Looking ahead to <i>new</i> college football classics
Tradition is obviously overrated. Nostalgia is for saps.
“If memories were all I sang,” Rick Nelson once sang, “I’d rather drive a truck.”
You’d think history might mean more in a sport that produced “Win One for the Gipper,” but this is no time to be taking sentimental journeys.
Before the Pacific 12 Conference called off the expansion malamutes last week, conference realignment directors were prepared to tear asunder the Apple Cup core of some of its most ancient rituals.
Before he was all for the Big 12 staying together, Oklahoma Coach Bob Stoops seemed perfectly fine with divorcing Texas and the Red River Rivalry.
“I don’t think it’s necessary,” Stoops said in early September. “No one wants to hear that, but life changes.”
The realignment pullback, thankfully, spared many traditional games from the scrapbook heap, but some are in limbo.
Texas A&M’s wedding announcement to the Southeastern Conference this week, the church date set for next year, could end its annual Thanksgiving weekend classic against Texas.
The series dates to 1894, but so what? Only two Football Bowl Subdivision rivalries are longer running than the 117 times the Longhorns and Aggies have met, but life changes.
“People mark their calendars for that ballgame,” Texas A&M Coach Mike Sherman acknowledged on Monday’s Big 12 coaches’ conference call. “It will be a passing that will be sad, but new rivalries come up, and you start circling other games on the calendar, I guess.”
If Texas A&M’s move to the SEC forces Auburn to the East Division, Tennessee vs. Alabama might mess with that annual bloodbath.
If Missouri eventually joins the SEC, will that end its Border War rivalry with Kansas?
Pittsburgh’s down-the-holler departure from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference might end, or certainly complicate, its Backyard Brawl game with West Virginia.
Maybe they move the series to the start of the season the way they moved the Holy War, this year, between Utah and Brigham Young.
Even front-loading the game date, though, changes its context. Utah’s path to its first BCS bowl in 2004 was made infinitely sweeter because the berth was clinched with a final win against BYU.
It was far more emotionally significant that Pittsburgh, in 2007, was the team that knocked West Virginia out of the national title race with its shocking (to this day) last-weekend upset at Morgantown.
The Big 12’s split-division format put Oklahoma and Nebraska on life support.
A great series was officially pronounced dead when Nebraska moved to the Big Ten.
Remember, though, only puppy lovers stop and smell the Rose Bowl.
Nebraska makes its Big Ten Conference debut Saturday against Wisconsin. The schools haven’t met since 1974. Everybody’s marking their calendars.
There is a fresh-scrubbed newness to it all.
“I’ve never been to Madison,” Nebraska senior safety Austin Cassidy said this week. “I can’t wait.”
Then again, Cassidy was equally thrilled to play Wyoming last week in mile-high Laramie, except, “It was hard to breathe up there. My mouth was so dry the entire time.”
Maybe Sherman is right. Maybe we need to get over the past and think about how much richer Texas A&M is going to be by joining the SEC.
Nebraska at Wisconsin has instant flex appeal, helped hugely by the fact both are top-10 schools.
“That’s one of the reasons I came here,” Badgers quarterback Russell Wilson, a transfer from North Carolina State, said this week. “Great game. Great atmosphere, Big Ten football.”
Maybe someday, 100 years from now, people will look back at this Wisconsin-Nebraska game starting the tradition of “The Alvarez-Osborne Goblet” Or “Battle for the Old Barn Door.”
It’s just a progressive way of looking at things.
Think of the possibilities conference realignment might produce:
• Utah vs. Washington State: “The Boxcar Bowl.” Teams commute via train to honor historical ties to the railroad industry. Pullman was founded by George Pullman, who invented the Pullman sleeping car. Utah’s Promontory Summit, in 1869, was the site where the “Last Spike” completed the Transcontinental Railroad.
Be careful, though: Hoisting that “Railroad Tie” keepsake could cause a hernia.
• USC vs. Utah: “Settle the Score Book Bowl.” Imagine these proud Pac-12 South rivals fighting it out every year to win the same game by the score of 17-14 or 23-14.
• Missouri vs. Arkansas: “The Other Border War.” Kansas, you know, isn’t the only state that saddles up next to Missouri.
• Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: “The Over Our Head Jug.” The tradition of this game’s winner swigging pond water out of a soup kettle would continue until one of the schools wins its first SEC championship. Arkansas joined in 1992.
• Pittsburgh vs. Wake Forest: “Battle for the Carnegie/Walter Raleigh Spittoon.” If Pitt wins, the mayor of Winston-Salem pays off with 10 cartons of Winston-Salems. If Wake wins, Pittsburgh’s mayor has to export a top-quality support beam.
Winning team receives: “The Tungsten Trophy.”
Losing team gets: “Surgeon General’s Cup.”
Connecticut vs. Texas Christian: Forget Paul Bunyan’s Axe (Minnesota/Wisconsin). Ponder: “Sam Clemens’ Pen vs. Sam Houston’s Gun.” This dysfunctional battle of geographic/cultural misfits manifests a spirited rivalry and a successful student foreign-exchange program.
• Hawaii vs. New Mexico: “The Pineapple Johnny Appleseed Magellan GPS Bell.”
Hawaii has one more year in the Western Athletic Conference before this anticipated sea/land excursion can be christened on the S.S. Minnow. One tradition that could develop: visiting teams departing as soon as the schedule comes out.
So, do as Mike Sherman says, go and ahead and mark your calendars. Embrace the new, emerging landscape. Be mindful that rivalries take time to develop.
Some people, back in 1899, had to warm up to Colorado State vs. Wyoming (The Bronze Boot).
Look what that is now.
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