Earlier this week, news broke of Georgia scheduling an unusual series of games with UMass: the Bulldogs will host a guarantee game against the Minutemen in the 2018 season, and their men’s basketball teams will play a home-and-home series over the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaigns.
It’s odd to see football dragging men’s basketball teams along for the ride in college sports, but Nicole Auerbach wrote Thursday for USA Today that the trend is at least on the minds of a few schools. South Carolina has a similar deal with UMass, while Wisconsin will meet Western Kentucky in such a series, playing football in 2016 and hoops in 2017 and 2018.
Thanks to the rise of neutral-site games as the preferred milieu for brand-name football clashes and the proliferation of guarantee payout games between behemoths and little schools with little attention paid to basketball, we’ll likely continue to see series similar in stature to Wisconsin-Western Kentucky. That’s fine, as it’s better than Wisconsin playing three MAC teams in non-conference football play every year.
But in a world in which schools tied their football and basketball schedules together, we could see some intriguing micro-rivalries. Here are six crossover series that would be fun:
Florida vs. Texas (at Texas)
Title bout: Football. Florida and Texas are the two “flagship” programs of their respective football-mad states — though, if you mention that word to a Florida State or Texas A&M fan, you will see them turn a certain school color. The Gators and Longhorns have not met in football since just prior to World War II, when Texas swept a home-and-home series. Little-known subplot: Charlie Strong is now the head coach of Texas, and he was once a Florida defensive coordinator, while Will Muschamp was once the Texas defensive coordinator, then became the head coach at Florida!
Undercard: Basketball. Texas coach Shaka Smart was once a Billy Donovan assistant at Florida, and his pressing, frenetic style was such a good match for Donovan’s that he was widely assumed to be holding out for the Florida job to open while turning down gig after gig after making a Final Four at VCU. Then, in 2015, Smart made a surprising move to Texas — at the beginning of a month that would end with Donovan finally leaving Gainesville for the NBA. Neither program is at its heights right now, but a home-and-home would be savory.
Kansas vs. Kentucky (at Kentucky)
Title bout: Basketball. Kansas and Kentucky are Kansas and Kentucky, and have met in non-conference showdowns over the last two years, first in Chicago and then at Allen Fieldhouse in Lawrence. They also met in the 2012 NCAA Tournament final. Let the Jayhawks head to Rupp Arena for the first time since 2005 and just the third time since 1980, please.
Undercard: Football. Kansas and Kentucky are Kansas and Kentucky, and neither team has had a winning season this decade. But we’re doing this for the sake of basketball, OK?
Michigan vs. Miami (at Michigan)
Title bout: Football. Michigan and Miami last met on the gridiron in 1988, in a 31-30 win for the ‘Canes that preceded their 31-30 loss at Notre Dame by a month, and sent the eventual Rose Bowl-winning Wolverines to an 0-2 start after a season-opening loss to Notre Dame. Their only prior meeting was in 1984 in Miami. Send Mark Richt north to the Big House and see if he has anything to say about human dragon Jim Harbaugh!
Undercard: Basketball. It’s a shame to put a series between Jim Beilein and Jim Larrañaga on the undercard here, but it’s not as big as a football game between the two teams. Also, weirdly, Miami is 0-4 all-time against Michigan, and has never played the Wolverines in Coral Gables.
Ohio State vs. Oklahoma (at Oklahoma)
Title bout: Football. Urban Meyer and Bob Stoops, together again for the first time since Meyer (with Florida) won his second national title over Stoops’ Sooners in the 2008 BCS National Championship Game! There will be no Tim Tebow for Thom Brennaman to fawn over in this broadcast, of course, but there will be a first meeting between the Big Ten and Big 12 powers since 1983, when the Buckeyes repaid a 1977 home loss to the Sooners with a 24-14 win in Norman.
Undercard: Basketball. Lon Kruger and Thad Matta could give each other a run for the honor of nation’s most unappreciated coach, with the itinerant Kruger arguably doing more at more stops than longtime Buckeyes head man Matta has. And while these games won’t have the juice that a 2014-15 meeting between pre-fame D’Angelo Russell and Buddy Hield might have, they’ll still be a fun complement to the coming football games between the teams.
Arizona vs. West Virginia (at West Virginia)
Title bout: Basketball. Yeah, I mean, the Rich Rodriguez Bowl is nice, I guess, but I want to see Bob Huggins show Sean Miller the exact reason that sweatsuits make such good sideline attire, and I’d love to see the new-look West Virginia press against the always-talented Wildcats.
Undercard: Football. Rodriguez’s Wildcats have been building toward something in the desert, it feels like, while Dana Holgorsen may be making a last stand of sorts with the Mountaineers. Sending an Arizona frat or two to Morgantown also feels like a wonderful experiment that might have inspired a Ken Kesey book, so this one’s taking place in hill country.
Notre Dame vs. UCLA (at Notre Dame)
Title bout: Football. Would you believe that Notre Dame and UCLA have only played four times ever? The only time both teams met and finished with winning records was in 2006. And the contrast in styles between UCLA’s SoCal cool and Notre Dame’s Midwestern prestige works even outside the blood feud that is the Notre Dame-USC rivalry.
Undercard: Basketball. Steve Alford may not be that long for Westwood’s notoriously fickle basketball fans, but Mike Brey is perhaps the best example working of how empowering a coach and trusting a long-term vision can turn into success, and Bruins fans deserve to see that – so they can give the guy hired after Alford is canned a longer leash, at least.
Alas, those prospective series are all probably pipe dreams.
All of those teams are big enough to avoid a road game at a Power 5 school without a home-and-home setup, and most of their basketball programs can just get games against whomever they want.
So here are three series more along the lines of the Georgia-UMass arrangement that should happen, led by one that unfortunately can’t.
Rutgers vs. Princeton (home and home)
Title bout: Football. The teams that played the first-ever college football game haven’t met since 1980, a year before the Ivy League was unceremoniously banished to what was then Division I-AA, despite 56 (!) lifetime meetings. Let’s fix that by … wait, what do you mean Rutgers can’t play FCS teams now that it’s in the Big Ten? Just exempt Rutgers from Big Ten rules; it’s already exempt from being good at sports.
Undercard: Basketball. For example: Rutgers basketball is an unmitigated disaster, thanks to a mass exodus of players after the tyrannical reign of Mike Rice and the flailing tenure of Eddie Jordan. New coach Steve Pikiell is well-respected, though, and could get the Scarlet Knights back on track. Playing an in-state team in a road game is a pretty smart idea, too, especially given that Princeton’s likely to be an Ivy frontrunner in 2016-17 and beyond. And there’s precedent! Both teams won road games in a home-and-home spanning the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons.
San Diego State vs. USC (at USC)
Title bout: Basketball. One of those enjoyable clashes of styles between Steve Fisher’s brutally effective Aztec defenses and what seems to be the beginning of an enjoyable run-and-gun era for Andy Enfield’s Trojans. USC did travel to San Diego State in 2011, but those Trojans went an abysmal 6-26.
Undercard: Football. USC hosted the Aztecs in 1998 and 1999, and actually played in San Diego in 1992, but that’s the extent of the series. And with the Aztecs clicking off winning seasons in every year of this decade, it could be a surprisingly decent game, especially given USC’s post-Pete Carroll penchant for bewildering no-show performances.
SMU vs. Texas A&M (at Texas A&M)
Title bout: Basketball. This is the odd series in which the basketball benefits really make continuing a football series make more sense. Larry Brown has turned the Mustangs around, and despite their NCAA purgatory, they should have a fine program that makes sense as an RPI booster for the Aggies for as long as Brown sticks around. A&M, which has surged toward the top of the SEC under Billy Kennedy, could use in-state foes that aren’t that one school down 21 and 290 that it doesn’t play anymore.
Undercard: Football. Not for what has been, given that A&M brained SMU in four consecutive years from 2011 to 2014, but for what could be if Chad Morris gets the Ponies back up to speed. This just makes sense as a perennial meeting of old Southwest Conference foes.