... And all must have prizes. We're talking about the bounteous blessings that the holiday season has bestowed upon various local university athletic departments.
Closest to home is the University of Memphis, which (besides having one of the top-ranked basketball teams in the nation) finished its football season in a blaze of unexpected glory, winning five of its last six games to finish 7-5, becoming thereby bowl-worthy. In its finale against Southern Methodist University, Tommy West's Tigers thrilled all who beheld the game with a triple-overtime victory. The team's prize? A visit to the New Orleans Bowl and, one hopes, a bumper recruiting crop for next year.
Then there's the University of Tennessee Volunteers. They won their heart-stopper against the University of Kentucky, triumphing finally in four overtimes, no less, 52-50, when the Vols stopped a two-point effort by the Wildcats, victors against mighty L.S.U. in a previous multiple-overtime game this year. All the Volunteers gained from Saturday's game was the Eastern Conference championship of the Southeastern Conference. And a place in the SEC title contest. That's all.
Speaking of L.S.U., those other Tigers from Louisiana State had long since recovered from their licking by Kentucky to regain the number-one ranking in the nation, until they encountered on Saturday yet another football team with a strong local following. This was the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, who played either well over their heads or up to their potential in downing the Bayou Bengals, 50-48, in, yep, another triple-overtime affair.
In the process, Razorback quarterback Darren McFadden surely enhanced his credentials for the Heisman Trophy. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks en masse enhanced their credentials for the Cotton Bowl with the victory. There was one cloud over Arkansas' holiday sunshine, however: the resignation of longtime head coach Houston Nutt, victim of some passing strange northwest Arkansas soap opera which we don't pretend to understand.
Mississippi State's Bulldogs had suffered three straight losing seasons under head coach Sylvester Croom. But— eureka! — they emerged from Saturday's Egg Bowl contest against arch-rival Ole Miss with one of the strangest come-from-behind victories we've seen in quite a while. That was owing to Rebel coach Ed Orgeron's bizarre decision, with a 14-0 lead and 10 minutes left, ball at midfield and fourth and one, to go against logic and the odds in an effort to make a first down. Bad idea. The Bulldogs got the ball, the momentum, and the game, as they made two quick touchdowns and kicked a last-second field goal — 17-14 and over and out for Orgeron, who was let go as Ole Miss coach the next day.
So, is the University of Mississippi, winless in its SEC games for the first time since 1982, the only sad sack in the holiday saga of Mid-South college football? Actually, Arkansas' loss became Mississippi's gain with the hiring on Tuesday of the aforesaid Nutt as Rebel coach. Not since the late Johnny Vaught has Ole Miss possessed a football mentor with the record and reputation that Nutt, voted Coach of the Year in 2006, will bring. Nutt is what you might call glad tidings for the once-mighty Rebel program — the ghost of Christmas future, as it were.
Congratulations, all, and pass the cranberry sauce.