September
3
2016

Game 245: Louisiana Tech @ Arkansas

Louisiana TechArkansas

Every team is a champion on opening day. Stadiums fill because anything is possible and optimism soars. Arkansas fans have been anxious for a breakthrough. Early stumbles have sullied recent hopeful seasons, and so few were looking past Louisiana Tech. Tailgating crowded the circumference of Razorback Stadium, eager for a fresh slate of games ahead, but from the first “Woo Pig Sooie,” it was evident that the Razorbacks would be in a fight in Fayetteville. Bret Bielema has brought a bullish brand of ball to Arkansas, and have successfully taken a bite out of the SEC. But, championships appear elusive at the moment, particularly when it’s a struggle to strike down LA Tech with ease.
A tied halftime score had fans squirming with concern. The band played with enthusiasm, the packed house gleamed with Arkansas red, and the crowd stayed loud, even during troubling moments.
With under 7 minutes remaining in the game, and the Hogs down by 6, seasoned quarterback,Austin Allen, tossed a TD to take the lead and the defense shut down the Bulldogs the rest of the way.
The Arkansas faithful finally were able to exhale, but many positives can be stored from a win like this – as long as the team continues to improve. Despite the near loss, it’s a safe bet to predict that there will be much reason to keep calling the hogs this season.

September
3
2016

ARKANSAS – RAZORBACK STADIUM

Razorback Stadium

Fayetteville rocks on Saturdays in the fall.  There is certainly no shortage of passionate fans and tradition here at Arkansas which is evident as the team runs out of a hog pen through the band-crafted “A” into an intimidating atmosphere in Razorback Stadium. That intimidation factor begins pregame with pro style tailgating surrounding the perimeter of Arkansas’s massive SEC arena.

You might even hear “Woooo Pig Sooie!” being echoed around campus. They’re calling the hogs, and you will definitely experience it once inside the stadium. Hands raise up in unison as the crowd bellows this uniquely Arkansan battle cry. The experience is odd perhaps to those outside the SEC, but tormenting to opposing fans and players that have to endure it on repeat. Nevertheless, it’s an enduring tradition that has been a part of the culture in Fayetteville since the 1920s – another tradition adding to the eclectic landscape of college football.

As your eyes graze on the visual appeals of Razorback Stadium, you might catch a glimpse of Tusk, the live boar mascot that keeps watch on the sidelines. Often resting in its cage, or feeding on grapes, it’s a bit more of a symbol than scare tactic – a real untamed razorback is unrelentingly ferocious. Certainly, this is a distinctive mascot that adds to the recognizability of the Arkansas football program. Coupled with Big Red, Sue E., and other costumed hogs on the sideline, the razorback is clearly a fantastic and beloved part of the tradition here.

Fans coming to Razorback Stadium will not be disappointed. It is SEC through and through.  Tradition, culture, and passion blend perfectly here for a remarkable gameday experience.

September
2
2016

Game 244: Toledo @ Arkansas State

Toledo Arkansas State

The seal has been broken on the 2016 college football season, and Arkansas state is part of the jubilation that is exploding the lid. Jonesboro is one of those tiny college towns that comes alive on game day, and with Toledo in town, A-State fans were painting the town red.

The opening game at Centennial Bank Stadium is a special one as the incoming class is oriented with an annual tradition known as “Order of the Pack.” An hour prior to kickoff, the student section swells with mostly freshman ready to learn the chants and traditions that add to the pageantry of game day.  Many alumni sneak in as well to relive the good ol’ days.  We snuck in and took part in the fun with antics ranging from swaying back and forth in unison to the Jaws theme and practicing our “wolves up” hand signals.

The Red Wolves charged out to a cacophony of fireworks and fan howling.  Expectations continue to creep up every year and last season’s Sun Belt Conference title have the Jonesboro faithful craving more. “A rocket is just metal – a wolf has heart!” screamed one fan in hopes it would encapsulate Arkansas State’s advantage over Toledo.  It turned out that “heart” wouldn’t cut it.  The Rockets had their engines humming from the get-go and buried the Red Wolves by halftime.  Hopeful fans waited around during halftime through the band performance and an explosive fireworks display.  But, the stadium would slowly leak fans as the third and fourth quarters proved that A-State wouldn’t have the muscle to fight back.

Despite the slow deflation of enthusiasm throughout the game, it is clear that the atmosphere at Centennial Bank Stadium can easily be described as rousing with an ardent fan base that loves their Red Wolves with continual optimism for the season ahead.

On the other side of the field, Toledo appears primed to make waves in the MAC – a special season could be ahead.

September
2
2016

ARKANSAS STATE – CENTENNIAL BANK STADIUM

Centennial Bank StadiumJonesboro is one of those tiny college towns that comes alive on game day. Centennial Bank Stadium, playfully nicknamed the vault, is home to the Arkansas State red wolves.
The opening game at Centennial Bank Stadium is a special one as the incoming class is oriented with a 20 year tradition known as “Order of the Pack.” An hour prior to kickoff, the student section swells with mostly freshman ready to learn A-State chants and traditions. Many alumni sneak in, as well, to relive their college days.

All gamedays include a fan-flooded parking lot buzzing with tailgating and anticipation. A couple hours prior to kickoff, the band, cheerleaders, and mascot weave their way through the Arkansas State faithful and open a pathway for the arrival of the football squad. It’s a part of gameday here that festively exposes the spirit of this fan base.

However, some of the original spirit was erased in 2008. From 1931-2008, Arkansas State was known as the Indians – it was such a huge part of the culture here, that the stadium was even named Indian Stadium. But, the NCAA placed a ban on any potentially offensive Indian imagery, and Arkansas State complied with a mascot switch to the Red Wolves. The new moniker has has been well embraced in Jonesboro, but outside of the sports teams, there remains much evidence of Native American imagery on campus – most notably, Clyde, a 1,000 pound Indian statue that represents the spirit and history of this great school.  The current official mascot, Howl, is what represents that electric spirit of Arkansas State today.

The Red Wolves’ roar is the heartbeat of Jonesboro, and this little town in northeast Arkansas provides more proof that college football houses some special venues off beaten paths.

November
28
2015

Game 243: #1 Clemson @ South Carolina

ClemsonSouth Carolina

From possibility to instability – that’s the course taken this season by South Carolina.  An opening win against North Carolina quickly turned turbulent with harsh SEC losses, the sudden retirement of their legendary coach, and an inexplicable defeat at the hands of the Citadel.  Now, as the season came to a close, the Gamecocks hosted #1 Clemson – South Carolina’s bitter instate rival who is eyeing a national championship.

Therefore, the Palmetto Bowl (as the rivalry is known), was setting up to be a rout.  But, would Clemson overlook their instate foe?  It certainly would appear that way.  A packed Williams-Brice Stadium featured a heavy dose of Tiger orange anxious to witness their team’s quest for a perfect regular season.  However, South Carolina’s famed entrance to the song “2001:  A Space Odyssey” had the Gamecocks and their fans primed to intimidate.  In fact, a flurry of turnovers and an inspired defense kept the contest scoreless through the initial quarter.

In the second quarter, Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson would get his band playing the fight song – two TDs to take the lead.  Casual fans would make the inference that the Tigers would pull away with ease.

But, this is one of those rivalries where records are superfluous.  South Carolina would hang around in the third and generate a furious rally in the fourth quarter that cut Clemson’s lead to three.  We had spent three quarters checking out the game from different stadium perspectives, but we saved the best for last.  At the moment when South Carolina scored the touchdown that trimmed the Tiger lead to a field goal, we are amongst the students.  The celebratory explosion was deafening.  Fans waved their towels collectively as “Sandstorm” blasted over the speakers.

But, another Watson touchdown would put the game too far out of reach for the Gamecocks.  South Carolina would still fight and cut the game to a 37-32 final, but Clemson ultimately reached their goal of completing a perfect regular season.

The college football playoff selection committee factors in the heated nature of rivalry games, and that was lucky for the Tigers because Williams-Brice was a den of frothing crazies poised to destroy Clemson’s title hopes.  The Tigers would advance to the ACC title game where they would nip North Carolina and remain the only undefeated team in college football.  Their #1 status carried them into the playoffs where they would meet Alabama for the national championship.  However, the dream would end there as the Tide took the crown.

Now, as the 2016 season opens, Clemson and Alabama top the polls again.  Can the Tigers string together another thrilling and adventurous season?  Can the Tide repeat?

 A fresh slate speaks to the vastness of possibility.

November
28
2015

SOUTH CAROLINA – WILLIAMS BRICE STADIUM

Williams-Brice Stadium

A trip to Williams-Brice Stadium will satisfy all the elements of an electric SEC atmosphere. The energy that ripples through these stands is challenging to duplicate, and it can pulsate throughout Columbia on game day.

One of the most unique tailgating experiences in college football is found right outside the stadium here at South Carolina-the Cockaboose Railroad.  These renovated cabooses look identical from the outside, but inside you’ll find some of the most luxurious tailgating to be found.  Privately owned, these are equipped with big screen TVs, beautiful cabinetry, marble countertops, and rooftop decks-basically any amenity you might want for game day. When it comes to tailgating, this is living the high life.

The gamecock mascot is one of the most iconic in college football. Cocky is the costumed mascot that throws his weight around and entertains the masses.
Sir Big Spur is the live mascot that receives the star treatment on his sideline perch.

The South Carolina marching band is absolutely phenomenal, but two of the most popular songs at Williams-Brice Stadium are pumped through the speakers. The Gamecock football team makes its grand entrance to the song “2001: A Space Odyssey.” The moment generates an unmatchable energy in the stadium. It has become one of the greatest entrances in college football. As one fan described to me, when the Gamecocks make that entrance, it just feels like no one could possibly defeat them.

In addition to the opening fanfare, when the song “Sandstorm” is played, the fans respond with a vigorous jumping, towel twirling, and lung-spraining noise. The moment generates enough electricity to power the Palmetto State.

South Carolina offers a game day experience it simply doesn’t disappoint. It rivals any SEC venue, and is a must stop for college football enthusiasts.

November
27
2015

Game 242: Troy @ Georgia State

TroyGeorgia State

Georgia State has a chance for a bowl game. It’s somewhat tenuous, but still quite astonishing considering that the program has only been in existence for five years. The Panthers have not only taken on the adjustment to developing a football team, but doing so at the FBS (Division 1) level. So, being 4-6 and two wins from bowl eligibility is a notable accomplishment.

Georgia State hosted reeling Troy in the Georgia Dome on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It’s a tough fan draw for GSU, especially the day after a holiday. Fighting for spotlight time with Georgia Tech and the Atlanta Falcons poses another challenge. The campus is walkable from the Dome, but being off campus doesn’t help either. The Georgia Dome is massive, and the 10,113 that showed up drowned in a sea of empty seats. So, the atmosphere took a hit, too.

But, again, this is a developing program with a bright future. These hiccups can be forgiven – especially with plans to build their own stadium. Currently, Georgia State is proposing a deal that would repurpose the soon-to-be defunct home of the Atlanta Braves, Turner Field – definite forward progress. The day began with the Panther Walk outside the Georgia Dome, with the band and fans welcoming their team.

On the field, quarterback Nick Arbuckle surfaced as the star for GSU with 368 passing yards. This adds onto the school record for passing yards that he broke a week earlier. Leading a team with only a five year history may have made this record less challenging to surpass, but Arbuckle really is good.

A lively crowd on senior day watched their Panthers pounce on the Trojans 31-7 before eventually winning 31-21. Troy brought their band – it gave the game somewhat of a bowl game atmosphere, which Troy will not be able to experience this season. But, Georgia State is one win away from capturing their first bowl bid – even if they don’t achieve that goal, this season has been a success with a clear movement toward exceeding expectations.

November
27
2015

GEORGIA STATE – GEORGIA DOME

Georgia DomeGeorgia State’s football program is young. Both teams date back to the early 1900s or late 1800s. Georgia states inaugural season was 2010.

It was Bill Curry, former Kentucky and Alabama head coach, who chose to return to the sidelines to help build the foundation for this brand-new program. Georgia State certainly endured a healthy dose of growing pains, but with Bill Curry’s guidance he was able to pass the baton onto a new head coach who has since taken them to their first ever bowl game.

While Georgia State continues its plans to build its own stadium, they currently play their home games at the Georgia Dome. This situation is not ideal, because it doesn’t lend itself to a traditional college atmosphere. But, despite the youth of the program, it has managed to forge the essentials of college football including the marching band, outrageous mascot, and a passionate fanbase.

The day starts with a classic team walk that involves the marching band, cheerleaders, and fans lined up to greet their beloved Panthers. The band continues it’s impressive showmanship throughout the course of the game while the panther mascot, Pounce, throws his antics around.

My personal favorite moment is when the band plays and sings “Georgia on my Mind” with one word added and screamed at high decibels:
“Just and old sweet song keeps Georgia…(STATE!)…on my mind”

There’s a lot more development to go, but it already feels like the Georgia State football program has been around longer than it actually has. It’s incredible how far Georgia State has come in such a short time. They have certainly earned their place in the upper level of college football.

November
14
2015

Game 241: Purdue @ #18 Northwestern

PurdueNorthwestern

A cup of coffee and an el train ride separate Chicago’s northside from Evanston, Illinois where the venerable Ryan Field awaits its fans in purple.  Fitting that the el train that takes passengers up to Northwestern University is the purple line.  Filled with Wildcat fans and a few despondent Purdue fans, the el carried patrons ready for an early kickoff on a unseasonably warm November day.

The Wildcats have enjoyed a bounce-back season and are poised to return bowl game again after a two-year absence.  A win on senior day would elevate their bowl prospects for the postseason.   On the other track, the Boilermakers have suffered yet another underwhelming season, but have provided some flashes of hope with improved play all around.

Purdue rolled their band and “The World’s Largest Drum” up I-65 for this matchup.  I kind of got the feeling that when the band scheduled this game to be their main road trip of the season, the expectation would be that the Boilers would be vying for bowl position.  Instead, the team and band would be playing just for pride today.

Northwestern jumped out quickly and scored in under three minutes.  It looked bad for Purdue – until their first play from scrimmage when they responded with long touchdown pass to tie the ballgame up at 7.  Could this be a shootout?

On the contrary – the defensive hammer came down after those quick scores.  The Boilers’ defense especially impressed after proving they can often can be leaky.  By mid fourth quarter, the score was tied and Wildcats were nervously twitching their whiskers.  However, a late touchdown by Justin Jackson put NU up for good and all was well along the Northwestern lakefront.

Overall, a very amicable atmosphere enveloped Ryan Field.  Willie the Wildcat and Boilermaker Pete playfully joked back and forth.  Purdue and Northwestern’s bands joined forces at halftime and postgame for crowd entertainment.  Hardly any traces of rancorous jawing occurred between fans.  It was a gorgeous day, and folks came to cheer and appreciate college football.

 

 

November
14
2015

NORTHWESTERN – RYAN FIELD

 

Ryan Field in Evanston, Illinois is known as the “Wrigley Field” of college football. It doesn’t quite have the history of the Cubs, but boasts a very classic and old school stadium atmosphere. For a while now, NU has been calling themselves Chicago’s Big Ten Team. Attempts to market this slogan are popping up around the city, and the evidence is beginning to show with more rumps in the seats in Evanston.  Perhaps because Chicagoans are slowly realizing that Northwestern is true Big Ten football. It’s the real deal, especially lately. Northwestern has become a fixture in the postseason and has played the role of spoiler very well. Ryan Field (formally Dyche Stadium) is set in the first city north of Chicago and it rests a few short blocks from Lake Michigan. The setting is lovely and deserves a better rap. Admittedly, the fans decked in purple are often found in the parking lot tailgating with wine and cheese (not exactly power food), but that is part of the quaint charm of this place. The fans are definitely fair weather. Sellouts are usually the cause of other fans traveling and filling a third of the stadium. But, Northwestern can pull its own weight. Despite being the little brother of the Big Ten, they know their sports and cheer well. Before the game, one of Northwestern’s traditions is the Wildcat Alley where families can play games and tailgate.  Randy Walker terrace provides the same service after the game. During the game, “Go U Northwestern” can be heard ringing from the student section, and if you are the visiting team, the song will drive you to distraction. The students aren’t much in number, but remember, this is Northwestern – whatever is missing in number they make up in brainpower. I remember an NU alum telling me of a chant they whipped up against Iowa. The Hawkeyes were drubbing the Wildcats at the time and the students retaliated by chanting, “That’s alright! That’s okay! We’ll foreclose your farm someday!” Clever. Despite Northwestern’s somewhat elite north shore status, the Wildcats have a great team and Ryan Field is a fun place to spend a Saturday afternoon.

 

Northern Illinois @ Northwestern 2014