State of the Hogs: Texas A&M

Arkansas versus Texas A&M was often a big game, but whether or not it was a rivalry for either side is up for debate. Here's one man's opinion.

The banners, logos and marketing campaigns took me by surprise concerning the Arkansas-Texas A&M series that renews Saturday at Dallas Cowboys Stadium. One of the common themes in the pitch: Be part of the rebirth of an old Southwest Classic rivalry.

The reference to a rivalry was there every time. Sorry, but I never considered A&M to be a rival. I do not think the Aggies thought that about the Hogs either. They both had only one rival, the University of Texas.

I thought a rival in college football — or anything else — would be someone you hated with a passion. That's the way it's used most commonly. Bobby Petrino has talked about the rivalry between the two schools. Perhaps there will be one and maybe there was one way back when and I just didn't realize it. I'd probably try to hype it as a rivalry now, too.

Arkansas led the series with A&M, 38-24-3. The games were either in College Station, Fayetteville or Little Rock. The series hasn't been close in modern time. Since 1958, Arkansas leads, 24-10. Maybe that's why Arkansas didn't consider the Aggies to be a big rival. The Hogs didn't lose enough to hate anything in College Station.

Respect was always there. A&M was always one of the haves in the old Southwest Conference. The school was massive and its graduates did well in business, many in oil and energy related ventures. That money came pouring back to campus in the form of grand facilities, especially for football.

During that time, SWC observers thought A&M coach Jackie Sherrill took advantage of that money in the way he recruited football talent. Right or wrong, the perception was there that Sherrill operated just a jump ahead of the NCAA. Perhaps others were doing the same thing during those times. But you heard the Aggies and Sherrill mentioned a lot.

What I do remember is that the Aggies were respected by Arkansas players and coaches. And, the Arkansas-A&M games were often meaningful. Rarely were both out of the race when they played their traditional November date. It was around Nov. 1 from 1934 until 1974.

Most remember the 31-6 Arkansas victory in 1975 when ABC got them to move the game to Dec. 6 for national television. The Aggies were No. 2 at the time, boasting a team full of future pros. The No. 18 Hogs derailed A&M's national title hopes with the touchdown pass to "The Immortal" Teddy Barnes. Stubby little Barnes caught it behind a vaunted Aggie secondary.

There is an interesting description of Barnes in the UA media guide from his junior year: tough with a low center of gravity. That was good enough to get behind the Aggies' superb defensive backs — corner Pat Thomas and safeties Jackie Williams and Lester Hayes — for the first score of the game, a 28-yard pass with 34 seconds left in the first half.

What I remember about that game was the way both defenses dominated. A&M's wishbone made 134 on 59 runs, 15 passing. The Aggies completed one pass.

Arkansas did just a little better against what was rated as the nation's top defense, 164 running and 103 passing. The Hogs completed four passes.

The Aggies turned it over six times, five by fumble. The Hogs had four turnovers.

The Aggies beat on quarterback Scott Bull that day. The tall, rangy Bull had 20 carries for 47 yards and his 4-yard run with 1:59 left for the final touchdown of the game finished the Aggies, and perhaps the started a downward spiral for coach Emory Bellard.

That should have been enough for the Aggies to hate the Hogs, but they've always had enough dislike for Texas to keep them busy. It was kinda like that for the rest of the SWC, too. Everyone was too busy trying to catch the Longhorns to worry about little old Arkansas, the outsider.

There have never been many rivalry games for Arkansas. There was a time in the 50s and early 60s that Ole Miss was a rivalry game. But that series ended in 1961. It resumed in 1981, but not with the same intensity.

None of that detracts from the importance of this week. It's huge for Arkansas, but not because it's against Texas A&M. The biggest reason is recruiting. Arkansas has 20 Texans on its roster and wants more. The new stadium is a perfect platform to achieve that goal.

But more than anything, Arkansas needs victories right now. The Hogs don't want to lose three in a row. They need momentum and something good to sell those Texas recruits aside from one trip a year home.

Some day this series might turn into a rivalry game. Right now it's mostly a must-win situation for the Razorbacks. Unlike ‘75, I don't think this one will be about defense. Look for a shootout -- and maybe the start of a rivalry.

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