With the release of Vanderbilt’s 2020 football schedule yesterday, and with Chris Lee and Seabass talking about what their ideal schedule for Vanderbilt football is, I thought I’d take this idea and have a few thoughts.
One thing that’s been lost in the last few years, with the addition of Missouri to the conference, is that a lot of the traditional scheduling in the conference has gone by the wayside. An interesting thing to look at on Vanderbilt’s past schedules is that often, prior to expansion, Vanderbilt would see teams on the same spot in the schedule year after year. The Third Saturday in October got to be that way because the SEC made sure that Tennessee and Alabama played on that weekend every year; but what a lot of people don’t know is that until the 1990s or so, Vanderbilt played Georgia every year on the same weekend. Of course nobody cares about that except for us.
More controversially, though, playing Georgia to open the season is not a good thing for a lot of reasons. What’s the ideal season opener? What teams do we want to see in October and November? Here’s my ideal Vanderbilt football schedule.
Week 1: MTSU (or similar). The grand irony of the Temple game in 2014 is that regardless of how poorly that game went, that’s essentially the caliber of team I want to see to open the season. Some like the idea of opening with an FCS team, but what I would like to see to open the season is a team that we’re probably going to beat (and if we don’t, then it’s going to be a long season), but also a team that’s good enough that if there are any flaws, they’re going to be exposed in time to do something about it. MTSU is that team. On the 2019 schedule, Northern Illinois works for this. Just fill in any non-terrible G5 team. Hell, if you want to go with a historic rival, go with Tulane.
Week 2: Out of conference P5 game. The SEC is apparently determined to make us play this, so let’s just get this out of the way. The only thing that I ask is that this always be a team that’s beatable. You don’t have to schedule Kansas, but somebody like Duke or Northwestern or Purdue is what I want to see. Not Notre Dame.
Week 3: Ole Miss. Of the annual SEC opponents, Ole Miss is the one that says “September game.” And in fact that’s what it’s been since the 1990s until a couple of years ago. This tends to be a good barometer game for Vanderbilt, which makes it a good game to play early in the season: if you’re on your way to a decent season, Ole Miss is a team you can usually beat. There have certainly been exceptions, but normally Ole Miss is decent but not great.
Week 4: Bad G5 team. After two weeks in a row of P5 teams, Week 4 is a good time to reset early in the season. If you lost one or both of the P5 games, this gives you an opportunity to get things back on track; and if you happened to win both, well, here’s a well-earned breather. Hello, UNLV.
Week 5: South Carolina. This is another SEC game that works early in the season; like Ole Miss, South Carolina usually isn’t quite on our level, but it’s a game that is winnable in a good year (though strangely we haven’t beaten them since 2008.) This game can work in September as well, and I won’t argue with you if you want to swap South Carolina and Ole Miss.
Week 6: Missouri. They have to go somewhere. The SEC says so. Stick them in the second week in October and call it a day. This avoids us ever having to go to Missouri in November, which is a bonus.
Week 7: Georgia. See above. Might as well bring back silly traditional scheduling where we can.
Week 8: FCS team. Some like the idea of opening with an FCS team, but I like it here. For one thing, this lets you get a break after the run of South Carolina, Missouri, and Georgia, and before the home stretch. For another thing, if you combine it with what I have the next week, you really get a break. I happen to think that playing Tennessee State in this spot in 2016 was much more useful than playing them in September would have been.
Week 9: BYE. Put the bye week here if you can do it. I love the idea of having a break in the middle of conference play.
Week 10: Florida. Since Florida became an annual opponent in the early 1990s, this has typically been a November game; and in addition to honoring that sorta-traditional placement, this avoids having to play in the Swamp in September or October and also provides the added annoyance of making Florida play in a colder environment when the game is at Vanderbilt.
Week 11: Rotating SEC West opponent. I don’t know, this has to go somewhere, and since it’s not an “annual” opponent you might run into problems with the other team’s schedule. Would I rather go to Auburn or Columbia, Missouri, in the middle of November? I think I answered my own question.
Week 12: Kentucky. On the other hand, this game belongs in November, because until recent years that’s literally where it always was. Vanderbilt always ended the season with Kentucky and Tennessee.
Week 13: Tennessee. I don’t think anyone will argue with this one.
Post your thoughts in the comments.