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?
YOU HEAR THAT SOUND? THAT’S THE SOUND OF THE OTHER SHOE DROPPING! OH IT’S DROPPING, BABY!
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?
I WAS FREE AND CLEAR! LIVING THE DREAM! STRIPPED TO THE WAIST AND EATING A BLOCK OF CHEESE THE SIZE OF A CAR BATTERY!
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.