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Half-hearted rivalries 

In this morning’s Kansas City Star, there was an article with comments from former University of Missouri president R. Bowen Loftin about the possibility of the Tigers resuming their athletic series with the University of Kansas. 

Kansas and Missouri began their football series in 1891, only 30 years after Kansas became the 34th state. The Tigers and Jayhaks played 120 times, making it the oldest NCAA Division I rivalry west of the Mississippi River. FYI, the oldest NCAA football series is Lehigh vs. Lafayette, which bgan in 1884.

Loftin stated only one reason why Mizzou and Kansas have not played since the Tigers left the Big 12 for the Southeastern Conference in 2012.

Bill Self.

Loftin blamed Self, the Jayhawks’ men’s basketball coach who will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this year, for not wanting to play Mizzou, at least in football and men’s basketball. In recent years, Mizzou has reached out numerous times to Kansas about playing football games at Arrowhead Stadium and basketball games at Sprint Center, but each time, the Jyayhawks have said no way. 

Self, of course, denied Loftin’s premise. He emphatically stated he had nothingt to do with football scheduling. 

Loftin speaks from experience about dormant rivalries. In 2012, he was president at Texas A&M when the Aggies joined Mizzou in leaving the Big 12 for the SEC. A&M wanted to continue its rivalry with Texas, but the Longhorns refused. 

In his comments, Loftin believed the Longhorns and Aggies would continue their rivalry before the Tigers and Jayhawks do. 

I know about in-state rivlaries going dormant, but Louisiana really isn’t comparable to Texas, or to Missouri-Kansas, either. Tulane has never really been at LSU’s level, and the gulf has continually widened since the Green Wave dropped out of the SEC in 1966. LSU discontinued its annual rivalry with Tulane on the gridiron after the 1994 season; the teams played four consecutive years from 2006-2009, but LSU then bought out the remaining six games on the contract. In men’s basketball, Dale Brown dropped Tulane in 1981 because he felt the Greenies were non-competitive. Tulane dropped its program for three years in the 1980s due to a point shaving scandal, but the Tigers refused to play Tulane until 2003, seven seasons after Brown retired. LSU and Tulane only compete in women’s basketball and baseball, as well as a few minor sports. 

As much as I’d like to see LSU and Tulane play every year in football, Tulane must shoulder a lot of the blame. Why not play in Baton Rouge every year, or four out of every five years? The Greenies are going to make far more in Tiger Stadium than they ever will at Tulsa, SMU, East Carolina or another American Athletic Conference school, and certainly much, much more than playing at UL Lafayette or Louisiana Tech. As for LSU, it would be much more financially prudent to play Tulane than to pay Troy or Chattanooga an exorbitant sum to come to Death Valley as it is doing this season. It would have been much better in 2017 becuase LSU has only six home games, since the Florida game was switched to Gainesville after last season’s Hurricane Matthew flap. 

On the flip side, if Tulane wants LSU to come to New Orleans, it is going to (a) have to give LSU a larger cut of the gate and (b) play in the Superdome. Yulman Stadium only seats 30,000. I understand the idea of playing on campus, but in this case, it would be unreasonable for LSU to do so. If Tulane is worried about LSU fans overrunning the Superdome, then that’s too bad.

LSU has tried to make too many other SEC schools their “rival”, but the other school would not reciprocate. The series with Ole Miss has largely been irrelvant since Johnny Vaught retired as Rebel coach in 1970 (save for a brief return in 1973). Alabama could care less about beating LSU unless the Tigers are at or near the top of the polls. As Bear Bryant put it, “I’d rather beat the cow college (Auburn) once than Notre Dame ten times”. Nick Saban has turned this so-called rivalry into a laugher. Auburn and LSU didn’t play every year in football until 1992, and Auburn might be going to the Eastern Division anyway. 

LSU has played Arkansas for the Golden Boot since 1996, but the Tigers resisted it with every fiber of their being until then-SEC Commissioner Roy Kramer finally prevailed upon LSU to play along.  The game has always meant much more in Fayetteville than in Baton Rouge.

Back to the Border War. 
Kansas’ non-conference football schedule this season is an out and out JOKE. Southeast Missouri, Central Michigan, Ohio University. The game vs. the Bobcats is in Athens, Ohio, which is a coup by Ohio coach Frank Solic in getting a Power Five school to travel to Athens and play a Mid-America Conference school. 

The trip to Ohio begs the question: why not play Missouri at Arrowhead and get a huge gate? It would be mutually beneficial. It would allow Mizzou to fulfill the SEC requirement to play a Power Five opponent in non-conference, and Kansas would not have to embarrass itself playing a lower level team like SEMO. 

I cannot say for sure Self is personally responsible for Kansas not wanting to play Mizzou. But the Jayhawks are wrong on this one. Why would Kansas pass up a chance to play in Kansas City, only 45 minutes from its campus, to go to places like Ohio U and Memphis? 

The Texas-Texas A&M series is not something I’m really worried about. Texas has enough in-state rivals (Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU) in the Big 12, and A&M is content making Arkansas and LSU its big rivalry games. 

In the grand scheme, it’s only college sports. It could be worse. The fact the Jets and Giants play only once every four years in the regular season is sad. The NFL is missing the boat. 

Bowled over at age 7

In the years when January 1 falls on a Sunday–as will be the case for 2017–the major college football bowl games are shifted to Monday, January 2.

It so happens my first memories of college football bowl games was on January 2, 1984. I was a little less than three months removed from my 7th birthday. I was in second grade.

I began to seriously follow college football–and the other major sports–throughout 1983. The salient points of 1983:

  • LSU had a terrible 4-7 season and fired coach Jerry Stovall, hiring Bill Arnsparger, the architect of the Miami Dolphins’ “No-Name” and “Killer Bees” defenses, as his replacement.
  • Tulane was 4-7 under first year coach Wally English, but there were storm clouds brewing around the Green Wave. Tulane was forced to forfeit two victories, one over then-No. 9 Florida State, for playing Jon English, the son of the coach, even though he was ineligible.
  • Nebraska, meanwhile, was at the other end of the spectrum from LSU and Tulane. The Cornhuskers steamrolled their way to a 12-0 regular season and were primed to win their first national championship since 1971, and first for coach Tom Osborne, who succeeded Bob Devaney in 1973. Led by Heisman Trophy winner Mike Rozier, quarterback Turner Gill, and All-America tackle Dean Steinkuhler, Nebraska held the No. 1 ranking in the polls throughout the season, averaging over 400 yards rushing and 52 points per game.
  • Nebraska’s opponent in the Orange Bowl, which was committed to the Big Eight Conference champion, would be the school which played its home games in the eponymous stadium. The Miami Hurricanes were the new kid on the block, bouncing back from a 28-3 loss to Florida at Gainesville in the season opener to win 10 in a row, ending with a 17-16 victory over Florida State in Tallahassee. In five seasons, Howard Schnellenberger, who played for Bear Bryant at Kentucky, served as an assistant to Bryant at Kentucky, and was on the same staff with Arnsparger with the Dolphins, had rescued the Hurricanes from near-extinction, building a program which was fearless, reflecting the confident attitude of its coach.
  • Southwest Conference champion Texas was 11-0 and ranked No. 2. The Longhorns were slated to play Georgia in the Cotton Bowl, and with a win, could ascend to No. 1 if the Cornhuskers were upset by Miami. Ironically, Texas went into the Cotton Bowl following the 1977 season 11-0 and ranked No. 1, but lost 38-10 to Notre Dame, which vaulted from No. 5 to No. 1 in the final poll following No. 2 Oklahoma’s 31-6 loss in the Orange Bowl to Arkansas.
  • No. 3 Auburn lost in September to Texas at home, but had won its other 10 games against a brutal schedule which included Florida, Georgia, ACC champion Maryland, and a strong Alabama team in its first season under Ray Perkins, who was Bryant’s chosen successor in December 1982 (Bryant died January 26, 1983). The Tigers of the Plains featured sophomore sensation Bo Jackson and Lionel “Little Train” James, who helped quarterback Randy Campbell run Pat Dye’s Wishbone to perfection. Auburn also had one of the nation’s best kickers, Al Del Greco, and a stout defense led by All-America linebacker Greg Carr. Auburn would play Michigan in the Sugar Bowl.
  • Illinois went 9-0 in the Big Ten, overcoming an early loss to Missouri. The Illini headed to the Rose Bowl ranked No. 4. Their opponent was 6-4-1 UCLA, which not only had home field advantage, but an elite quarterback, Rick Neuheisel.
  • Notre Dame? Who cared? The Irish were 6-5 in their third season under Gerry Faust. They defeated Doug Flutie and Boston College in the Liberty Bowl, but who really gave a darn?

The Cotton Bowl kicked off at 12:30 that Monday afternoon. In a defensive battle, Georgia took advantage of a fumbled punt to score the game’s lone touchdown, a 17-yard run by quarterback John Lastinger, with 3:22 to go. The Bulldogs, who were in line to win their fourth consecutive SEC championship before falling to Auburn in November, prevailed 10-9 to finish 11-1, a remarkable accomplishment given the loss of Herschel Walker, who surprisingly left Georgia in February 1983 to sign with the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League. Georgia coach Vince Dooley fully expected to have Walker for his senior season, to win a second Heisman Trophy, and to get the Bulldogs back to New Orleans.

Texas would not be a serious national championship contender for the next two decades. Coach Fred Akers was fired in 1986 despite winning 86 games in 10 seasons after succeeding the legendary Darrell Royal. The Longhorns struggled badly under David McWilliams (1987-91) and John Mackovic (1992-97) before Mack Brown finally returned the Longhorns to elite status.

Illinois was blasted 45-9 by UCLA in the Rose Bowl. The Illini have not been ranked in the top five since, and their only major bowl appearances resulted in losses to LSU (Sugar Bowl following 2001 season) and USC (Rose Bowl following 2007 season).

Auburn struggled vs. Michigan, but won 9-7.

Meanwhile, Miami jumped to a 17-0 lead over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. The Cornhuskers got on the board int he second quarter when Steinkuhler ran the fumblerooski for a touchdown, but the Hurricanes still led 31-17 in the fourth quarter.

Jeff Smith’s touchdown run with 48 seconds to go narrowed the gap to 31-30. There was no overtime in college football in that era (and would not be any until 1996), so Osborne could kick the extra point to tie, which would have left Nebraska atop the polls, but subject him to a great deal of ridicule; or he could play for the win by opting for the 2-point conversion, which, if unsuccessful, would cost the Cornhuskers the championship.

Osborne chose to play for the win. Gill’s pass for Smith was broken up by Miami safety Ken Calhoun. The Hurricanes recovered Nebraska’s onside kick. The 31-30 victory was enough to push Miami past Auburn and Nebraska and to the top of the polls.

Nebraska wouldn’t get its national championship for Osborne until 1994, then won two more in 1995 and 1997. Schnellenberger left MIami in late April and was succeeded by Oklahoma State coach Jimmy Johnson, who led the Hurricanes to the 1987 national championship and a 52-9 record over five seasons before leaving for the Dallas Cowboys in 1989. Miami won titles in 1989 and 1991 under Dennis Erickson, and again in 2001 under Larry Coker.

Pat Dye complained vociferously that Auburn was screwed in the final polls, and he had a legitimate point then and still does now. Auburn’s schedule was far tougher than Miami’s, and let’s not forget while the Hurricanes lost to Florida, the Tigers defeated the Gators. Would Miami gone 10-0 against the likes of Texas, Georgia, Maryland and Alabama? Probably not. Then again, Miami defeating a Nebraska team considered one of the greatest in college football history–which I thought was misguided, considering this wasn’t even the best team in Nebraska history–carried a lot of weight.

For better or worse, my life changed noticeably on the second day of 1984.

Texas strikes out

Nolan Ryan would have been right had home had he been on his ranch in Texas watching the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

WHIFF. WHIFF. WHIFF. WHIFF. WHIFF.

Texas had five entries in the tournament. By 9 p.m. Central tonight, all five were making plans to return to the the place where everything is bigger, but not always better.

We’ll excuse Texas Southern and Stephen F. Austin. They were going up against the Pac-12, which isn’t the best conference this season, but it is a major conference, one where the basketball budget at Arizona and Utah, the teams which vanquished TSU and SFA, respectively, is far larger than the entire athletic budget at the smaller Texas schools.

The big boys from the big state fared no better.

The losses by Baylor, Texas and SMU reminded us once again that Texas is a FOOTBALL state first and foremost. If there is a second sport, it’s BASEBALL, not basketball. And women’s basketball has been more successful on the national stage than men’s basketball in the Lone Star State, as evidenced by undefeated national title runs by Texas in 1986 and Baylor in 2012.

Texas’ loss is forgivable. Butler is a good team which knows how to win at this time of the year. The Longhorns were too inconsistent to go very far, and they were exposed by the boys from Indianapolis.

SMU lost to a UCLA team the vast majority of experts claimed had no business being in the tournament. Committee 1, “experts” 0. Now the Bruins are heavy favorites to reach the Sweet 16, since they get UAB in the next round.

Baylor. Wow.

Scott Drew must have taken the PhD course from Art Briles in how to blow big leads. A little more than two months after the Bears football team blew a 20-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Cotton Bowl to Michigan State and lost 42-41, the Baylor roundballers lost a 12-point lead in less than two minutes to a less than stellar Georgia State team which scored a whopping 38 points in the Sun Belt Conference tournament championship game. THIRTY EIGHT POINTS in a game with a 35-second shot clock. Villanova and Georgetown went way over that in the last major college game played without a shot clock, the 1985 championship game won by the Wildcats 66-64.

Then again, where Baylor is now is light years from where it was 10 years ago, when it came within a whisker of the NCAA Death Penalty following the cover-up in the murder of Patrick Denehey by teammate Carlton Dotson. Coach Dave Bliss committed egregious violations and also covered up the murder, which led to a 10 year show-cause penalty, essentially blackballing him from coaching at another NCAA school. The Bears were banned from playing non-conference games in 2005-06, the first time such a harsh penalty had ever been handed down.

I don’t think many will care much about college basketball in Texas for much longer. Spring football at the colleges is well underway, and the large high schools will hold their own spring drills in April and May.