Did we really want to see LSU play Ohio State in the Super Dome again? That seems a bit anticlimactic, considering the last time the Tigers and Buckeyes met in that building it was the BCS National Championship. A rematch three years later with far less at stake? Nah, let's pass on that sequel.
Even at 11-1 and ranked #9 in the BCS … does Michigan State really get anyone's blood going? What's the history here? Is there any intensity between the fan bases? Yawn. Ok, LSU thumped the Spartans and their future revolutionary coach Nick Saban 45-26 in the 1995 Independence Bowl. To this day it's the only meeting between the two. True, part of the romance of college bowl games is matching up teams that don't play often. But the Tigers and Spartans in the Capital One Bowl just seems to fall flat. Maybe it's those green jerseys Michigan State wears or that goofy Spartan mascot. Or perhaps the fact East Lansing is a place that registers absolutely no emotion from me whatsoever. I don't know. But an evening in Shreveport 15 years ago, sponsored by a weed eater company (Poulan, you got it!) does not equal a storied rivalry or excitement. And after the nightmarish field conditions last year in Orlando (which have been fixed, but still taint LSU fans' memories) and a stadium located in the not-so-cozy part of town … a return trip to this New Year's Day Bowl just didn't seem to energize anyone.
LSU vs Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl is the obvious winner for so many reasons. If you grew up on LSU football in the mid 80s to mid 90s like me … the Tigers tangling with the Aggies was a yearly tradition. The two played a decade straight from 1986 through the 1995 season, creating lasting memories and epic heavyweight battles. Eight of those ten meetings were season openers, building high anticipation for the game during the summer months. True, the series began to lose serious steam late as the Tiger program crashed into ruin under Mike Archer and Curley Hallman. The Aggies won and won big, winning the last five match ups which included routs of 45-7 in 1991 and 24-0 in 1993. LSU eventually pulled the plug and A&M still hasn't forgiven them. The Aggies have refused numerous attempts to renew the series … until now. It's an offer Texas A&M and their tremendously excited fans simply CAN'T refuse.
You can call the Cotton Bowl the "cupid" of college football. The last time the Tigers played in the contest, was likewise the first time LSU squared off against the Texas Longhorns in 40 years. How in the world does that happen? How do the two primary institutions … from the two states who worship the game like no one else in the country … go that long without banging heads on the gridiron? It took the Dallas bowl game to hook them up again. Something's definitely a little wrong about that. Now LSU against Texas A&M again has never been more right.
The boys from Texas have watched LSU swell into one fat, powerful cat since they last met. LSU has won BCS Championships and BCS bowls, while the Aggies quite honestly haven't really done much. Head coach Mike Sherman's debut season in College Station was a woeful 4-8 in 2008. Now, the Aggies are back on the upswing. Sherman is making A&M matter again, leading them to six straight victories including triumphs over both teams who appeared in the Big 12 Championship (beating Oklahoma 33-19 and Nebraska 9-6). Sherman even has a bit of Paul Mainieri in him, making drastic changes in the middle of the season that have worked wonders. The coach benching the Aggies' all-time leader in career yardage, Jerrod Johnson (a senior quarterback that had accounted for nearly 9,000 yards of total offense) in favor of former wide receiver Ryan Tannehill. All Tannehill has done is go 5-0 as a starter, capping off the regular season with a 24-17 triumph over arch-rival Texas on Thanksgiving night.
So now, on January 7th, at 7 pm in the new Cowboy's Stadium, a storied rivalry is renewed. LSU fans will get the chance to not only witness the great match up, but also a Texas A&M band they once gave standing ovations in Tiger Stadium. Yes, they really are that good. A&M fans will also sway back and forth singing, but hopefully the guys won't be kissing their dates too often. That would mean the Aggies are scoring their share of touchdowns. And is A&M bringing that cannon they fire after those TDs? I'll never forget going to College Station in the early 90s with my friend Chad Beach (whose dad was a USL assistant coach) to see the Ragin Cajuns get destroyed by the Aggies 63-7. I leaped in terrified shock every time that thunderous thing went off … even though after the sixth touchdown or so, I should've been ready for that epic boom!
Truth be told, last year's 9-3 LSU team probably belonged in the Cotton Bowl and this season's 10-2 squad is likely more deserving of the Capital One Bowl. But things have a funny way of working out for the best … don't they?
As someone who remembers Todd Kinchen weaving his way through what appeared to 35 Texas A&M defenders for an incredible 79-yard score and 17-8 LSU win in 1990 … count me in as excited.
It's LSU vs Texas A&M. And it's the way it should be.