MULE': Trying on the boot

Trying on The Boot again. This time, unlike anyone's expectations in the preseason, LSU at Arkansas will be to sharpen the Razorbacks' game for the SEC Championship.

It wasn't supposed to be like that in the annual game for the ghastly boot-like trophy, shaped like the combined outline of the two states. For LSU there was the possibility, if everything went right, the Tigers could be prepping for the title game. For Arkansas this season was supposed to be a farewell for Coach Houston Nutt, who was thought to be taking on a lost cause – and his third straight losing team in Ozarks.




LSU has been a disappointment in that the Tigers, generally thought to have the best overall talent in the SEC, lost its two biggest road games, to Auburn and Florida.


Arkansas has been the pleasant surprise of the SEC, picking itself off the mat after a 50-14 opening game defeat to Southern Cal to post a 10-1 record and claim the SEC West title.


Everyone loves a "feel good'' story, and, in the South, the Razorbacks are it. You can book this: Ninety percent of those fans in the South who have no allegiance to either school will be pulling for Arkansas against Florida, perceived as arrogant and, despite possible 10-1 record, very beatable.


LSU needs to beat Arkansas to have a respectable 10-2 regular season record. A loss will make the season a disappointment in that the Tigers will have gone 2-2 against the cream of its schedule. In LSU's favor in Little Rock is that the fact that, win or lose, the Razorbacks have already exceeded expectations. No matter what happens against LSU, they'll be in Atlanta in early December, playing for all the SEC marbles – where the Tigers hoped they'd be.     




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This weekend Tiger fans will again get a taste of one of the silliest traditions in college football, one that LSU helped start: hearing Arkansas fans call the Hogs while wearing those ridiculous pig-shaped hats.


If it all makes Tiger fans laugh, they should know their own team is largely to blame.


Arkansas fans have been calling the Hogs for almost a century. From the Ozarks to the Mississippi River Delta, that shrill sound is a siren song for the devoted – which is practically everyone within the borders of that state.


The question is, would "Chirp, chirp!'' bring forth the same fervor?


Arkansas, playing under its original nickname of "Cardinals,'' was paired with LSU in Memphis on Oct. 30, 1909 for what was billed as "The Mythical Championship of the South.''


Such was the interest that 4,000 people were in attendance and hundreds more crowded around Western Union offices around the state.


The Cardinals shut out LSU 16-0, and afterward Coach Hugo Bezdek likened their play to the fierce feral hogs that roamed the Arkansas outback, calling his team "a wild bunch of Razorbacks.''


Arkansas fans have been calling the Hogs ever since.



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With LSU driving late, fighting the clock as well as an inspired opponent, the victory over Ole Miss Saturday was very reminiscent of Bert Jones' famed drive over the Rebels in 1972. Then LSU won with no time remaining on the clock.


This time the Tigers gave themselves some breathing room. There were 14 seconds left when JaMarcus Russell hit Dwayne Bowe for the tying touchdown – on fourth down. Both times, it was do-or-die for the Tigers. But as much as some make it out to be the white-hot rivalry it used to be, and despite a trend of the Rebels playing over their heads – and the lethargic Tigers off their feet – the LSU-Ole Miss series really isn't what it used to be. The reason? What used to be a game in which each would take turns beating each other, usually dramatically, has turned, despite the Tigers seemingly overlooking the Rebels annually, into an LSU-dominated series.


Since 1970, when the Tigers bagged – finally – Archie Manning & Co., who had bedeviled LSU the two previous seasons, LSU has taken almost complete control. In the 37 games played between the old foes since that watershed date, the Tigers have gone 25-11-1 against the Rebels. Ole Miss keeps trying to hold up its end, but year-in and year-out LSU seems to have other things on its collective mind than Ole Miss.    




Marty Mule' can be reached at

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