Twenty two years after leaving the Southwest Conference for the SEC, Arkansas still doesn’t have a true conference rival. On paper, it should have been LSU, a perennial conference title contender (like Texas) bordering Arkansas (like Texas) that like Texas once prevented Arkansas from winning a national championship.
Plus, the annual LSU-Arkansas series has had perks Texas-Arkansas never did: a regular spot on national TV during Thanksgiving weekend, the Bellagio of college football trophies in the 200-pound Golden Boot and no in-state rival like Texas A&M to stir Texas fans’ deepest passions (well, no Aggies for a while, anyway).
On top of all that, LSU-Arkansas has recently produced games every bit as competitive and entertaining to watch as the great Hog-Longhorn showdowns of the 1960s. And it’s likely this Saturday’s game in Fayetteville, for which Arkansas is a 1 point favorite according to SportsBettingAcumen.com sites, produces yet another thriller.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema told me in an interview for SB Nation. “The boot represents more than just a victory. It’s a battle between two states, something our fans take a lot of pride in. Obviously with LSU being the last game of the year there’s been a built-up rivalry here that we will hope to continue.”
Bielema lauds the rivalry aspect of the game in public, just as previous Arkansas and LSU coaches and players have. It’s no secret, though, that the enmity true rivals have for each other has been lacking here.
Take it from Matt Jones, the former Razorback quarterback responsible for the “Miracle on Markham,” possibly the series’ most memorable moment – a 31-yard Hail Mary pass to DeCori Birmingham with nine seconds left in the 2002 game that sent Arkansas to the SEC Championship game. The year before, Jones was on the opposite side as Arkansas lost a 41-38 contest sending the Tigers to Atlanta. “You knew it was a big game for whatever reason but there never ever seemed like there was a connection between Arkansas and LSU,” he says. “It was almost like it was a little bit forced on you.”
Jones says many of his teammates felt the same, as did LSU foes like running back LaBrandon Toefield. After college, Jones and Toefield were NFL teammates in Jacksonville, Fla. “We always joked” about how the series was played up, Jones says. Many LSU players “didn’t see it as a rivalry at all,” he recalls Toefield saying. “It was something the media put out.”
Carter Bryant, an Arkansas native and LSU grad, is part of the media. Now a radio host in El Dorado, Ark., he’s covered Tiger football for four years and doesn’t understand why the rivalry hasn’t caught on more. “It means a good deal to people in south Arkansas and north Louisiana because of proximity,” he says.
“But to the people of south Louisiana, it means little compared to other rivalries with trophies. LSU has pushed the Ole Miss rivalry over the years with the Magnolia Bowl trophy. Alabama with [Nick] Saban history has created a fascinating narrative plus instant classics. Every other team in the SEC West outside of Mississippi State is probably viewed as more heavily anticipated and vitriolic matchup in the minds of LSU fans.” That includes Texas A&M, which has supplanted Arkansas as the Tigers’ season finale. Not coincidentally, annual primetime showdowns with Texas A&M will help generate more profit for the SEC most years than an Arkansas matchup would.
For now, Arkansas fans are as likely to hate Alabama, or Ole Miss, as LSU. Or even an SEC East program. “The team that I hated the most was Tennessee,” Jones recalls. Jones, who grew up in Van Buren, points to one experience as the reason. He recalls as a nine-year-old hunting with his father and walking onto a cabin in the woods. Inside, people were watched TV and cheered. On the screen, the unranked Razorbacks were pushing the No. 4 Volunteers to the wire on the road. He’ll never forget the euphoria that followed watching Arkansas kicker Todd Wright’s 41-yard field goal sail through the uprights with two seconds left to give Arkansas its first victory in Knoxville, Tenn.
Tennessee, though, already had Alabama and Florida as nemeses. Another SEC border state, Mississippi, had two in-state rivals. “Everybody kind of had a rival but us, so we had to manufacture one,” former Arkansas coach Houston Nutt says.
Enter David Bazzel, an entrepreneur who has found a niche promoting Arkansas college athletics. Bazzel loves gold, and he loves football, and from all that love sprung the idea for this:
Bazzel’s Golden Boot trophy, which depicts the two states’ outlines, debuted in 1996. He hoped its record-setting 4-foot plus height would help the game attract national attention and produce better competition. “It’s about playing for something, whether it be a paper clip, a rubber band or empty Coke can,” he says. In this case, “it just so happens to be a 200-pound trophy.” He adds: “I wanted it to develop into a fun trophy game, not particularly a rivalry.”
Historically, most trophy games, of course, are based in rivalries. But that’s changing as power conferences create trophies for series involving program with little shared history. Usually these series involve states that don’t share borders, like Nebraska-Wisconsin or South Carolina-Texas A&M, but the situation with Arkansas’ next SEC-sanctioned rival is different.
That would be Missouri, which replaces LSU as Arkansas’ regular season finale.
Nebraska’s head coach was asked about the strength of the SEC West, which has an unprecedented four teams in the Top 5 this week. “It’s hard to say because you just don’t see, unfortunately, in this day and age, a lot of crossovers,” he said. “So you don’t get a lot to make that decision on, to be able to compare and contrast.”
Apparently, Pelini forgot the four games below – all from this season. The SEC West is 4-0 against teams from the Big 10, ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12. Two of the vanquished have proven to be especially good – Big 12 leading Kansas State (which beat Oklahoma) and West Virginia (which beat Baylor) squads.
Alabama 33 West Virginia 23
LSU 28 Wisconsin 24
Arkansas 49 Texas Tech 28
Auburn 20 Kansas State 14
Originally posted on The Big Lead:
ESPN is the major media outlet covering college football. With the SEC Network, ESPN has a clear vested interest in the SEC being perceived as the superior conference. Bo Pelini, coach of a 5-1 team outside the SEC, is not a fan of that partnership.
From his press conference.
“I don’t think that kind of relationship is good for college football. That’s just my opinion. Anytime you have a relationship with somebody, you have a partnership, you are supposed to be neutral. It’s pretty hard to stay neutral in that situation.”
To be fair, ESPN also has a clear financial interest in the ACC, the Big 12, the Pac 12 and the Big Ten being perceived as awesome (or at least notable) too. The WWL has regular season deals with those conferences, not to mention the playoff and miscellaneous bowl games to promote.
We’ll see what happens should the…
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References to Norse mythology’s Great Hall of the Slain, Residence of the Supreme God Odin, do not every day percolate the chatter of the Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly afternoon radio show based in Northwest Arkansas.
But not every day does Matt Stinchcomb, a former All-American tackle at Georgia who analyzes college football for the SEC Network, chime in with Bo about the way Arkansas’ offense is grounded in its historically massive offensive line.
“That offense is like Valhalla,” Stinchcomb told Bo earlier this week. “When we all get off this mortal coil, anybody who was ever unathletic enough to have [had to play] offensive line, that’s what we would spend eternity doing – is just running double-team blocks and just cramming tailbacks down a defense’s throat. It’s an incredibly explosive offense.”
Stichcomb was speaking to Bo about Saturday afternoon’s Georgia-Arkansas game in Little Rock. “Arkansas, I’m convinced, is a very good team and may better than any team in the SEC East. That’s what I think we’ll find out this Saturday.”
Nice quick preview below for the Arkansas-Texas A&M by Little Rock native George Schroeder. For a much more technical, detailed preview (from the Aggies’ perspective) see the following: http://tamu.247sports.com/Article/Texas-AM-Arkansas-Myles-Garrett-Kenny-Hill-Trey-Williams-31403224
Originally posted on USA TODAY Sports:
At Arkansas, the offensive linemen always fly first class. Literally. It’s Bret Bielema’s way of recognizing the efforts of the guys who power his smashmouth attack by giving them the best seats – and the biggest, too – right up front, on team charters.
“It’s huge,” says Brey Cook, the Razorbacks’ senior right tackle, and he means it literally, too. “Those airplanes are tiny. Road trips can be miserable. First class is great. You get to spread out and relax.”
In other words, it’s Hog heaven.
But the best reward for the biggest guys might have come in the past few weeks. After hammering away for a long time with little to show for it, the Razorbacks have finally broken though, ending a 10-game losing streak – the longest…
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I love these cross-generational comparisons, and this is a very good, nuanced look at what kind of offensive player Pippen would likely be in the modern NBA era. I’d love to see a similar one done with Drazen Petrovic – he was an absurdly efficient shooter (with unlimited range) that my intuition is that had the 1992-93 version of Petrovic been dropped into the 2014-15 NBA season, he’d be considered one of the top 5 offensive players in the game.
Originally posted on Double Dribble:
Recently I’ve been listening to an excellent podcast over at Hardwood Paroxysm called “Over and Back” where they do comprehensive career retrospectives for retired players, and having heard a few of these, I think it’s time to discuss player comparisons and historical context again.
What got me thinking about the tangled mess of cross-generational comparisons is that these podcasters like to include a topic about how a player would play in today’s game or who a good comparison might be, and for three out of three players they’ve discussed, (Scottie Pippen, Reggie Lewis, and Rick Barry), one of the chief concerns has been lack of three point shooting. That’s understandable. Three point shooting is a key skill for wing players in today’s game. With some key exceptions like Dwyane Wade, basically all your star perimeter players can function as floor-spacers when playing off the ball.
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Arkansas State University is no joke. This is a legit mid-major football program, winner of three consecutive Sun Belt titles, and on Saturday hung tight against a stronger Tennessee squad in front of nearly 100,000 rabid, enemy fans.
The Red Wolves are nothing to lampoon.
Now, the following coincidence that happened at Neyland Stadium is a different matter altogether:
God bless Chevy Chase and the iconic vacation film series his character Clark Griswold spawned. And keeps spawning – on into the next generation. Thanks to this man’s ineffable talent, we now have our latest member inducted into the Arkansas College Football Jersey .GIF Hall of Fame/Infamy.
Perhaps you’ll recall the charter member depicted beneath:
This could totally be the motto of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Nice tidbit about a baseball star-turned-power-evangelist who didn’t then have an MLB Network to turn to after his playing days were over.
Tim Tebow, on the other hand…
Originally posted on Baseball History Daily:
Outfielder turned evangelist Billy Sunday spent a month during 1902 traveling through the small towns of East Central Indiana, preaching in the small towns that rose as a result of the natural gas boom.
A reporter for The Philadelphia Press spent time with Sunday during the tour, and the paper ran a story that the evangelist told at every stop—about how “prayer saved a game of baseball.”
Sunday said it happened during 1886—Sunday at various times said he was “saved” in 1886 or 1887– when he was playing for the Chicago White Stockings. The first place White Stockings were playing the second place Detroit Wolverines in a September series:
“The last half of the ninth inning was being played,” says the ex-ball player. “Two men were out, and Detroit, with Charley Bennett at bat, had one man on second and another on third. He had two…
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