When thinking about truly rare occurrences or sightings, Haley’s Comet comes to mind as it becomes visible from Earth every 75 to 76 years. Seeing an SEC football team play north of the Mason-Dixon Line in October and November would certainly qualify as another rare event. Whereas that may not be as infrequent as viewing Haley’s Comet, it certainly seems that way.
The last time a major southern football program traveled anywhere near the Mason-Dixon Line in mid-football season or later was October 23, 2008, when Auburn traveled to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on the Mountaineers. The Tigers, playing their eighth game of the season, lost 34-17.
Some fans might think that late in the season is not the time for a non-conference game. However, consider some of the late season cupcakes that have been feasted upon by SEC teams. Auburn has played Alabama A&M, Arkansas State, Furman, Louisiana Monroe, Louisiana Tech, New Mexico State, North Texas, Northwest Louisiana, Samford, Southwest Louisiana, University of Tennessee-Chattanooga, and the University of Tennessee-Martin before or in between games with Georgia and/or Alabama. I guess the Southeast Little Sisters of the Poor Alabama chapter had scheduling conflicts.
The last time Florida was north of the Mason-Dixon Line, a gallon of gas cost $0.93 when the Gators traveled to face Rutgers in October of 1986. Since 2006, as a prelude to their annual season finale versus Florida State, the Gators have feasted on such cupcakes as Western Carolina, Florida Atlantic, The Citadel, Eastern Kentucky, Florida International, Appalachian State, Furman, and Jacksonville State. Florida found out in 2013 that not all cupcakes go down easy as Georgia Southern was not about to become Gator bait.
The last time South Carolina ventured far north was an early October match-up against Pitt in 1985. Some of the Gamecocks late November non-conference opponents in recent years have been: Coastal Carolina, Middle Tennessee, The Citadel and Wofford.
Georgia’s November non-conference opponents in recent years have included: Charleston Southern, Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, New Mexico State, Idaho State, Tennessee Tech, Troy and UAB.
To Georgia’s credit in 2010, they traveled north to face Colorado in an early October contest. Prior to that, the last time Georgia went that far north in early October was a trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan – in 1965! The last late October northern trip for the Bulldogs was a trip to Cincinnati – in 1942!
Tennessee’s November non-conference foes have included: Akron, Louisiana-Lafayette, Memphis, Memphis State, Middle Tennessee State, Temple, Troy, and Wyoming.
Alabama has scheduled cupcakes before their season ending rivalry game with Auburn. Georgia Southern, Georgia State, Louisiana-Monroe, Tennessee-Chattanooga and Western Carolina have traveled to Tuscaloosa to be Alabama’s tune-up for the Iron Bowl.
This year is no different across the south. On November 21st, or it should be known as Cupcake Saturday, Charleston Southern travels to Alabama, Idaho is at Auburn, Florida Atlantic is at Florida, Georgia Southern is at Georgia, Charlotte is at Kentucky, and The Citadel is at South Carolina.
Talk about a snoozer of a line-up of games. Perhaps that Saturday should be called Honey Do Saturday down south, honey do this and honey do that and the men won’t mind since they certainly will not be missing out on watching competitive football.
If a school can schedule a non-conference opponent for the 10th or 11th game of the season, why not play a northern school every now and then? That would help a school’s strength of schedule. In the past, if there was one school that an SEC team would travel north to play after the leaves have changed color, it’s Notre Dame.
Tennessee traveled to South Bend in November in 1978, 1991, 2001, and 2005. To the Volunteers credit, they also went north to face Rutgers and Boston College in late October of 1983 and 1987 respectively. Even LSU traveled to South Bend in late November in 1970, 1985 and in 1988 to play the Fighting Irish.
Alabama traveled north in mid-November to play Notre Dame in between games with LSU and Auburn in 1976 and 1987. Alabama also played at Cincinnati, the Bearcats not the Bengals, in between games with LSU and Auburn in 1984.
Alabama also traveled to State College to play Penn State in 1981 before their season ending game with Auburn and did the same with Boston College in 1983. The Crimson Tide also made October trips to Happy Valley to face the Nittany Lions in 1985 and 1989.
One might think northern schools are locked into their conference schedule and will not schedule a non-conference game late in the season. It does not happen often but Penn State played non-conference foe Temple last November and Rice played at Northwestern in November of 2011.
More proof that a major southern football program can travel to face a northern non-conference opponent late in the year occurred in November of 1993 when No. 1 ranked Florida State played No. 2 Notre Dame in South Bend resulting in one of the more memorable “Game of the Century” games. FSU also played at Notre Dame in November of 2003.
Imagine LSU playing in the Big House in Ann Arbor. LSU has never played Michigan. Ponder watching Florida play Ohio State in Columbus rather than Florida Atlantic at home. Imagine Alabama traveling to East Lansing to play Michigan State. One could call that Coach-School Reunion Saturday. For the betterment of college football, that would be a far more interesting and entertaining slate of games than Cupcake Saturday.
John Baranowski is a sports historian and contributor to newspapers, sports publications and sports websites.