I updated the records in my LSU/Arkansas blog and added a brief game summary for the game yesterday.
I didn’t realize it until after the game was played (although I knew changes were coming), but this was sort of a bittersweet ending for the LSU-Arkansas “black Friday” tradition. Granted, it’s not much of a tradition as compared to Ohio St.-Michigan and so forth, but with LSU playing Arkansas at the end of the year (the day after Thanksgiving the vast majority of the time) the last 2/3 of my life is meaningful to me. I remember LSU playing Tulane annually, but I don’t remember that game being one to get excited about. (I was a toddler the last time Tulane beat LSU and barely a teenager when the annual series was canceled.)
Of course, I’m glad LSU won this last game, but I’m also glad Arkansas represented themselves well. It wasn’t good for my nerves, but it just wouldn’t have felt proper for this to be an easy win. I mention in my blog how often in the last 13 years it’s been a close game, so this was fitting. I wouldn’t mind if Arkansas got a good team again, but sometimes there are too many good teams in the SEC, especially as long as LSU has to play Florida every year along with the SEC West slate. The Gators will be back too.
I also liked that LSU usually played Arkansas in Little Rock since the campus was less lively with it being Thanksgiving weekend. I imagine LSU people who traveled to the games liked them being closer as well. The late great George Carlin did a bit about football vocabulary versus baseball. Baseball is played at a park. Football is played on the gridiron in places like Soldier Field and War Memorial Stadium (which is what they call the one in Little Rock). I went to my first game at the L.A. Colliseum last year. There is just something special about stadiums like that. “War”, as I understand the locals call it, was built around 20 years later, but it’s a similar type of severe concrete architecture. I think the Arkansas fans treated it as something special as well.
If I had my druthers, the last four SEC opponents would be Ole Miss (on or around Halloween), Alabama, Mississippi St., and Arkansas, but no such luck. Whether I like it or not (it has its good points, to be honest), Texas A&M and Missouri have joined the SEC, so now there is that to contend with. Before last year, when LSU played Texas A&M (back in the mid-1990s and before), it was in early September; but that doesn’t work now, especially now that we’ve often been playing one of the neutral-site kickoff games. (Next year, LSU will start the season against Wisconsin in Houston.)
I can understand it, and it will probably work out though. We’ve played Auburn (often in September, but Mississippi St. and the non-conference slate will bump them to the first week of October next season) and Florida (usually in the second week of October) early on in recent years, and we don’t need another big game so early in the year. Also, Texas A&M lost their traditional Thanksgiving game with Texas, so they have to play somebody. Missouri should be a good game today; but it’s not a bordering state, and there isn’t a meaningful history between the two schools.
As for Missouri, they’re really out of place being forced into the same division with Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina in particular, so giving them and Arkansas a close geographic annual rival makes a good bit of sense. Arkansas isn’t the most natural fit in the SEC West either. Their closest divisional opponent is Ole Miss, a six-hour drive away from the Arkansas campus. (Not that LSU is situated that much better in reference to other schools.) Also, interestingly enough, Tom Dienhart, who wrote to argue for Arkansas to join the Big XII seven years ago (he wanted them to kick out Baylor), got one of the match-ups he wanted after all.
Sometimes when I talk about realignment, I’m an advocate for disturbing certain traditions; but I don’t deny that it doesn’t always feel right immediately afterward even if the changes eventually work and the new reality can become an improvement. I mentioned Auburn, for instance. They didn’t have a rivalry with LSU to speak of before 1992 either, but it’s been a fun series too, and it will continue as far as I can tell. (Although to be honest, they might make more sense in the East.)
Arkansas was sort of a replacement for Tulane (even though they overlapped a few years) anyway, and LSU wouldn’t have been playing the Razorbacks every year if it weren’t for the previous SEC expansion. It became a fun, back-and-forth, competitive series like many of the more long-term and consistent rivalries seem to be. I’ll miss that, along with the other quirks I mentioned.
Maybe something similar will develop from the Texas A&M series. The one this year was better as an LSU fan, but maybe there will be some more like last year to entertain the more neutral fans. I hope they make it at night after all the NFL games end. One thing I didn’t like about the Arkansas series was when it was played at home for LSU, it was often one fewer night game. I also wasn’t thrilled that this season’s game against Texas A&M was during the day, not that I wasn’t satisfied with how that one went.
Also, it’s not like LSU will stop playing Arkansas. That game is set for November 15 next year, apparently in Fayetteville. It could still be an important part of the schedule for either team. Not really relevant to LSU, but I also thought it was interesting that the Hogs will play the Aggies in Jerry World in late September.
So I guess this will be the new Thanksgiving week alignment for the SEC teams; I hope it will stick:
LSU-Texas A&M (Thanksgiving Day)
Mississippi St.-Ole Miss
(* = non-conference game)
I thought about this song as I was writing this: