Bowl season not as fun as it used to be

By: Harry King
Published: Friday, November 30, 2018
Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl in Miami, in this Jan. 2, 1978 photo. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)
Arkansas coach Lou Holtz is carried by his players after defeating Oklahoma at the Orange Bowl in Miami, in this Jan. 2, 1978 photo. (AP Photo/Phil Sandlin)

LITTLE ROCK — Chasing rumors, speculating about Arkansas’ postseason destination and making travel plans, the bowl selection process used to be more fun.

A 1-15 SEC record the past two years eliminated the Razorbacks, plus pairing the teams is more structured with the College Football Playoff and the SEC’s creation of the “Pool of Six” lesser bowls.

Before the CFP Selection Committee took charge of the premier bowls - including the formerly SEC-affiliated Cotton Bowl - and the SEC began assigning league teams to the Outback, Liberty and the like in consultation with the schools and the bowls, there was suspense and being first to report Arkansas’ destination was a goal.

However, even when the info comes from somebody indubitably in the know, convincing superiors to publish something surprising can be a tough sell.

That was the case in late November 1977 after Arkansas completed a 10-1 season with a 17-14 victory at Texas Tech. Nos. 1-8 in the next AP poll were unbeaten Texas, followed by Oklahoma, Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Arkansas, Kentucky and Penn State, each with one loss.

The Cotton Bowl matched Notre Dame against Southwest Conference champion Texas while the Sugar Bowl put together a marquee coaching matchup between Bear Bryant’s Alabama and Woody Hayes’ Ohio State, leaving the Orange Bowl to find an opponent for Big Eight champion Oklahoma.

After working the phones for quite some time, an Associated Press staffer in Little Rock called New York with rock-solid word that the Razorbacks would play in Miami. No way, he was told. It’s Penn State vs. Oklahoma in Miami, for certain.

Hours later, Razorbacks vs. Sooners was official.

These days, the CFP games rotate among the Cotton, Orange, Sugar, Fiesta, Peach and Rose with the semifinals in the Cotton and the Orange this year. As usual, the Sugar will have the highest-ranked SEC team that does not play in the playoff.

Until Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond completed a two-point conversion pass in the seventh overtime late Saturday night, it seemed likely that SEC East champion Georgia would get squeezed out of the Sugar. After all, the Bulldogs play mighty Alabama and there is no safety net for the loser of the league championship.

Even if Alabama covers the 13-point spread on Saturday, a two-loss Georgia will be the second-highest ranked SEC team next week and will play in New Orleans. If LSU had found a way to beat Texas A&M, the 10-2 Tigers would have ranked ahead of Georgia based on a 20-point victory over the Bulldogs in mid-October.

Instead, the Tigers scored 72 and lost. Still, at 9-3 and ranked 10 this week, LSU is likely to divide spots in the Peach and Fiesta with No. 9 Florida.

A&M 74, LSU 72 in seven overtimes was so riveting that some old folks with no rooting interest stayed up past 11:30 p.m. to watch the sort of punch, counter punch that epitomizes what Arkansas coach Chad Morris means when he talks about competing on every play no matter what.

Watching the back and forth, Jimbo Fisher’s promise to change the culture in College Station came to mind.

Early in the year, ESPN college football analyst Booger McFarland shared that he told the Aggies’ new coach that A&M’s program is soft and that Fisher agreed. According to McFarland, Fisher said: “’We are soft, but I’m going to change that.’”

If, as expected, the Aggies become a consistent contender in the SEC West, Nov. 24 could be cited as the date the players comprehended Fisher’s pitch. The second team to play offense in the third, fifth and seventh overtimes, the Aggies scored eight to match LSU, six to play on and eight to win.

Tallying eight on three occasions, the Aggies impressed. When Arkansas defeated Ole Miss 58-56 in 2001, both scored touchdowns in the third, fourth and fifth OT and failed to make a two-point conversion. Two years later, Arkansas recorded three eights in the last four overtimes of a 71-63 victory at Kentucky.

In those two games, quarterback Matt Jones ran for three touchdowns, threw three touchdowns and completed three two-point conversion attempts.

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