In 2001, Auburn stunned top-ranked Florida, 23-20, on a 44-yard field goal by former Central High kicker Damon Duval with 10 seconds remaining. In 2002, Duval had a 23-yard attempt blocked with 30 seconds left in regulation in Florida’s eventual 30-23 overtime victory.
By 2003, a Southeastern Conference showdown that had occurred annually since World War II became an every-so-often event, a casualty of the league trimming permanent opponents from opposite divisions from two to one.
SEC athletic directors adopted nine years ago the “5-1-2” scheduling format, in which each team plays its five divisional opponents, one permanent foe from the opposite division and two rotating teams from the opposite division. The reduction to one permanent foe from the opposite division took effect with the 2003 schedule, with the 10-year cycle set to run through 2012.
Mark Womack, the league’s executive associate commissioner, believes the format will stay intact much longer than that.
“I don’t foresee any changes in the number of conference games or the makeup of the rotation going forward,” Womack said. “I think the 5-1-2 format has been well-received and provides a different type of schedule. When it was put in, it was for a continuing basis unless we change it.
Mario Fannin Auburn vs Florida college football on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007 in Gainesville, FL. Todd Van Emst
“It was a 10-year cycle to get through everything, and it could have been changed in the middle of it, had that been the desire of the athletic directors.”
By shifting from a 5-2-1 to a 5-1-2, rotating foes from opposite divisions such as Alabama and Georgia now play four times every 10 years instead of twice every eight. Womack said the intent of the switch was to allow fans to see more teams throughout the league.
The SEC’s permanent cross-divisional matchups are Alabama-Tennessee, Arkansas-South Carolina, Auburn-Georgia, LSU-Florida, Ole Miss-Vanderbilt and Mississippi State-Kentucky. Auburn and Georgia have met more times (112) than any other pair of SEC teams, while Alabama and Tennessee rank 1-2 in league championships with 21 and 13, respectively.
Yet the conference’s most prominent pairing currently is LSU-Florida, with those schools having won four of the last six BCS national championships.
Maintaining status quo in conference scheduling is unique in the league’s modern era. The SEC had most of its teams play six league games through the years before bumping it to seven in 1988 and eight in 1992, when Arkansas and South Carolina made it a 12-member collection.
STILL GOING AT IT
The six permanent cross-divisional matchups in SEC football:
Alabama vs. Tennessee
The Crimson Tide lead the series 46-38-7, having won the past two games by a combined 70-26. The Volunteers were dominant from 1995 to ’2004, losing once in 10 meetings.
Arkansas vs. South Carolina
The SEC’s newest teams had never met before joining the league in 1992. In the 17 meetings since, the Razorbacks hold a 10-7 advantage.
Auburn vs. Georgia
Auburn’s Tigers lead the Deep South’s oldest rivalry 53-51-8, but the Bulldogs are riding their first three-game series win streak since Herschel Walker was tailback.
LSU vs. Florida
Florida holds a 29-23-3 series lead and won every meeting but one from 1988 to 2001. The teams have combined to win the past three BCS national titles.
Ole Miss vs. Vanderbilt
Ole Miss leads the series 46-35-2, but the Commodores have won three of the last four meetings. They first played in 1894 and have met annually since 1970.
Mississippi State vs. Kentucky
Kentucky leads the series 21-15, with the teams splitting the past 10 matchups. These two programs were not annual foes until 1990.
The 5-2-1 format was implemented in ’92, and it included the permanent cross-divisional matchups of Alabama-Vanderbilt, Arkansas-Tennessee, Auburn-Florida, LSU-Kentucky, Ole Miss- Georgia and Mississippi State-South Carolina. Arkansas and Tennessee split a pair of 28-24 thrillers in 1998-99 when the Razorbacks were coached by Houston Nutt, who is now at Ole Miss and familiar with both schedule setups.
“I really like the current format the way it is,” Nutt said. “I hope we keep it with one rotator.”
Georgia’s Mark Richt also prefers the 5-1-2 format, and he and Nutt agree that eight league games is an appropriate fit.
“I know the SEC has played less than eight games over its history, but I like eight,” Richt said. “That provides plenty of in-league competition and gives opportunities to play out-of-conference games.”
Said Nutt: “If you dropped back to 11 games, then playing seven conference games would be perfect, but that’s not going to happen.”
Though Auburn and Florida meet only occasionally now, they still provide memorable finishes. A year after handing the Gators their lone loss during the 2006 BCS title run, Auburn upset the fourth-ranked Gators in the Swamp, 20-17, on Wes Byrum’s 43-yard field goal as time expired.
“I think people have adjusted to the rivalries that we’ve lost with expansion but have come to appreciate over that time period the creation of new rivalries that expansion and scheduling created,” Womack said. “There is always one change in everybody’s schedule on an annual basis, and it allows you the opportunity to play more people a little more often. We haven’t heard any complaints on how the rotation is set up, so I think it’s safe to say that it’s met the expectations that we had.”
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...