Friday, October 30, 2009

Triple Word Score

  It’s raining.  Like, Biblically.  I’m not sure when it started.  I know it had already started when I was on my way to work this morning.  It was raining at lunch when I walked outside.  It was raining as I drove across town to meet my family for dinner.  It was raining hard as we left the restaurant.  As we drove to my mother’s to visit following dinner.  As we drove home.  And now, 16 hours later, it is still raining as my wife slowly invades my side of the bed.  This is no Shermanesque land grab, mind you.  No raping, pillaging, burning.  This is measured and methodical, but make no mistake.  If I don’t hurry the hell up with this post, I’ll be finishing with one cheek on the precipice of disaster. 

It’s supposed to rain all day tomorrow as well.  Little Rock is closing in on 70” of rain, and 2009 is already on record as the 7th Wettest Year on Record.  And we’re not even to November.

So Stephanie and I will take off for Fayetteville tomorrow.  In the rain.  Because Saturday is homecoming for the University of Arkansas.  The Razorbacks are playing Eastern Michigan University.  On Halloween.  In the cold.  After a flood. 

We are SO there.



That’s where the Eastern Michigan University Eagles are from.  Yes, that’s right.  The EMU Eagles from Ypsilanti.  If this football team were a child, you’d wonder why its parents hated it so much.  That’s a rhetorical question, of course, but if one were looking for an answer, it might be “because it’s so very bad at football.” 

Last week, the EMU Eagles from Ypsilanti went off in search of their first victory of the season.  They were playing the Cardinals of Ball State, also winless on the season.  Rynearson Stadium’s very own version of the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object.  Try as they might to avoid it, one of these teams would leave the field a winner. 

Through sheer determination, the EMU Eagles of Ypsilanti got it done.  It’s not easy to lose a game in which your opponent gains ONE SOLITARY PASSING YARD, but Eastern Michigan was not to be denied.  They willed themselves to ineptitude, surrendering a 14-point 2nd quarter lead to lose a 29-27 decision. 


All of these ingredients together seem to be the recipe for a game played with an intensity level on par with the sun’s as of late.  A routine cupcake victory, lots of points for the Hogs, few or even zero points for the Eagles.  Very few exciting moments after halftime, and perhaps even fewer spectators in the stands to witness them.  The Razorbacks will not have to work hard to blow out EMU, and the EMU Eagles of Ypsilanti will not have to work nearly as hard as last week to maintain their own brand of perfection.

So, why go?

It’s Halloween, and Stephanie and I both have nieces and nephews we’d like to see dressed up.  I have candy I’d like to be stingy with so I can eat it later myself.  Plus, the game is televised.  In HD, for that matter.  And it’s not like Homecoming is a big draw.  Neither one of us are alumni.  

We go because that’s our thing.  At the very least, it’s my thing that Stephanie goes along with so I can pretend it’s our thing.  Even meaningless games against scrub teams in seasons where our best hope is a mid-tier bowl.  We go because it’s something to look forward to the entire week.  I wrote about it a couple of months ago, and it really is true.  The drive up to Fayetteville for a football game is a really special experience for me.  I look forward to it all week.  If I knew that there was a game being played this weekend and people were going and I could go but instead was choosing voluntarily to do something else?  That would seriously mess with my head. 

I watched Game 1 of the World Series last night.  Cliff Lee, pride of Saline County, was magnificent in Yankee Stadium, helping the Phillies capture the first game of the series.  As I was watching, I thought back to our trip to Yankee Stadium a couple of months ago, and it was really cool to see a place that we had recently been to on such a grand stage.  At the same time, however, I took notice that for all of the drama and fanfare that Game 1 brought,  it still held my interest far more poorly than the certain blowout against the hapless Eagles will this Saturday.  Even as I watched the World Series, my anticipation for the blowout victory against the weakling on Halloween was growing. 

Why do we go?  Because, in a few short months, the only thing to anticipate watching on Saturday, while watching a baseball game on a Wednesday… will be another baseball game.  But for now, we’re still clinging to October, and football is plentiful. 

Stephanie has finished her March to the Edge of the Bed, causing me to flee downstairs in her wake.  Our cat just joined me.  It’s 11:43.  I’ve been up for 17 hours.

And it’s still raining.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Halfway Never Felt So Far

I am a huge fan of The Masters. One thing that makes The Masters so great is the volatility of the leaderboard on Sunday. As the saying goes, “The Masters doesn’t begin until the back nine on Sunday.” And year after year, this is illustrated when CBS puts up a graphic of what is essentially a time-lapse leaderboard. Displaying in chronological order what the top of the leaderboard looked like at different points throughout Sunday afternoon, viewers get a chance to step back and see how all the individual swings and holes paint such a compelling picture over about three short hours.
It’s not the perfect analogy, but fans of the SEC know that in Green Jacket parlance, we are making the turn on Sunday afternoon. If recruiting season was Thursday and Spring Ball was Friday and Fall Camp was Saturday, that means the first half of conference play would be the front nine on Sunday, and the second half would be the back nine. And that’s exactly what we’re currently staring down the barrel of. So let’s see where we’re at, and what we’ve learned. It may foreshadow some of what lies ahead.

EASTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. PF PA W-L Pct.
Florida 4-0 1.000 100 43 6-0 1.000
Georgia 3-2 .600 159 153 4-3 .571
South Carolina 2-2 .500 87 97 5-2 .714
Tennessee 1-2 .333 80 68 3-3 .500
Kentucky 1-3 .250 74 121 3-3 .500
Vanderbilt 0-4 .000 29 95 2-5 .286
WESTERN DIVISION Conference Overall
School W-L Pct. PF PA W-L Pct.
Alabama 4-0 1.000 115 36 7-0 1.000
LSU 3-1 .750 76 61 5-1 .833
Auburn 2-2 .500 112 111 5-2 .714
Ole Miss 1-2 .333 36 45 3-2 .600
Miss. State 1-2 .333 65 82 2-4 .333
Arkansas 1-3 .250 112 133 3-3 .500


  • Alabama is the best team in the country. Questions about Greg McElroy were legitimate questions, but he has performed well when needed, and above all, has managed his team. Remember, the Tide went undefeated with Jay Barker back there. Trent Richardson is having a great freshman campaign, gaining over five yards per carry. Mark Ingram leads the SEC with a 129 yds/gm average and is sneaking into the Heisman race, but the real star is the Crimson Tide defense. They are second in the SEC in scoring defense, first in total defense, and tied for first in turnover margin. In fact, there really has been only one player for the Crimson Tide who hasn’t lived up to preseason billing…

  • A.J. Green is better than Julio Jones. I said it here before the September 19 game between Arkansas and Georgia:

Oh yeah, then there is A.J. Green, who just might be the best receiver in the SEC. Yes, even better than Julio Jones.

There are actually several receivers building justified cases to claim they are better than Jones. You won’t find him in the top ten of a single statistical category for SEC receivers. To be fair, that undoubtedly has to do with the attention he creates, as well as the reluctance Saban has shown to throw the football without reason to. However, Green gets attention from defenses, too. That hasn’t stopped him from leading the league in receptions per game, yards per game, and touchdown receptions. His touchdown grab against LSU on Georgia’s final drive was one of the finest plays of the season, thus far. Unfortunately, it was also one of the most controversial…

  • Florida is missing something. Dan Mullen’s input. It’s hard to accuse the SEC’s leading offense in points and yards of being a disappointment, but it’s also hard not to think that if you watch the games. Florida dined on two courses of cupcake to begin the season, but have sputtered in SEC play, topping 40 once against Kentucky, but failing to hit even 30 in their other three contests. The absence of Percy Harvin is usually first brought up when Florida’s offensive woes are discussed, but I believe the departure of Dan Mullen to Mississippi State is playing a much bigger role. The 2009 Gators look the same from a distance, but upon closer inspection one notices that the playbook has been pruned, the execution is not as sharp, and the knack that Meyer has for calling the perfect play at the perfect time seems to be, well, not so much of a knack anymore. Put all that together and consider that Mullen had been with Meyer since they were at Notre Dame together in the late 1990s and it’s not too much of a leap to consider that Mullen was the creative force behind the offensive juggernauts that Meyer took credit for.

  • Houston Nutt, you are who we thought you were. At the very least, you are still who I knew you to be. Taking a team full of talented players recruited by the coach you succeeded, you shocked the world in 2008 with nine wins including a Cotton Bowl victory. Riding that momentum, and on the wings of a top ten preseason ranking, you coach your 2009 squad to a flat opening win against lowly Memphis, rise to #4 as other teams fall, and, with the world watching during a primetime Thursday night showdown, proceed to score 10 measly points in your SEC-opening loss against unranked South Carolina. Your offense has scored only four touchdowns in three SEC games, and was kept out of the end zone in the massively anticipated matchup against Alabama. You asked Rebel fans for their support that day, and they responded by setting a new attendance record for Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. And not one soul among those 62,657 got to see a single Rebel touchdown that day.

  • There is no bigger enigma than LSU’s offense. Unless it’s Les Miles poker strategy. Seriously, how do you take a group of skill players that includes Charles Scott, Trindon Holiday, Brandon LaFell, Richard Dickson, and Terrance Tolliver, put them together with an experienced offensive line and a mobile and adequately armed quarterback, and not score points? And not gain yards? With all of that talent, LSU is 11th in scoring offense, and LAST in total offense. Amazingly, in another massively anticipated contest with another attendance record set, another home team failed to cross the goal line, as the Tigers accounted for just three points against Florida on October 10, only hours after Ole Miss suffered the same fate at the hands of Alabama. If not for a ridiculous punt return by Chad Jones against Mississippi State, and the unfortunate penalty against A.J. Green in the Georgia game, LSU could easily be 1-3 in SEC instead of 3-1. Miles must walk around on two huge rabbit’s feet.

  • The suckass officiating in the SEC has reached critical mass. To use a highly scientific adjective. After inserting themselves into the winning equation in at least two high-profile games this season, referee Marc Curles and his crew find themselves suspended until November 14, which is pretty much unprecedented (to my knowledge) in the Southeastern Conference. The poor officiating during the waning minutes of the Georgia-LSU game earlier in the year was highlighted by an excessive celebration call against A.J. Green following his touchdown catch in the YouTube clip seen above. That was bad, but Curles and his crew outdid themselves last Saturday with their ineptitude in calling a game between Arkansas and #1 Florida in Gainesville. Just watch:

Something has to be done. The SEC is all about superlatives. The best conference. The most money. The worst officiating. Can’t we, just on this one issue, strive to be mediocre?


Where else? We’re headed for a matchup between #1 Alabama and #2 Florida in the SEC Championship Game for the second consecutive year. Last year, I thought that Alabama was the best team, and I was wrong. This year, I again feel like Alabama is better than Florida. I think they are head and shoulders better than Florida. Than anyone. I’ll be shocked if I’m wrong on this two years in a row.

What else?

Arkansas will win their final six games of the season and turn a 1-3 start in the SEC into a New Years Day bowl season.

Mark Richt will be legitimately on the hot seat after his Bulldogs fail to get any momentum whatsoever for the entire 2009 season. How hot will his seat be? That will depend on the outcome of the Bulldogs annual Thanksgiving game against Georgia Tech.

Auburn will complete a successful first season under Gene Chizik, although there will be a faction of fans ready to fire him after being humiliated by Alabama. Tiger fans will pray that they can hold on to offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn for just one more year.

Ole Miss could potentially miss out on a bowl game after being ranked in the preseason top ten. This is because the magic number for the Rebels is seven wins, due to the scheduling of two Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA) teams. They need three more wins, and have only one gimme. It could happen. Oh, please, let it happen.

The only thing for certain is that the second half of this SEC season, like the first half of this season, and every season before it, will be marked by the routine occurrence of the completely unpredictable. Maybe Ryan Mallett will have a 98 yard touchdown run. Maybe Florida will get beat by Vanderbilt. Maybe Steve Spurrier will realize he has become a defensive coach. Maybe Lane Kiffin will make headlines for actually coaching football. Better tune in. You just never know. Except about Houston Nutt.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Get your hate on

My mother taught me that one should never hate people.  That whatever negative effect that emotion might have toward the target would be equally doled out upon the emitter.  She’s right, too.  I try not to hate anyone.

But, man, I cannot stand Tim Tebow.  I think I really might hate him.

He offended my sensibilities right from the start.  In 2006, as a true freshman, you would have thought he was the team captain.  Emotional.  Fiery, even.  Completely over the top.  Gator fans ate it up.  As #12 Chris Leak was leading their team to a national championship, Florida fan after Florida fan went all-in with #15. 

At this point it was an annoyance.  There was no lore to speak of.  There were other football stories out there.  Tebow Fatigue had not yet set in.  My ire was drawn by mostly trivial things.  The stupid assed way he slaps his hands out of the shotgun like some self-congratulatory seal after successfully begging for an anchovy.  That, and the way he absolutely goes berserk after a four-yard run for a first down.  Springing up off the ground, ball in hand, and imploring fans to get up and cheer.  This in itself sounds pretty harmless, but it’s just the way he does it.  Herky-jerky, almost rigid from the exertion, vein bulging visibly from his neck, with zero doubt of a matching one on his forehead hidden behind his helmet.  Shit, man, just go back to the damn huddle.

I probably could have handled my disdain for Tebow if things had ended there.  But nooooo, he had to go win the freaking Heisman.  As a sophomore.  ON A TEAM THAT LOST THREE GAMES.

Granted, he did have a pretty decent year, breaking SEC records for rushing touchdowns in a season (23) most touchdowns accounted for (55), and was the first player ever to rush for at least 20 touchdowns and pass for at least 20 touchdowns in the same season.  As a by-product, he demolished the record for the post-touchdown-glance-skyward-accompanied-by-the-earnest-point-to-God maneuver. 

Because of this performance, he was able to steal the Heisman from Darren McFadden.  The irony being, of course, that McFadden was essentially the player who gave Tebow the opportunity to win.  McFadden, the runner up in 2006 as well as 2007, effectively greased the wheels in 2006 for Tebow’s victory in 2007.  Clearly the most dominant player in 2006, McFadden lost first and foremost because he was a sophomore, and also because Troy Smith, the senior quarterback from undefeated (at the time) Ohio State, had already been anointed as the next recipient.  After Smith was exposed against LSU in the BCS National Championship Game, some began to question the informal tradition of awarding the trophy to upperclassmen only, opening the door for Tebow in 2007.  Hopefully Tim at least sent Darren a thank you card.

Any hopes that Tebowitis was in remission during the 2008 season were eradicated during a press conference following the Gators home loss to unranked Ole Miss.  Later in the week, in typically understated Tebow fashion, the Savior from the Sunshine State made an emotional, heartfelt, voice-cracking vow that no team, no player would ever play harder than he and his Gators would for the rest of the season.  And, of course, they did, winning out and winning the BCS National Championship.  Gator fans undoubtedly remember just where they were when they first heard Tebow’s promise.  Similarly, fans of others schools remember just where they were when they first considered violence toward an electrical appliance as a means of escaping that damned speech.  One year later, and it’s still getting played ad nauseum by ESPN.

How in the world can you top a teary-eyed performance in which you essentially call your shot, Babe Ruth style, and then execute it?  What could Tebow possibly do in 2009, and how deep would he have to dig to make my hatred for him further develop?  Simple.  He went all CDC on us.  That’s right.  Tim Tebow got the swine flu. 

Not really.  It was later reported that Tebow was suffering from an unspecified respiratory illness that was not H1N1, but this came out only after Tebow was flown to the Gators’ game against Kentucky in an aircraft separate from the rest of his team.  Really?

Apparently that wasn’t enough, because during the game Tebow suffered a concussion after a brutal hit caused the back of his head to strike the knee of a teammate.  The impact knocked him unconscious, and he was motionless on the field for several minutes.  After getting back to the sideline, Tebow began vomiting.  On national television.  Upon the decision to take him to the hospital for observation and testing, camera crews gave viewers a shot through the back window of the ambulance as it pulled away to verify that, yes, it really was Tim Tebow in there. 

Really, what more is there?  Aren’t his fans even getting a little tired of it at this point?  Seriously.  In spite of Tebow being, by all accounts, a genuinely good guy as well as a fierce and worthy competitor, aren’t people just a little bit over all of it?  Even if you like him, aren’t you sick of him after four years of this?

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for the Age of Mallett to begin.  Hopefully it begins tomorrow in Gainesville.  Tebow’s Mormon Tabernacle Choir squaring off against Mallett’s Eminem.

I know which one I’d rather listen to.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Can’t ride home on a bowl of goat…

chili First time in my life that I suffered from chili before I ate it.

I told you this would happen.  From my blog during our Off Week:

The sun will rise again tomorrow.  College football fans all over the country will greet it with that familiar knot in their stomach.  Their team is playing tomorrow, and they get to experience again the best time of the year.  Me?  No Hogs.  No other big game to plan around.  No home-cooked dinner at Mom’s.  No catching up with friends.  Hell, not even a wedding.  This sucks all around, and will prove to be a problem later in the year.  For the Razorbacks and myself.  Mark my words.

I really should pay more attention.  A couple of weeks ago, after the Auburn game was announced as a likely 11:00 a.m. kickoff, Stephanie asked me if we could go home after the game was over instead of on Sunday morning.  Her dad is driving down from Lexington because he has Columbus Day off.

I figured “What the hell?” and told her sure, we could go back on Saturday. 

Not until yesterday did the critical error I made dawn on me.  Arkansas and Auburn kick at 11:00.  Then Ole Miss and Alabama kickoff at 2:30.  I can’t miss that.  Saban will absolutely dismantle Nutt, and I will maniacally enjoy every second.  And THEN… LSU and Florida kick off at 7:00.  Two top five teams battling for supremacy, with the possible storyline of Saint Timothy literally risking his life for The Jort Nation.

So, when, exactly, am I supposed to drive us home on Saturday?


I quickly devise a plan.  I conclude that the best course of action is simply to be honest.  I will explain the situation to my lovely wife.  Explain that this is one of the biggest Saturdays of SEC football in the past decade.  Explain that Houston Nutt is revved up and ready for Fail on the biggest stage in the land, the CBS Afternoon game.  Explain that Tim Tebow’s life could actually be in danger if he plays, but gee whiz, the Gators NEED him.

“She’ll understand,” I tell myself. “She’s awesome.” 

So I work up my courage and trot out my story.  I lay it all out there.  Nutt.  Tebow.  The works.  She considers my plea for a moment.  Okay, a second. 

“But my dad is making chili for lunch Sunday”


Weekends like this are the reason the SEC is the superior football conference in America.  Singularly.  Without competition. 

The marquee matchup is obviously between No. 1 Florida and No. 4 LSU, the only two schools with claim to more than one BCS National Championship.  Saturday night in Death Valley.  I remember another matchup between these two schools that sold me for good on SEC football 12 long years ago.  It was 1997.  Arkansas wasn’t very good, and hadn’t been very good since joining the SEC.  As a teenager, my fandom wasn’t what it is now. 

I remember sitting on a couch watching #14 LSU run up and down the field with their stable of great backs.  Kevin Faulk.  Rondell Mealey.  Cecil “The Diesel” Collins.  The Tigers beat #1 Florida in typically Tiger dramatic fashion.  The students spilled over onto the field.  I knew what I was watching was something special, and something that didn’t happen in the Southwest Conference that Arkansas had departed five years prior.  There was just something about the atmosphere.  College football in the SEC was more authentic than college football anywhere else that I could see.  And it has only gotten better.

Only in the Southeastern Conference would second billing go to a game like #20 Ole Miss hosting #3 Alabama.  Even though the Crimson Tide hold an absurdly lopsided advantage in the series, winning over 80% of the contests between the schools, the scores have been close and the action has been fierce in recent years.

The last meeting in Oxford between the two teams saw Ole Miss lose a heartbreaker after a long completion to Shay Hodge nearly assuring a Rebel victory was overturned.  Livid and liver-hating fans responded by throwing all manner of items on the field, most notably a single red high-heeled shoe.  This is Ole Miss, after all.  Be a drunken ass if you must, but for God’s sake, at least do it pretentiously!

Normally this would be an early kick, as the Rebels typically know their place against the Tide, but this year is supposed to be different.  Riding high off a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech last New Years’ Day, the Rebels began the season in the Top 10 and worked their way up to #4 before pissing their pants the first chance they got against South Carolina.  This Saturday presents Houston Nutt with a perfect opportunity to score the big upset he is famous for and get his team some momentum.  It also presents him with another opportunity to appear underprepared and overmatched against a superior coach with superior talent.  This will not end well for the Right Reverend.

The matchup between Arkansas and Auburn has all kinds of storylines.  Petrino coached with Chizik under Tommy Tuberville at Auburn.  Tiger offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn was the Razorback offensive coordinator in 2006, and coached against the Razorbacks last year as the OC of Tulsa.  Petrino was secretly contacted in 2003 to replace a struggling Tubs, but Auburn finished strong and that clandestine airport rendezvous was lambasted.  To bring everything full circle, Petrino’s first SEC victory last year against the Tigers was one of the final nails in the coffin that sealed his fate at Auburn.  Such is life in the Southeastern Conference.

With all of the shadowboxing going on between coaches Saturday, there will also be a game played on the field, and it’s important to note that the home team has not won in this series since 2004.  That doesn’t bode well for the Razorbacks, but by all accounts this year’s matchup feels different than previous ones. 

For the longest, Arkansas and Auburn have seemingly seen their success come from the legs of the endless supply of tremendous running backs each school produces.  In the case of the Tigers, I really think it’s some cyborg that gets a fresh coat of paint and a name change, because it is always the same guy back there.  Big.  Fast.  Impossible to tackle.  Cadillac Williams.  Ronnie Brown.  Rudi Johnson.  Brandon Jacobs.  Ben Tate.  And I’m leaving out several.  Arkansas counters with Madre Hill, Cedric Cobbs, Felix Jones, Darren McFadden, and of course, Fred Talley, whose 241 yards on The Plains in 2002 still haunts Tiger fans to this day.

While Auburn possesses a superb running attack with Ben Tate as the workhorse and shifty Onterrio McCaleb providing big play spark, they will look to pass more than they have in years past.  Gus Malzahn has turned Chris Todd into an effective if not outstanding SEC quarterback, which is 180 degrees from where he was in 2008.  Of course, Arkansas counters with Ryan Mallet and a stable of speedy, sure-handed receivers that have been covered on here before.  The ball will get thrown around a lot on Saturday, and judging from the defensive units of both teams, it may not hit the ground very often.


Chili is a very big deal in my wife’s family.  Stephanie’s dad has won multiple church chili cookoffs, to the point that he was “term limited” from competition.  It really is excellent chili.  Stephanie and her sister both rave over it, and Steph can be a very picky eater.  But is it so good that it requires us to come home a full 18 hours before consumption?  Causing me to miss a substantial portion of the biggest football weekend of the season to date, and one of the biggest for the conference in years?


And then… chili happened.

What it comes down to, though, is that my wife wants to spend time with her Daddy.  He lives 10 hours away, and she wants to see him Saturday night and she doesn’t want to wait until Sunday and she doesn’t give a damn if it messes up my watching LSU/Florida and Ole Miss/Bama or not.

Hell, we’ve got DVR.  The games, literally, can wait.  I haven’t gotten to hang out with her dad in a while, either, and I’m looking forward to that. 

And it really is excellent chili.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Southwest Classic: A Rivalry Regurgitated

Hey Norm!  If you were a "rivalry game” between two teams who hadn’t played in 18 years, would you incessantly promote yourself?

I know I would.

I’d smother myself in TV rights and $300 tickets.  A sparkling new stadium and a catchy name like “Southwest Classic”.

I’d taste soooooooo good.

Arkansas meets Texas A&M this Saturday at Cowboys Stadium, affectionately known as JerryWorld.  It is the first of ten consecutive meetings between the two schools.  A clash of the two best conferences in the nation, the SEC and the Big XII, and a rebirth of a great rivalry from the long-dead Southwest Conference. 

I am 27 years old.  I was 10 years old when Arkansas played its first SEC conference game.  I have watched the Razorbacks play every SEC team.  I have been to 5 of 12 SEC stadiums.  I have been to the SEC Championship game in Atlanta. 

I can speak fluently in SEC.  Yea, Alabama.  Geaux Tigers.  War Damn Eagle.  I know the significance of 18 miles per hour in Oxford, Mississippi.  Of Mr. Two Bits.  Of Smokey and Uga.  I.  Love.  SEC.  Football.

On the other hand, I do not and cannot give a crap about Texas A&M.  I’ve tried, and I just can’t.

I have never watched Arkansas play Texas A&M in football.  Never been to College Station.  I know no more about the Texas A&M Aggies than I do the Oregon Ducks or the Minnesota Gophers or the West Virginia Mountaineers.

I understand that the Aggies have a lot of traditions they hold dear.  A dog.  A fire.  A unique band.  A highly organized student section.  Too bad it’s all so dreadfully boring.  A&M is a football school, and I can name as many former Aggie basketball players as I can former Aggie football players:  one. 

Don’t get me wrong;  I think this is a great game for the Razorbacks.  It’s an out-of-conference game against an opponent from the conference that is closest to the SEC in football.  It should be nationally televised each year, and, by all accounts, the facility it is to be played in is far and away the most impressive in the country, if not the world. 

Notice that none of these reasons have anything to do with rekindling old flames from conferences past.  And we haven’t even gotten to the two main reasons Jeff Long lined up this game for the Razorbacks.  The same two reasons any businessman makes any decision:  Money and power.

Shortly after the renewal of the series was announced in March of 2008, reports of $5 Million payouts to each team began to hit blogs and message boards.  Even in the financially dominant SEC, that is serious money for a regular season football game.  It is nearly 10% of the Razorbacks’ entire Athletic Budget.  One game!  Not even counting television! 

To lock in a deal like that for an entire decade is a tremendous boon to the University of Arkansas.  Made possible by the the benevolence of alumnus Jerry Jones, the Southwest Classic is without a doubt a sweetheart deal that the other 11 schools of the SEC are green with envy over.  At least they get their fair share of the television revenue.

Additionally, this game carries with it the opportunity to bore out further a recruiting pipeline that Arkansas has been the beneficiary of for decades. 

When it was a member of the Southwest Conference, Arkansas was dependent upon getting football players from the state of Texas.  Good and great players from within Arkansas were usually sewn up as Razorbacks before their recruitment ever started, and still the Hogs depended mightily on the Lone Star State to provide enough quality players to put a winning product on the field.

As the Razorbacks have settled into the SEC, the dependence on  Texas has waned as pipelines into regions across the southeast started to emerge.  Louisiana.  Georgia.  Florida.  And though the talent in Texas was ever-present, the exposure for the Razorbacks was no longer there.  And when you combine a decrease in exposure with a reduction in allocated resources, a decline in the number of Texas-bred Razorbacks is the logical outcome.  Yes, we still get a great many players from Texas, but not like we used to.

This series presents a chance for the Razorbacks to reacquaint Texans with the Razorback program.  However, instead of being dependent upon talent from Texas as it was in the days of the Southwest Conference, the Razorbacks can use their pipeline into Texas as an advantage that the rest of their conference does not have.

The sting of recruiting and missing on a blue-chip recruit from Jackson, Mississippi or Jackson, Tennessee is two-fisted.  Not only have you wasted resources on recruiting that player, but you will likely have to compete against him yearly.  Miss out on a blue chipper from Lake Jackson, Texas, and he’s most likely a Longhorn, which is a dreadful fate, but better than him being a Rebel or Tiger or Volunteer.

Arkansas has before it a unique opportunity to turn its perennial negative into a positive.  The knock on Arkansas has always been that it is out of place.  The Razorbacks never fit in competing against eight schools from Texas in the SWC, and they don’t fit in with the East-of-the-Mississippi mentality of the SEC, either.  Yet they competed in the SWC and compete in the SEC with respectable success.  If Arkansas can use their newest inroad into Texas to gain some recruiting momentum there without losing steam in the southeast, it might be just what the Hogs need to jump that last hurdle keeping them from being an elite team in the conference.

See?  Money and power.  That’s why this game is so great for the Razorbacks. 

These aren’t new ideas.  People identified these positives immediately after the announcement of the series.  But instead of saying that we are playing this game for the money and for the recruits, we prattle on about a rivalry renewed.  Old-timers tell war stories of games from the 60s and 70s, when both programs were in their prime.  We talk about dogs, and fires, and bands.

That’s all well and good, and I am happy for everybody who is so excited about this game.  Any reason for excitement over the Razorbacks is a good thing as far as I am concerned.  I just can’t muster up the additional excitement for this week, however.  I could do without all the ballyhoo.  I just want to see my Razorbacks go into Dallas and get the victory, the money, and the recruiting power. 

And then I want to relish getting to play Auburn.  Followed by Florida.  Followed by Ole Miss.  War Damn Eagle.  Mr. Two Bits.  Hotty Toddy.

Like The SEZ