This is the second and final piece in my mini-series on the expansion of the SEC's conference schedule. In the first I took a look at the expansion of the SEC's conference schedule to 7 games for the 4 seasons played from 1988 to 1991. In this piece I'll be looking at the entirety of the time period where the SEC has mandated an 8-game schedule. This first occurred with the 1992 season and has remained in place even when the NCAA began allowing schools to play 12 games per season starting in 2002/03 and then becoming permanent in 2006.
ANALYSIS: In 1988 Auburn played the back end of a home-home against UNC and had a buy-game vs Kansas—both of which were at home. In 1989/90 they had a home-home series with FSU, and in 1991 they visited to Austin, TX to end a series with the Longhorns. Auburn's next series against a power-opponent wouldn't come until 1997/98 against Virginia. They would also visit Syracuse, NY in 2001, concluding the return visit in 2002 during the first season of the 12-game era. During the 12-game era they would play home-homes with USC (2002/03), Georgia Tech (2003/05), Kansas State (2007/2014), West Virginia (2008/09), and had a 3-game set with Clemson (2010/11/12) for which the final game was played in Atlanta. 2006 and 2013 also featured buy-games vs WSU.
RESULT: Auburn didn't shy away from having one challenging OoC opponent per year during the 7-game era, but once the conference slate went to 8 per year they "turtled" up by only scheduling 3 games against power-opponents during the 10 seasons from 1992-2001. With the addition of the 12th game in 2002, Auburn largely went back to the scheduling philosophy of playing one major OoC opponent per year.
ANALYSIS: Despite conference expansion UGA continued to schedule Georgia Tech in a home-home format, thus perpetually ensuring at least one major OoC opponent each season. Additionally, they played OoC home-home series with South Carolina in 1988/89 and in 1990/91 with Clemson. For what it's worth, in 1989 they played a buy-game in Athens against Baylor, as well. After expansion to 8 conference-games they had another 2 buy-games at home in 1993/96 vs Texas Tech, and then played their final home-home series with Clemson during the 11-game era in 1994/95.
In between home-homes with Clemson in 2002/03 and 2013/14, during the 12-game era Georgia would famously schedule home-home agreements with several western teams including Colorado in 2006/10, Oklahoma State in 2007/09, Arizona State in 2008/09, and a neutral-site contest against Boise State in Atlanta during 2011.
RESULT: The Bulldogs deserve credit for continuing to schedule a second major OoC opponent in addition to their in-state rival at a time when many other teams have not consistently played even one OoC opponents on the road. However, they have met Clemson so infrequently since the expansion to 8 conference-games that the series can hardly be said to be a true rivalry anymore. On the other hand, after South Carolina joined the SEC in 1992 what was originally a one-sided border war has blossomed into a real divisional rivalry during the past decade.
ANALYSIS: Regular-season games featuring the SEC's historically elite teams playing against mid-majors aren't usually noteworthy. Prepare to be astounded. In 1988, besides hosting Penn State and traveling to play Texas A&M, Alabama actually visited Temple in Philadelphia, as well. As the conference schedule expanded to 7 and then 8 games, Alabama would reduce the number of games against major opponents and their bread-and-butter for OoC games would briefly become home-homes with mid-majors! After finishing the PSU series in 1990, Alabama would pay a visit to Louisiana-Lafayette in that same season followed by Memphis in 1991 and Tulane in 1992. During the 11-game era it would become rare for Alabama to schedule additional home-homes against major-opponents, but they did so with NC State in 1995/96 and UCLA for 2000/01.
With the addition of the 12th regular-season game Alabama began scheduling power-opponents consistently, though fewer of those were home games. During that span they played home-homes against Oklahoma in 2002/03, Penn State in 2010/11 and (oddly enough) Duke in 2006/10. After playing their final "home" game in Birmingham during 2003, Alabama's new favorite scheduling option became neutral-site games as they played FSU in Jacksonville (2007), Clemson (2008) and Virginia Tech (2009/13) in Atlanta, and Michigan in Houston (2012).
RESULT: Overall, Alabama's scheduling philosophy was changed very little by the 8th conference game, but it took the addition of the 12th game to set things right again. They did schedule fewer games with major-opponents during the 11-game era, but they have never been afraid of playing OoC opponents away from Tuscaloosa. The recent proliferation of neutral-site games during the 12-game era allows them to play a major OoC opponent without the loss of revenue that goes with playing a true road game.
ANALYSIS: Since the start of the 7-conference-game period in 1988 Tennessee's OoC scheduling has actually remained consistently amazing. They played buy-games against WSU in 1988/94, Duke in 1988/89/93/2003, Oklahoma State in 1995, Texas Tech in 1997, and Rutgers in 2002. They also had neutral-site games in Anaheim against Colorado during 1990 and NC State in Atlanta for 2012. As far as home-homes, this is where it gets really good: they finished a series with Boston College in 1988 then proceeded to play Louisville (1991/93), Syracuse (1998/2001), Notre Dame (1999/2001/04/05), Miami (2002/03), California (2006/07), Oregon (2010/13), and had extended sets with both UCLA (1989/91/94/96/97/2008/09) and Memphis... yes, Memphis (1988/91/92/94/96/99/2000/01/05/06/09/10).
RESULT: The Volunteers don't care how many conference games the SEC office tells them to play, they are gods when it comes to scheduling philosophy. In hindsight I bet they wish they'd stuck it out with Philip Fulmer now, though.
ANALYSIS: Through all the schedule changes that have been implemented Florida has always played FSU in a home-home format. However, the Gators are also infamous for having not left the state for a regular-season OoC game since playing at Syracuse in 1991. During the period just after the SEC schedule expanded to 7 games they played a home-home with Memphis (1988/89) and a buy-game against Oklahoma State in 1990. For the entire 10 years immediately following the SEC's expansion to 8 games the only current major-opponent they would schedule would be Louisville in 1992 for a buy-game in Gainesville. Then during the 12-game era they half-heartedly renewed the historic series with Miami (2002/03/08/13).
RESULT: I guess UF is doing something right since they won 3 MNCs overall after the SEC schedule expanded to 8 games, but their season-ticket holders have got to be starving for something besides cupcakes and the 'Noles every other year.
ANALYSIS: As discussed in the previous piece, though LSU basically ended their "rivalry" with Tulane, they were more-or-less unfazed by the SEC's schedule expansion to either 7 or 8 games when it came to playing major-opponents. They finished the back end of a series with Ohio State in 1988, and since then they've had home-homes with Texas A&M (1988/89/90/91/92/93/94/95), FSU (89/90/91), Notre Dame (1997/98), Virginia Tech (2002/07), Arizona (2003/06), Washington (2009/12), West Virginia (2010/11), and Tulane... yes, Tulane (1988/89/90/91/92/93/94/96/2001/06/07/08/09). Additionally LSU has played neutral-site games vs UNC in 2010, Oregon in 2011, and TCU in 2013 and they've scheduled buy-games with Oregon State in 2004 and Arizona State in 2005 (though it's worth noting the ASU game was played in Tempe due to Hurricane Katrina).
RESULT: There were a few lean years right before the 12-game season was put in place, but basically the move to 8 conference games didn't make a major difference for LSU when scheduling OoC games. Theoretically Arkansas should have been an upgrade over Tulane when it came to "rivalry week" but you can't just create rivalries from thin air, so that was a wash at best.
Winners & Losers
The only real winners here were the Athletic Directors and the SEC central office. Having just 3 non-conference games to use during the 1992-2001+2004-2005 seasons resulted in a noticeable decline in the number of major-opponents being played. For the most part this was corrected once the 12-game season was put in place. But for 25+ years the ADs at the "Big 6" SEC schools have consistently demanded at least 4 non-conference games to work with when creating their schedules. In the end the fan is back where they started when it comes to the number of watchable games against real teams, but we're now playing Arkansas, South Carolina, Missouri, and Texas A&M more frequently.
There are also fewer losers with the expansion to 8 conference games than there were when the conference schedule went to 7. And for my money, that's the real story here. As much as 1992 is remembered as "the expansion that matters" in the SEC, it was actually the move to 7 conference games in 1988 that was more damaging to the historic non-conference rivalries that the SEC played. The 12th game didn't bring back the UF/Miami series or Auburn/GT, either, and therein is an important lesson: once traditions die they're dead.