Nick Saban may be the villain to every non-Alabama football fan across the Southeastern Conference, but SEC season-ticket holders might be thanking him in the future on at least one point.

During SEC media days last week in Atlanta, an Orlando reporter asked Saban about opening this season in the central Florida city with a neutral site game against Louisville.

Saban started out by saying his team was excited about the game. But he quickly shifted to talk more broadly about scheduling, and his view of the need for more quality home-and-home series of the conference and (most important) non-conference variety.

“I think philosophically we're sort of changing our thoughts on that and our future scheduling and trying to get more home-and-homes,” said Saban, who also lobbied once more for a nine- or 10-game SEC schedule. “I know nobody really asked this, but I've always been an advocate of playing all Power Five schools. I think we need to have more really, really good games on TV for the players. We can't have fans who pay a lot of money for tickets and boxes and loges who support our programs to pay for games that no one is interested in watching.”

Saban is no more pointing a finger at other schools than his own. The Crimson Tide’s home non-conference schedule includes Arkansas State, UL-Lafayette on Sept. 29 and The Citadel. No offense to the Ragin’ Cajuns, but it isn’t the same as Southern California visiting Tuscaloosa.

Strip away the traditional in-state non-conference rivalries SEC teams play — Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, Kentucky-Louisville and South Carolina-Clemson — and the list of marquee games at on-campus sites involving SEC teams is woefully thin. The best game, by far, is Clemson at Texas A&M on Sept. 8. The other three are Mississippi State at Kansas State on Sept. 8, and Missouri at Purdue and Vanderbilt at Notre Dame on Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, the other SEC netural-site games feature LSU against a fringe top-10 team Miami (Florida) on Sept. 2 in Arlington, Texas; Auburn against Washington on Sept. 1 in Atlanta; Ole Miss vs. Texas Tech on Sept. 1 in Houston; and Tennessee-West Virginia on Sept. 1 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

It does add a certain thrill to have those games played at neutral sites, especially in the case of LSU-Miami at AT&T Stadium, which will be the site of one of this season’s CFP semifinals on Dec. 29 in the Cotton Bowl (the Orange Bowl is the other).

Southeastern Louisiana is LSU’s home opener on Sept. 8. It will be a historic night for the Lions and their fans to play in Tiger Stadium for the first time since 1949. But Death Valley isn’t likely to be a sellout. The same will be the case when LSU hosts Louisiana Tech on Sept. 22 and Rice on Nov. 17.

There have been whispers of a potential LSU-Clemson home-and-home series, but equal talk of it being a neutral-site game. There are similar reports of a game against Florida State in Orlando.

Whether or not those games come to pass and where they might be played, LSU does have three intriguing non-conference home-and-home series on the books between 2019-26.

The Tigers go to Texas in 2019, with the Longhorns visiting Tiger Stadium in 2020. It will be the first home-and-home series between the two programs since way back in 1953-54.

After playing BYU in last season’s opener in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, a game moved from Houston because of Hurricane Harvey, there are just two traditional football powers that LSU has never played: Michigan and UCLA. The Tigers will cross the latter off the list in 2021 when they play their first-ever game in the Rose Bowl, with the Bruins visiting Tiger Stadium in 2024. LSU goes to Arizona State in 2023, with the Sun Devils traveling to Baton Rouge in 2026.

Those series are worth anticipating, but there should be more, at LSU and elsewhere among the Power Five schools. The neutral-site games are great, for recruiting and TV exposure and out-of-state alumni bases. But the fans who have loyally bought season tickets for decades deserve better games.

No one should expect a return of the non-conference slate LSU played 30 years ago, when the Tigers hosted Texas A&M (then in the Southwest Conference), visited Ohio State, then hosted Miami and Tulane. But Saban’s suggestion could soon become a mandate that Power Five teams only play other Power Five teams.

Schools in the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and now ACC, who rake in millions from their conference networks, have been having it both ways. They want the millions from the networks and neutral-site games, and for people to fork over thousands to watch the likes of Chattanooga, which plays at South Carolina and Tennessee.

Change will come when schools really feel the pinch of dwindling season-ticket bases, fans who want something fancier than Rice on their plate.


 

SEC non-conference schedules

LSU

Sept. 2: Miami, Florida (Arlington, Texas)

Sept. 8: Southeastern Louisiana

Sept. 22: Louisiana Tech

Nov. 17: Rice

Alabama

Sept. 1: Louisville (Orlando, Florida)

Sept. 8: Arkansas State

Sept. 29: UL-Lafayette

Nov. 17: The Citadel

Arkansas

Sept. 1: Eastern Illinois

Sept. 8: at Colorado State

Sept. 15: North Texas

Oct. 20: Tulsa

Auburn

Sept. 1: Washington (Atlanta)

Sept. 8: Alabama State

Sept. 29: Southern Miss

Nov. 17: Liberty

Florida

Sept. 1: Charleston Southern

Sept. 15: Colorado State

Nov. 17: Idaho

Nov. 24: at Florida State

Georgia

Sept. 1: Austin Peay

Sept. 15: Middle Tennessee

Nov. 17: Massachusetts

Nov. 24: Georgia Tech

Kentucky

Sept. 1: Central Michigan

Sept. 15: Murray State

Nov. 17: Middle Tennessee

Nov. 24: at Louisville

Ole Miss

Sept. 1: Texas Tech (Houston)

Sept. 8: Southern Illinois

Sept. 22: Kent State

Oct. 6: UL-Monroe

Mississippi State

Sept. 1: Stephen F. Austin

Sept. 8: at Kansas State

Sept. 15: UL-Lafayette

Nov. 3: Louisiana Tech

Missouri

Sept. 1: UT Martin

Sept. 8: Wyoming

Sept. 15: at Purdue

Oct. 20: Memphis

South Carolina

Sept. 1: Coastal Carolina

Sept. 15: Marshall

Nov. 17: Chattanooga

Nov. 24: at Clemson

Tennessee

Sept. 1: West Virginia (Charlotte, North Carolina)

Sept. 8: East Tennessee State

Sept. 15: UTEP

Nov. 17: Chattanooga

Texas A&M

Aug. 30: Northwestern State

Sept. 8: Clemson

Sept. 15: UL-Monroe

Nov. 17: UAB

Vanderbilt

Sept. 1: Middle Tennessee

Sept. 8: Nevada

Sept. 15: at Notre Dame

Sept. 29: Tennessee State

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter, @RabalaisAdv.​