LSU's Brian Kelly on 9-game SEC slate: 'Want to play the best'

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As the SEC continues to discuss an eight- or nine-game conference schedule to eventually adjust to the additions of Oklahoma and Texas in 2024, LSU coach Brian Kelly told ESPN on Monday he's in favor of facing nine league teams because he wants "to play the best" -- including Alabama as a permanent opponent.

While nothing has been finalized, the SEC is trending toward a scheduling model without divisions that includes nine SEC opponents (six rotating, and three permanent), and the conference office has sent possible permanent rivals to each school to consider. Kelly said the model he was given for nine SEC teams included Alabama, Ole Miss and Texas A&M as fixed opponents.

"I've been in this for three decades, and no disrespect to any of the other schools that we play outside of the SEC, but they just don't excite me," said Kelly, who is entering his second season at LSU. "I want to play the best. I came down here to the SEC because I wanted to play against Alabama. I want to play A&M. I want to play Auburn, the great teams, and in our new scheduling we get to play Alabama every year, Ole Miss every year and A&M, and that's really why I came down here. I want to play those games, and I think playing nine SEC games is great for your schedule, and it prepares you for the opportunity to play for a championship but also play for the national championship."

In an interview with Sports Illustrated last week, Alabama coach Nick Saban questioned the fairness of having to play Tennessee, Auburn and LSU every season.

"I've always been an advocate for playing more [conference] games," Saban said. "But if you play more games, I think you have to get the three fixed [opponents] right. They're giving us Tennessee, Auburn and LSU. I don't know how they come to that [decision]."

Kelly said Monday he wasn't aware of Saban's comments about the scheduling model.

"I think everybody has their take on the schedules," he said. "Nick has never backed down from a challenge. I'm not too worried about whether Nick Saban is going to have his team ready when he plays LSU. He'll be ready."

The conference is also still considering an eight-game scheduling model, which would include one fixed opponent for each team.

Last month, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said one of the reasons he was looking forward to leading a 16-team conference was to "restore rivalries" like Texas A&M-Texas, Arkansas-Texas and Oklahoma and Missouri. In order to do that, though, he has urged athletic directors to rotate teams throughout the league "with greater frequency."

"We also know that there are really unique rivalries that ought to be honored as part of this process," he said, "and that's in this consideration."

The SEC's athletic directors have to agree to a scheduling model to present to the league's presidents and chancellors for approval. The athletic directors are expected to meet in-person in late April or early May. Leaders throughout the league are expecting a resolution by the SEC's annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla., if not sooner.