One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
It’s true in team sports, too, and is playing out right now in the wake of a regular season like no other. In light of an ongoing NCAA probe into rules violations by LSU, the struggling Tigers have decided to impose a bowl ban on themselves this postseason.
They won’t be missing much, considering LSU is 3-5 and was looking squarely at one of the less desirable bowl games to which SEC teams are assigned. Few people involved with that program cared to see the Tigers in a bowl game named after tax preparation software a year after it produced the greatest college football team of all time.
In this case, LSU choosing to “punish” itself by opting out of a bottom feeder bowl game has about as much teeth as Bernie Sanders banning himself from winning a Liberatarian of the Year award or Steven Buscemi announcing he’s taken himself out of the running for a future issue of People’s 50 Most People in the World.
In short, this ban doesn’t amount to much.
However, the Arkansas football program should benefit from it.
The Razorbacks share the same number of wins as LSU but came into this season with a nearly opposite set of expectations. After back-to-back seasons of zero SEC wins, Arkansas fans, players and coaches alike were ready for a return to any bowl game, regardless of reputation.
They should get their wish. For one, all FBS teams can qualify for bowls this season regardless of record. Still, in winning three SEC games, and losing three more SEC games by a total of seven points, the Razorbacks have shown they would have been worthy of a bowl berth in a non-COVID year playing a full regular season schedule in which six games is the usual cut off for bowl eligibility. (Arkansas likely would have won three non-conference games to go along with its three SEC wins).
Because Arkansas is guaranteed to finish ahead of South Carolina and Vanderbilt, it will get one of the SEC’s nine bowl tie-ins outside of the College Football Playoffs and the New Year’s Six Bowls.
According to sources of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Tom Murphy, the Hogs are most likely to land in one of the three boldfaced bowls below;
SEC bowl games 2020
~Gasparilla Bowl – Tampa, Fla. – Dec. 26, 11 a.m. CT
~Music City Bowl* – Nashville, Tenn. – Dec. 30, 2:30 p.m. CT
~Armed Forces Bowl* – Fort Worth, Texas – Dec. 31, 11 a.m. CT
~Liberty Bowl* – Memphis, Tenn. – Dec. 31, 3 p.m. CT
~Texas Bowl* – Houston, Texas – Dec. 31, 7 p.m. CT
~Birmingham Bowl – Birmingham, Ala. – Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT
~Citrus Bowl – Orlando, Fla. – Jan. 1, noon CT
~TaxSlayer Gator Bowl – Jacksonville, Fla. – Jan. 2, 11 a.m. CT
~Outback Bowl – Tampa, Fla. – Jan. 2, 11:30 a.m. CT
In the above list, the two teams that nobody else wants go to the Gasparilla and Birmingham bowls. Granted, these aren’t as random as, say, a West Virginia Horse Race Wagering by TVG Bowl, but they are still pretty low-profile.
Arkansas has proven it’s good enough this year to avoid that crappy fate, but LSU’s shining act of self-sacrifice helps increase the probability the Hogs get either the Armed Forces Bowl or the Liberty Bowl, one the two bowl games closest to Arkansas state borders. That proximity is more important than ever as teams look to cut down on travel to limit potential exposure to COVID-19.
For Arkansas, a young team on the upswing, the benefits of any bowl appearance and an extra game are obvious. Every practice under head coach Sam Pittman counts, especially when the extra experience can help a young quarterback like KJ Jefferson, likely the Hogs’ starting quarterback in 2021. This is a way to get a “bonus” three weeks of head start on next season.
For the apparent soon-to-be trainwreck that is LSU, the opposite holds true. “I think they do themselves more harm than they do good every time they step out onto the field,” says Jordy Culotta, a Louisiana sports radio co-host. “Because they’re just that bad and unengaged, disengaged here in 2020. And playing a bowl game to me, it serves LSU zero benefit.”
On top of that, LSU will play its last regular season game on December 19. So it wouldn’t stand to gain as much from a bowl game in terms of extra practice time.
The Bigger Picture
LSU is using some of its privilege as a big-money charter member of the SEC by instituting this wrist-slap punishment on itself. The son of its athletic director, Scott Woodward, is married to the daughter of NCAA president Mark Emmert. It’s probable that Woodward simply hopped on the phone with his in-law and got buy-in before anything was announced.
Afterward, in an official statement, LSU declared “This decision reflects LSU’s commitment to compliance with NCAA regulations and maintenance of institutional control.”
Uh huh. Sure.
This doesn’t begin to address the real issues. Everywhere you look, the walls are caving in on the LSU football program. This bowl ban was in response to investigation into allegations such as a Tigers booster, John Paul Funes, paying a player’s father $180,000 for a sinecure job between 2012 and 2017.
But the problems extend well beyond that accusation, or the fact Odell Beckham Jr. turned himself into a walking cash dispenser after last year’s championship game.
A damning USA Today report recently exposed how during Ed Orgeron’s LSU heading coaching tenure, nine members of his program have been reported to police for sexual misconduct and dating violence. Many people within the department, including an assistant coach, had knowledge of some of the allegations, but didn’t appear to act.
The ongoing investigations into the above issues, not to mention the hot mess that LSU basketball coach Will Wade has gotten himself into, are staining the reputation of the Tigers athletic department overall.
Instability within the football program is one result. It will almost certainly get worse.
Seven LSU players have either opted out or entered the NCAA transfer portal since preseason camp began. That includes star tight end Arik Gilbert, who as a freshman with potential to become the next Tigers superstar is the most alarming example of all.
None of LSU’s current outgoing transfer players look likely to land with the Hogs, but that could change in the coming months. According to LSU beat reporter Brooks Kubena, several other players are considering leaving the program as well.
This seems especially apropos for the players who have struggled under defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, who is very likely to be axed after this season. Some of the Tigers defensive linemen and linebackers who didn’t adapt well to Pelini’s 4-3 base defense, or are simply looking for a fresh start, could find an enticing destination in Arkansas.
“A lot of the LSU guys on the roster are 3-4 guys,” Carter Bryant, an Arkansas-born LSU analyst, tells me. “So if they want to switch over to Arkasnas there is plenty of playing time to be had in Barry Odom’s 3-4 system.”
All programs are losing more and more players who choose to transfer, but LSU stands to lose more than the new average because of its tumultuous situation. Programs like Arkansas, which can promise a better team culture and the prospect of plenty of playing time, will benefit.
Of course, the Razorbacks don’t just stand to gain here. Plenty of other Power 5 programs will vie for the same outgoing LSU players in what could turn into a purple and gold rush.
More on Arkansas-Alabama here: