SEC expansion is back! No, not really, and I probably shouldn't do that to all of you -- but the fact of the matter is that there are a few teams from other conferences who might as well join the SEC in 2015. Four teams from other leagues will play at least two teams from our conference -- and two of those teams have done the same thing in at least three prior seasons. Another couple of teams will play at least one SEC team for a fifth consecutive year. And one would be doing so except for a couple of accidents of history.
As we gear up for the beginning of SEC team-by-team football previews next week, here are the teams that could make a case for inclusion in the conference:
Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (Sun Belt Conference)
The Warhawks travel to Georgia on Sept. 5 and then to Tuscaloosa to take on Alabama three weeks later. Interesting footnote: The Crimson Tide is technically winless against ULM, having seen a 2006 victory against the Warhawks vacated and then having actually lost, 21-14, during Nick Saban's debut season in 2007. Alabama finally has its chance to exact revenge on its nemesis from the Sun Belt Conference.
Playing more than one game against a team from the SEC isn't exactly anything new for Louisiana-Monroe. In fact, last year, the Warhawks came up one game short of playing half a conference slate from the SEC. They lost games at LSU, 31-0; at Kentucky, 48-14; and at Texas A&M, 21-16.
In 2012, ULM beat Arkansas in overtime, 34-31, in the first indication that the John-el Smith Era was going to be a nearly unending period of pain and sorrow. The next week, Auburn needed overtime to beat Louisiana-Monroe, 31-28, a game that would astoundingly not be anywhere close to the top reason that Gene Chizik got fired several weeks later. (The Warhawks also came close to beating Baylor, but lest you think it was some great team that just happened to be from the Sun Belt, ULM would end the season 8-5 and lose back-to-back games against Louisiana-Lafayette and at Arkansas State by a combined score of 85-47.)
And in 2010, Louisiana-Monroe once again played three teams from the SEC. This did not turn out as well for them as facing two SEC teams did in 2012. The Warhawks lost at Arkansas, 31-7; at Auburn, 52-3; and at LSU, 51-0. That's a combined margin of 134-10.
It's not really a surprise that the Hilltoppers play the Kentucky Wildcats a lot, given the location of the two schools and UK's scheduling philosophy. This year, however, WKU plays two SEC teams without facing Big Blue. On Sept. 5 -- sense a pattern here? -- Western Kentucky plays at Vanderbilt, which might actually be a good game. On Oct. 24, the Hilltoppers journey to Baton Rouge to play LSU in what almost certainly will not be a good game.
Like Louisiana-Monroe, this is par for the course for Western Kentucky. WKU skipped the SEC last year, but in 2013, the Bobby Petrino-
steered let's go with -led Hilltoppers beat Kentucky, 35-26. The next week, Western Kentucky did not beat Tennessee, 52-20, in no small part thanks to seven turnovers by WKU. In 2012, Western Kentucky was walloped at Alabama, 35-0, but fell by just one point at Kentucky, 32-31, in overtime. Then there was the season opener against Kentucky in 2011, which produced one of the all-time great college football plays --
-- and one of the all-time great college football quotes --
-- before Kentucky won, 14-3, in a game that made not a bit of sense. Playing later at LSU, Western Kentucky would lose by many more points in a 42-9 blowout.
In fact, last year was the first time since the Hilltoppers finished their promotion to the FBS that WKU hasn't played an SEC team. And even before that, they squared off against squads from our conference -- including playing at both Alabama (a 41-7 loss) and Kentucky (a 41-3) loss in 2008. Really, if the SEC is going to keep Kentucky and Vanderbilt around ...
While they pop up from time to time on the SEC schedule, the Aggies are not quite as much of a mainstay of the conference's cupcake menu as the first two teams on this list. But they will journey to Florida on Sept. 5 and Ole Miss on Oct. 10. And given how much trouble they've had finding a conference home in recent years, they would probably eagerly accept a call-up.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (C-USA)
Oddly, Middle Tennessee also doesn't have an overly robust list of SEC opponents in recent years. But they will play at Alabama on Sept. 12. And they will face Vanderbilt at home -- for homecoming. Yes, for the Commodores, it has come to this: They are the homecoming opponent for a Conference USA team. It happens on Oct. 3. Hey, Vanderbilt fans, it could be worse -- the Raiders could still be in the Sun Belt.
Troy doesn't play two SEC teams in 2015 -- its only such game is a trip to Mississippi State on Oct. 10 -- but the Trojans have played at least one SEC team in every season dating back to 2007. And in four of those years, they played at least two SEC and once played three.
Many of the contests have been lopsided affairs, like Georgia annihilating Troy last year by the score of 66-0, or the combined 113-28 margin against the two Mississippi teams in 2013, but there have also been some close calls. In 2012, Mississippi State needed a late touchdown to win at Troy, 30-24. And Tennessee needed an even more furious comeback in a home game, outscoring Troy 21-8 in the fourth quarter to claim a 55-48 win. The year before that, in 2011, Troy almost came back from a huge deficit to beat Arkansas, but the Razorbacks managed a 38-28 win.
Before that, Troy had come within less than 20 points of an SEC team just twice -- at LSU in 2008 (a 40-31 victory for the Tigers) and at Georgia in 2007 (a 44-34 win for the Bulldogs). The showdown with the Bulldogs was the last leg of a three-game SEC schedule that also included back-to-back games at Arkansas (a 46-26 Hogs win) and at Florida (a 59-31 victory for the home team). We won't go through all of them, but Troy has played 13 games against SEC competition since the start of the 2007 season.
The fighting Schnellenbergers, who play Florida on Nov. 21, have not had many close calls against SEC teams. In fact, the 30-14 loss at Auburn in 2011 is as near as FAU has come to a win against an SEC team. That came after losing at Florida, 41-3, earlier in the season.
Perhaps the most death-defying act the Owls have ever tried was traveling to Georgia and Alabama in consecutive weeks in 2012. This resulted in a 56-20 loss at Georgia and a 40-7 defeat at Alabama. The Owls played just one SEC team in each of the last two seasons, losing at Auburn, 45-10, in 2013 and at Alabama on a 41-0 count in Tuscaloosa last year.
Idaho might be the oddest entry on the list of all of them, if only because of the fact that they go into their fifth season scheduled to play a current member of the SEC, but will only have three SEC games to show for it. The most recent game that doesn't count, many of you will remember -- last year, a weather delay forced the cancellation of Idaho's game at Florida. (Which cost the Gators $975,000 plus ticket refunds.) The other, you have no cause to remember, because no SEC fan was likely watching when Texas A&M -- in its final year as a member of the Big 12 -- beat Idaho, 37-7, in 2011.