlanta, a favorite spot for the Tide, has two games on tap for the September 2020 Labor Day weekend, Florida State vs. West Virginia on the fifth and Georgia vs. Virginia on the seventh. Reports have surfaced that Baylor is scheduled to play Mississippi in Houston at NRG Stadium on September 5. Stanford with a nine-game league schedule and Notre Dame would not be a candidate.
Greg Byrne, Bama director of athletics, has publicly embraced the neutral site model for Alabama until further notice. The list of top Power Five teams committed to strong non-conference opponent in the first few weeks of 2020 leaves limited choices unless contracts are altered.
Orlando does not appear to have lined up any matchups for 2020.
Other Power Five 2020 early season matchups:
Miami @Michigan State
Mississippi State @North Carolina State
Ohio State @Oregon
Penn State @Virginia Tech
Oregon State @Oklahoma State
Navy vs. Notre Dame @East Rutherford, NJ