It’s odd how often “Games of the Century” are played in college football. You would think they would be played once in your lifetime, but I guess as sports fans we’re just lucky. LSU and Alabama played one in 2011. Before that the Texas Longhorns beat USC in a game of the century in 2006. Luck would have it that in the same year (but different season so it’s totally legit) Ohio State would beat Michigan in yet another game of the century. Looking further back, my friend Junebug and I defeated the Whalen boys in my backyard in one of many games of the century on Rosetta Drive. Sure it’s all hype, but don’t you think it’s fun? So, I’m calling it. This weekend’s perennial clash between the Grambling StateTigers and Southern University Jaguars is the Bayou Classic’s Game of The Century.
It’s really not hype. The two teams will enter the Bayou Classic undefeated, both standing at 8-0, in the SWAC for the first time in the Classic’s 43 year history. Grambling comes into the contest ranked 14th in the FCS coach’s poll. Southern is 31st. The Tigers from Grambling have posted eight straight victories, while the Jaguars from Baton Rouge have chalked up eight wins in a row as well. And yes, even though Southern holds a five-game edge in the series history, the Bayou Classic victories have been split right down the middle 21-21.
The Bayou Classic has a rich history, being played every year in New Orleans since 1976. While the football game is the reason for the season, it’s not the only event on the program. The Bayou Classic experience consists of a step show, the Battle of the Bands, a gospel brunch and, of course, a parade. The traditional event pulls in $50 million for the city according to Louisiana Weekly. To be honest, quite a few years, these events may have even overshadowed a game or two that featured an outmatched opponent.
But not this year.
The 2016 rendition features not only the best two teams in the SWAC West but the entire conference, as both Southern and Grambling have handed Alcorn State, the SWAC East winner, losses. In October, Southern led the Braves by 18 points before holding on for a 41-33 victory. A month prior, Grambling State crushed the Braves 43-18. Not that the Braves will be a walkover in the championship but it seems to this writer that the real champion will be decided on Thanksgiving weekend in the Crescent City.
And it’s going to be hard to pick against the Grambling Tigers. The school has been nearly untouchable all year. They’ve demolished their SWAC opponents, with Texas Southern being the only team to stay within 20 points of the Tigers in a 47-28 loss last week. Grambling has the top ranked offense and defense in the SWAC. But for all of their victories, their calling card this year was in a 31-21 loss to the Arizona Wildcats. Grambling entered the game as a 43-point underdog and would hold an 18-point lead going into halftime versus the Pac 12 school before losing their starting quarterback Devante Kincaid. The Wildcats, aided by a boatload of turnovers, would come back and win but Grambling State was the team everyone was talking about after the game.
Not that Southern University is worried. For every team stat that Grambling State ranks first, it’s usually the Jaguars that are a close second. While the Tigers features a two-headed rushing attack with Jestin Kelly (710 yards) and Martez Carter (528 yards) the Jaguars feature the SWAC’s all-time rushing leader Lenard Tillery, who has ran for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.
Southern’s offensive line will need to keep their quarterback, Austin Howard, upright against a Tiger defense that has recorded 31 sacks. The Jaguars have only given up 12 sacks in ten games. If successful, look for Howard to be feeding the Jaguars all-around playmaker Willie Quinn early and often.
However the game turns out, it’s going to be yet another great weekend in New Orleans. The Jaguars and Tigers will fill the Superdome with a crowd that should swell to north of 60,000 fans as the faithful flock to see the latest Game of the Century.
And like a fine wine with a steak dinner, every game should be accompanied by a beverage and song.
Beer Pairing: Great Raft Brewing’s “Commotion” Pale Ale
Playlist Recommendation: Kool Moe Dee’s “Wild Wild West”
Around The Way
Speaking of high hopes, 2016 just hasn’t turned out the way the Green Wave football fans wished it would. Tulane (3-8) has sputtered down the stretch, posting their sixth straight loss after falling to the Temple Owls, 31-0.
Not that it wasn’t expected.
This year was always going to be about small victories and building for the future. The team’s defense has been impressive and the play and leadership of Nico Marley and Tanzel Smart has been exemplary. The team simply just doesn’t have the manpower and skill level to compete for an AAC championship. Yet.
While the trio of running backs – Dontrell Hilliard, Josh Rounds, Lazedrick Thompson – have carried the offense, a complementary passing attack never developed. Too often the Green Wave would go into half time in a tight game only to see the opponent adjust to take the run game away from Tulane…and that was that.
Tulane travels to play the UConn Huskies (3-8) this Saturday at 3 p.m. in their last game of the season.
*Tulane photo: tulanegreenwave.com