Auburn, Ala.--For Auburn Athletic Director Jay Jacobs and Coach Gus Malzahn, challenging the Tigers on the field against quality non-conference opponents is something they are showing that they wholeheartedly believe in doing. This season it happened with a road game at Kansas State. Next season it’s a game against Louisville in Atlanta. After that it’s a home-and-home with the Clemson Tigers.
On Monday an agreement was announced to continue Auburn’s quality non-conference schedule for years to come with the Cal Bears coming on board for the 2019 and 2020 seasons. The Tigers will face Cal at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 21, 2019 and then make the trip to Berkeley on Sept. 19 the following season. Jacobs said for him it’s all about giving Auburn the best opportunity to be in the hunt at the end of the season when playoff time comes, but also enhancing the experience for players, coaches and fans along the way.
“It’s exciting,” Jacobs said. “I’m excied for the players. I’m excited that Cal was able to work this out and make it work as a home-and-home. It’s getting extremely more and more difficult to schedule these BCS schools, even though it has been my vision and strategy throughout. Everybody is now doing it because they see the results.
“We’re part of the proof of that by playing Kansas State," he said. "They see the results of this in our strength of schedule being in the top four in the nation. Also, it makes it more and more difficult because our success and the way that we play. We’re not a real attractive opponent for some schools that are necessarily trying to build their way back into the Top 10.”
Working closely with the head coaches of each sport when scheduling non-conference opponents and trips, Jacobs said that it’s important for him to consult with Malzahn when talking about games of this magnitude. This just part of the job for Jacobs, however, as timing, scheduling conflicts and more go into making it a tough task to work out, even several years in advance.
“A lot of things have to come together,” the athletic director said. “I always appreciate working with the other institutions and we are as happy as we can be that Cal and Auburn were able to reach an agreement. Gus is excited about it.
"Gus wants to play the best all of the time. That’s what our goal is, that’s what our vision is, that’s what our strategic plan is--to play the best all the time and the best competition we possibly can. It makes us better at the end of the year and it’s good for the players and the fans.
“It’s difficult to put that strategy together so many years in advance, but when you look at the vision and strategy I have for scheduling these non-conference games you look at a Pac 12 school like Cal,” Jacobs added. “It will be an exciting place for our fans to go and it will be exciting to have them here. With our winning the National Championship in 2010 and playing for another one in 2013 we have certainly enhanced our national branding so this will be one that all of America will be tuning in to watch and pay attention to.”
One of the biggest challenges Jacobs is facing with Auburn’s current scheduling is having both Georgia and Alabama at home on odd years and on the road for even years. Combine those two road trips with games at Mississippi State and Ole Miss in the same season and the ideal scenario would be an attractive non-conference opponent at home on even years. That’s the goal, but Jacobs said that’s not the ultimate goal in the end.
“It makes it extremely more difficult, but my vision and strategy is to play the best we can possibly play,” Jacobs said. “Ideally we would have those away games in the odd years, but the number one goal is to play the best we can play. Sometimes we’re going to end up, like in this case, having to travel in the even year and also travel against four SEC schools, two of which are Georgia and Alabama.
"The number one goal is to play the best we can possibly play," he added. "When it gets down to scheduling and who is available and who has openings in those years, sometimes we have to compromise to fulfill my strategic goal and that is to play the best we can possibly play.”
Playing in the strongest league in the country and combining that with adding quality non-conference opponents should position the Tigers to have the strength of schedule needed to qualify for the college football playoffs.
“My strategy is to schedule teams that give us a chance to compete at the highest level,” Jacobs said. “That has certainly paid off with the Kansas State vision and strategy. Having gone there and beaten them has definitely helped our strength of schedule. Now the whole nation is seeing how strong of a team they are and all that does is help Auburn. You can see that in the current standings today--that is why we are in the top four.”