He Said, He Said: NCAA Football, Kentucky at LSU
Here, we continue with a new FLOOD column, in which the titular “He” converses/argues with the titular…additional “He,” in this case, about a pop-culture event in the preferred forum of pop-culture enthusiasts everywhere: the Gmail G-chat.
Today’s subject: Last Saturday’s big pigskin showdown between the potentially promising University of Kentucky Wildcats and the “down-year” dynastic LSU Tigers. Our guides are lifelong UK and LSU fanatics, two FLOOD editors who have spent the better best parts of their lives rooting on their respective squads. The game, while heavily hyped and with actual season implications, turned out to be a slaughter, as Kentucky was doomed from (literally) the opening kickoff, so rather than dwell on the play-by-play, here we discuss the finer points of what it means to be a fan in today’s SEC from the perspective of each side. Kentucky, a ne’er-do-well SEC gridiron joke that finds its glory on the hardwood, is repped by our editor-in-chief himself, while the Bayou Bengals, one of the all-time football greats and still technically a contender in a stacked SEC West this year, are hyped by LSU grad and FLOOD contributing editor Marty Sartini Garner. Game on!
Pat: So, this game surprisingly was a big deal in the days leading up…did you guys consider it a must-win?
Marty: LSU’s is probably not the only college football fan base that considers every single game a must-win, but we may be the only ones who are constantly arguing over whether every single game is a must-win. So it really depends on who you ask. Some people said we needed to win the game because there’s no way in hell we’re beating Ole Miss, Alabama, Texas A & M, and Arkansas. Which then caused some people to bemoan the fact that we’re even having to have this conversation. This prompted all kinds of arguments about what “greatness” is—whether a coach who has won ten games per year seven-out-of-nine tries can be considered great. To answer your question, it was a must-win in that we needed to win so that people would stop arguing for a few minutes. (It didn’t really work.)
Pat: Ha! On our side, it was flattering and perhaps a bit too soon to even consider a win in your house. It’s a turning tide for Kentucky football, but I think the result succeeded in the necessary action of bringing us back down to earth.
Marty: This sounds to me like that typical Kentucky humility, though. My dad and I went to Lexington for the game in 2007. We were #1 in the country, but Kentucky was undefeated, too, and you guys knocked us off in triple OT. As we slinked out of the stadium, I overheard a guy behind me say, “Well, I still hope LSU wins the national championship this year,” despite that goal still being very much in view for the Cats. You guys have a good squad this year, and we’ve been terrible against quarterbacks who know how to run the ball. I was pretty worried myself.
Pat: I think that is just a sneaky trick our bloated basketball egos enlist to make people hate us less. But this is a good young team, and it’s a sign that our fans have been hungry for a football team all this time even though we humbly act the opposite.
Marty: You know what would help? Letting Drake put up a few airballs in regulation.
Pat: Ouch. Luckily Canadians and football don’t really mix. Yet. So, as a school that typically ranges from “good” to “The Freaking Best Ever” at football, how hard would you have taken an “L” to Kentucky? What really goes on down there after a bad loss?
Marty: We could beat Alabama by 59 and people would still want to fire Les Miles—and hire Nick Saban. Losing to Kentucky any other year would incite all kinds of, “Well, I wish Michigan would’ve taken him!” talk. Somewhat paradoxically, I think that this year it would’ve just added fuel to the roiling, coke-hot fire of cynicism that we’ve been brewing. You guys missed your chance to get one in Tiger Stadium without drawing much of our considerable wrath onto yourselves is what I’m saying.
Pat: So it’s always just easiest to just take it out on the coach?
Marty: In Baton Rouge, when it comes to this coach, yeah, I think so. Though in the past there have been certain quarterbacks whose names, when uttered, have the power to send Baton Rouge into fits of teeth-gnashing. The general idea, I guess, is that we have all of the talent in the world and somehow don’t win the national championship every year. Which is irrational, of course, because only one team can win it per year, and other teams are talented too. Given LSU’s incredible success in the past fifteen years, I imagine this has to be alternately hilarious and nauseating.
Pat: I feel you; UK basketball has the same ridiculous expectations and demands. But it’s different in football, especially for you in this year’s absurdly talented SEC West. I mean four of the Top Five teams in the country this week are in the same half-conference. And then next is LSU. It’s impossible. If you guys blew this game to us (and despite our best ambitions, it would have taken you blowing it for us to win that game), would you have thrown in the towel on this season? We can always just say, “When does basketball start?” after our season tanks, but it’s different for LSU in most years, I would guess.
Marty: Yeah, I think so. I think most people’s arms were about halfway through the throwing motion by kickoff.
Pat: Funny enough, the game was over by the end of that kickoff play.
Marty: But that’s a good point, actually. Basketball is different because it’s inherently more gracious. There are three times as many games, so the margin of error in a championship season is much broader. You can conceivably lose a third of your games and still have a great year. That’s got to be a much easier experience for a fan.
Pat: And you can also have a mediocre season, sneak into the tourney with an eight-seed, and make an improbable title-game run like we did last year. In football, hell, in the SEC West, you lose twice and it’s done, maybe even just once. There is a pretty good chance that all those West teams will have at least one loss, though.
Marty: No doubt. I have to imagine Ole Miss will beat Mississippi State, since they play in Oxford, and someone has to beat Ole Miss. Knowing this season, we’ll probably do it this weekend.
Pat: Right. So, then, let’s say you win out and don’t make the SEC title game but have a decent bowl win; you beat a couple huge teams, and even spoil a rival or two’s seasons…does everyone still think it was a disaster season, and Miles is burned at the stake?
Marty: At this point, I think that would be considered an incredible achievement. Our quarterbacks are in such rough shape that the possibility of us beating Ole Miss and Alabama seems pretty slim. If we were to do that and end the season 10–2, we could lose the bowl game and it would still be one of the most remarkable turnarounds in school history. If we lose to Ole Miss and ‘Bama, then beat A & M and Arkansas and beat, oh, let’s say Penn State in a bowl game to end up 9–4, I think most reasonable LSU fans would be pretty happy. The big fear was not reaching bowl eligibility.
Pat: Wow, I didn’t realize it was that grim. So do you view the UK game as a given ass-kicking, or was it still a nice surprise? We’re licking our wounds and pretty bummed, for sure, but it wasn’t really a huge surprise. Which is a sign that we haven’t fully decided to believe Kentucky football has arrived.
Marty: Those Mississippi State and Auburn games instilled a lot of fear in the fan base, myself very much included. I think most people are surprised, though. I thought it would be a much, much closer game, and I wouldn’t have been too stunned if you guys had trotted back north with a win.
Pat: See, that’s so wild and unfair, as only SEC fan bases can pull off…you lose (however pitifully) to two of the nation’s Top 5 teams and it’s “Why even get out of bed in the morning?” They say that Texas, Oklahoma, Notre Dame, Michigan, and Ohio State are that way, but it’s really not the same can of worms is it?
Marty: It’s incredibly perverse. But we’re descended from the French, you know?
Pat: Even Lexington is in Fayette County…so French.
Marty: Hey man, the Bourbons weren’t German, either.
Pat: You can’t spell “Bourbon ’N’ Toulouse” without “Born To Lose”
Marty: Ain’t that the truth. I also love the idea of Kentucky fans going to Baton Rouge. You guys spend so much time and effort crafting these beautiful brown liquors, then you ship them down to us and we drink them through a funnel.
Pat: I imagine the only difference after a win and a loss in Death Valley is that the drunks are either insanely happy or completely devastated. But the drinks are getting bonged regardless.
Marty: Yeah, it can be a little hard to tell the difference sometimes.
Pat: OK, let’s wrap up: Predictions for the rest of the season? I’ll go first: LSU loses once more in the regular season but gets two more big wins before losing a bowl game and ending 9-4. Fans are quelled, Miles gets more recruits, SEC West gets worse, you compete for real again next year. Then, the Cats get one more win on the season and end up 6-6 before winning a small bowl game sponsored by someone like AAMCO or an annoying insurance company. Coach Stoops continues to rise. People forget him by the Final Four.
Marty: You know those ads* where they ask a woman to describe herself, then they have her friends describe her? That’s what’s going down here. I think you guys are better than that! Mississippi State will probably beat y’all, and I think UGA is still looking great without Todd Gurley. But Mizzou, Tennessee, and Louisville are all winnable. I think we’re looking at an 8–4 Kentucky team. And I’ll assume you guys are going to win it all in basketball. Nobody has ever looked foolish predicting a Kentucky basketball championship. As for us, I think realistically we lose this weekend to Ole Miss and again on November 8th to Bama. But A&M couldn’t beat us with Manziel, and I’d like to think that we’ll be strong enough to get past Arkansas. I’m saying LSU goes 8–4, plays Kentucky in the first annual Bourbon Bowl, and then goes into hibernation until baseball season. (Full disclosure: I work for the agency that made those ads*, but they’re before my time.)