TUSCALOOSA — Nick Saban has long been a vocal proponent of Power 5 teams only playing other Power 5 teams. And with increased attention being paid to the dwindling attendance figures throughout the sport, it seems the rest of college football is slowly adapting to his way of thinking.
“I can promise you that we want to play more games against Power 5 teams and should play more games against Power 5 teams, all of us,” Saban told ESPN on Friday. "If we don't, fans are going to quit coming, and I can't say I blame them.”
Fueled by a recent philosophical shift in focus, Alabama is among several premier Power 5 programs at the forefront of a growing trend that has heralded in an influx of fan-friendly home-and-home series being scheduled against one another.
For its part, the Crimson Tide has already secured much-discussed home-and-home series with fellow bluebloods Texas (2022-23), Notre Dame (2028-29) and Oklahoma (2032-33) . Also there have been recently announced series against the Big Ten’s Wisconsin (2024-25) and Big 12’s West Virginia (2026-27) to fill Alabama’s non-conference schedule with at least one significant Power 5 opponent over the next 15 seasons — except for a two-year window between 2030-31.
And Crimson Tide athletic director Greg Byrne is working on filling that hole sooner rather than later.
“Even the opening we have in 30-31, it’s limited right now, so what you don’t want to do is walk down the aisle to go and kiss the bride and there’s no bride to kiss,” Byrne said Thursday . “You’ve got to play somebody. That’s why we’ve had to schedule out the way we have. And I think you’re starting to see a shift from a lot of programs in creating quality games that the program, the student-athletes, the communities, are going to be excited about.”
Of course, for Byrne and Alabama, that’s just a start.
In a recent interview with ESPN, Saban promoted the idea playing at least 10 Power 5 games per season, meaning that — for conferences like the ACC and SEC that only play eight conference games — those teams must reserve at least two of their four non-conference games for Power 5 opponents.
“I've always said, 'Let's play all Power 5 games,'” Saban told ESPN. "I was in the NFL where we played all the games against NFL teams. But let's play at least 10 Power 5 games. It would be better for the players, better for the fans, and I think you wouldn't have to worry that if you lost a game that you wouldn't have as much of a chance to still be in (the College Football Playoff).”
Byrne is in total agreement with his head coach, and even admitted Alabama is in the process of scheduling multiple — meaning at least two — Power 5 non-conference opponents in certain seasons moving forward.
“I think that could become a real possibility, yes,” Byrne said, “… but it’s easier said than done.”
Between 2020-33, Alabama has scheduled 12 non-conference games against six premier Power 5 programs. During that same span, Georgia has 29 non-conference games scheduled against Power 5 opponents, including three such games each season between 2028-29.
For Georgia athletic director Greg McGarity, the aggressive scheduling model is an all-out effort to get ahead of a potential marketplace that will come from what he and Bulldogs head coach Kirby Smart — the longtime Tide defensive coordinator under Saban — believe will result from the inevitable expansion of the College Football Playoff once its current television contract expires after the 2025 season.
“We both feel that (the playoff) is going to eight teams, eventually,” McGarity told CBS Sports in March .
While not publicly ready to step out on that limb yet, Byrne remains open-minded to anything that will help elevate the game of college football, including further expansion of the Playoff, a long-discussed move among fans and media that is slowly gaining traction among Division I athletic directors.
“Our goal is to be in the college football playoff, and our goal is to be competing for national championships, and we want that to continue, that’s why we’re taking these steps,” Byrne said of his scheduling plan. “At the same time too, I think it’s good for programs to have hope, to believe they have an opportunity. So, I think we need to make decisions that are right for the game of football long-term.
“ Obviously, as the athletic director at Alabama, I’m very much going to be doing that from an Alabama standpoint. But I also wanted want to make sure that we’re part of things that are healthy for the game. And I think you see that with Coach Saban and the things he talks about.”
Alabama’s four-game non-conference slate appears relatively set through 2023, with only one game needing to be added in 2022. But beginning in 2024, the Tide has plenty of room for addition with at least two holes in its non-conference schedule each year through 3033.
Along with a reported in-the-works neutral-site game against Florida State in 2025, according to ESPN, Byrne made it clear he’s still open to adding even more Power 5 games to Alabama’s future schedules, be them home-and-home or neutral-site situations. Much like it’s done for the better part of the last decade, the Tide will open the next three seasons in neutral-site games, including playing Duke on Aug. 31 in the familiar Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic from Atlanta, before traveling to Arlington, Texas for the AdvoCare Classic against Southern Cal on Sept. 5, 2020. The following year includes a return to Atlanta to play Miami in the 2021 Chick-fil-A Classic.
“We’ll still try to schedule some neutral games, and have one on our radar screen right now so we’ll see if we can pull it off or not,” Byrne said, without tipping his hand.
If Alabama and FSU can come to terms on the 2025 neutral-site game in Atlanta, it would give the Tide the desired two Power 5 non-conference opponents in the same season, joining the return home game of the recently announced Wisconsin series, with the Badgers coming to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 13, 2025.