Have you seen it yet?
That jammed line of cars that may have already formed by the time you read this story from your desk at, or perhaps from your phone at that coffee shop near Interstate 10, where a large contingent of purple and gold has rolled in from the west, red and black from the east.
It’s “one of the largest game day crowds ever on campus,” LSU said earlier this week. It’s No. 2 Georgia playing No. 13 LSU for the first time in Tiger Stadium since 2008, back when the Bulldogs won 52-38 by beginning and ending their scoring with interception returns for touchdowns.
Have you scored a ticket yourself?
The sellout was announced Monday — the second of the season — bolstered by the 6,000-ticket allotment permitted to Georgia fans, who famously “took over” Notre Dame Stadium in the Bulldogs’ 20-19 win over the Fighting Irish last season.
Perhaps some of them sat next you at Live after Five downtown Friday night, listening to The Beatles Tribute Band from Athens, Georgia, “Abbey Road,” or at Walk-Ons listening to “Big & Rich.”
Did you find a place to sleep?
Paul Arrigo, President of Visit Baton Rouge, said East Baton Rouge Parish was expected “to approach record occupancy” in its nearly 12,000 hotel rooms.
Ben Blackwell, the assistant general manager of the Hampton Inn and Suites, said that room interest sparked as soon as the LSU-Georgia schedule was announced in the middle of last season.
L’Auberge Baton Rouge sold out its hotel, assistant general manager Kim Ginn said, and the casino will be fully staffed to handle the larger crowd.
“I think it’s going to be possibly the biggest weekend in my 20 years in Baton Rouge,” Arrigo said.
Do you smell that yet?
That wafting wave of Weber grills across campus. Zach Rau, member of DVA Tailgating, fought the Friday traffic for their usual spot, where he will use 80 to 85 pounds of pork this weekend. Normally, Rau said, they’d cook somewhere between 50 to 60 pounds.
“People knew this one would be the big one,” Rau said.
So did LSU, which long in advance prepared plans for overflow parking, increased security and news releases advising fans to arrive early and be wary of the heightened market of counterfeit tickets, which typically increases in big games like these.
But why has this game, among all others, crowded the city like Highway 30 during rush hour?
Arrigo summed up the consensus: it’s two quality opponents who have not played in Baton Rouge in a decade.
“You’ve got a generation that wants to experience game day in Baton Rouge,” Arrigo said.
The rarity results from the Southeastern Conference’s current eight-game conference scheduling model. Teams play the other six members within their division, plus one permanent cross-division rival, while the eighth opponent rotates year to year.
According to the rotation, LSU will not play Georgia again until 2025 — the final season of the conference’s current model — and that game will be held in Athens.
The gap separates what has been one of the more competitive matchups within the SEC. LSU and Georgia have both been ranked in the Top 25 in each of the eight games they’ve played since the turn of the century, they’ve split those games 4-4, and three of those games were played in the SEC championship game.
There have been proponents for change. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been a long-time advocate for expanding the conference schedule to nine games — a model used by the Pac-12, Big Ten and Big 12 — to increase the competitiveness of the regular season.
“If that happened, that’d be fine,” LSU head coach Ed Orgeron said Thursday night, whose Tigers are in the middle of playing four ranked conference opponents in a row (No. 22 Florida, No. 2 Georgia, No. 24 Mississippi State, No. 1 Alabama). “Whatever they put in front of us after the schedule we had this year, we’re ready for anything.”
LSU’s strength of schedule already tends to be tough under the current model. Locked in with Florida every season, the Gators have been ranked in when the teams play in all but one season since 2008. Others play have tie-ins with less competitive programs, such as Ole Miss, which is locked in with Vanderbilt, which has not been ranked in any of the games the teams have played since 2008.
That was the focus of LSU Athletic Director Joe Alleva’s criticism in 2014, when the SEC university presidents voted 10-4 to maintain an eight-game schedule and keep the permanent cross-division game.
“If you’re Ole Miss and you’re playing Vanderbilt (every year), are you going to vote against permanent partners?” Alleva told The Advocate in 2014. “People are not voting in the interest of the league but voting in the interest of themselves.”
Alleva did not comment for this story following attempts made by The Advocate.
A ninth conference game, among several possibilities, could produce a scenario where LSU and Ole Miss would both play Florida and Vanderbilt in the same season.
Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said that’s the sort of parity the conference needs.
“I think nine games is appropriate,” Malzahn said. “It would allow the schedules to be more balanced. Right now, I don’t think they’re balanced like they should be or could be. But nine games would help with that.”
A ninth conference game would also inevitably replace one of the four nonconference games on an SEC member’s schedule, and the teams are required to schedule at least one game per year against an opponent from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Pac-12.
For several SEC members, that would essentially mean they would have to cut ties with teams from less prestigious FBS conferences or FCS programs.
“We feel like we already beat up on each other enough,” Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason said.
An expansion to an odd number of conference games, Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said, could also create the disadvantage of having five away conference games and only four at home.
“Sometimes I think that’s just as big a disadvantage,” said Fisher, who coached eight seasons with Florida State in the ACC, which also plays an eight-game conference schedule. “When you do make these super conferences — with 14, 15, 16 teams in the league — I don’t know if there is an answer.”
The other alternative, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said, would be to maintain the eight-game schedule and eliminate the permanent cross-divisional opponent, although that option creates the problem of severing annual rivalries like Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia.
The SEC’s 2014 decision stirred controversy; but it maintained rivalries at a time when conference realignment had broken up rivalries within the Big 12 upon the departure of Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri.
Any proposition to make additional changes in any conference endangers the loss of further rivalries.
“The conference expansion and teams changing leagues has eliminated a lot of great rivalries,” Muschamp said. “You look at Nebraska-Oklahoma. You look at Texas-Texas A&M. Losing those kinds of rivalries aren’t great for college football, but that’s where we’re headed.”
SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey said at the conference’s media days in July that he does not “presently anticipate any major change in our (scheduling) approach.”
“Our success as a league should not be attributed simply to a scheduling philosophy, but year after year, our best teams have produced the best team in the country,” Sankey said. “The facts candidly speak for themselves.”
A team from the SEC has won 10 of the last 12 national titles, and since the 2014 creation of the College Football Playoff, an SEC team has been chosen to play in the semifinals. Last season, when Alabama and Georgia were both selected, the SEC became the first conference to have two teams represented in the playoffs.
Bill Hancock, the Executive Director of the College Football Playoff, said he doesn’t see how an eight-game or nine-game conference schedule would be an advantage either way “because the (playoff) committee evaluates the teams’ full schedules side by side — so it’s really a 12 to 13-game matter, not an eight to nine-game matter.”
But doesn’t that ninth opponent factor into the 12 to 13?
“It depends on what that ninth opponent would be,” Hancock said. “Strength of scheduling is not a fickle matter to look at. You can’t just open the jar and have an easy answer.”
LSU entered the season with the nation’s third-highest strength of schedule, according to ESPN, and the Tigers now have the nation’s 25th-highest strength of schedule remaining.
Next on that schedule is Georgia, which will head east afterward for another decade.
Who knows just when the program will return?