SEC 8-game schedule provides impetus for UGA to improve non-conference slate

ATHENS — In the end, Georgia got what it wanted.

So did Auburn. So did Florida. LSU, not so much.

But what about you, Bulldog fan? Did you get what you wanted?

With the SEC’s announcement Sunday that it planned to stick with an eight-game conference schedule and a 6-1-1 format, nothing changes for the Bulldogs. They get to keep Auburn as their permanent cross-division rival and they already have Georgia Tech as an annual out-of-conference foe from a power conference, so that criteria for the new scheduling model is satisfied. Georgia moves forward into playoff world without any significant changes.

Is that a good thing? If I’m a fan, I might have preferred to see my school play nine conference games rather than eight. There are scheduling challenges therein, such as having four conference home games rather than five every other year. But you only get four now as it is and I would think the added benefit of getting to see my school play every Western Division opponent over a four-year period would be substantial.

That’s not going to happen now, at least into the 2020’s. But here’s what’s not being talked about with regard to Georgia’s scheduling future: Its non-conference schedule likely will get even better.

UGA Athletic Director Greg McGarity is out of town on vacation this week and couldn’t be reached Monday. But I know from past conversations I’ve had with him he likes the general idea of playing more marquee non-conference games. The SEC stopped at mandating one “power conference” opponent per year, but I don’t see the Bulldogs stopping with Georgia Tech. They haven’t in the past, for the most part.

Georgia will play Clemson for a second year in a row to open this season. It played Boise State, Colorado and Oklahoma State in recent years. There already has been a lot of chatter about the Bulldogs and Notre Dame arranging a home-and-home series around 2018 or ’19. I’ve been hearing rumblings for a while about setting up something with Michigan or Oklahoma.

Now that the league is requiring an annual game against teams from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac 12, think of the dialogue and possibilities that will create. Some years will be better than others, as always, but this mandates major out-of-conference games, which mandates constant conversation. With the strength of schedule component to the playoffs and visibility of such early-season games as the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, peer pressure by itself should result in much better overall schedules.

Two also-rans and a bye should be sufficient for breath-catchers during the season. That’s one reason the SEC did not ban FCS opponents, which was considered. But hopefully non-conference slates such as the one Georgia will trot out in 2015 (Georgia Tech, Southern, Louisiana-Monroe, Georgia Southern) will be a thing of the past.

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