The Louisiana-Monroe team buses rolled back into campus around 2 a.m. Sunday, and thousands of fans were waiting to cheer.
The Warhawks had stunned eighth-ranked Arkansas 34-31 in overtime up in Little Rock, and who knows if the wheels on those buses went round and round. The Warhawks might have just floated back to Monroe.
“Tremendously rewarding for all of the staff to see the kids succeed,” said Warhawk coach Todd Berry, a good ol' 51-year-old Oklahoma boy who engineered the so-far upset of the season.
The next time you wonder about the benefits of big-time college football, think of that bus and that campus and that reception. Think of what a September Saturday night in Little Rock will mean to the Warhawks over the next 50 years.
All things considered, you don't want to coach a hyphenated school in major-college football. Alabama-Birmingham, Nevada-Las Vegas, Texas-San Antonio.
Sort of like coaching a directional school. Eastern Michigan. South Alabama. North Texas. Western Kentucky. Your job is to take a few beatings a year, cash a big paycheck and then go about your business in some backwater conference.
The hyphens and the directionals don't have opulent stadiums or pristine training facilities or robust travel budgets. But the hyphens and the directionals do have one thing going for them.
They still get to put 11 players on the field, and every once in awhile, on a magical Saturday, the little guy's slingshot finds its target.
And it's a high time to be a hyphen. Louisiana-Monroe. And now Louisiana-Lafayette comes to Stillwater, with a 2-0 record and still reveling in its first major-college bowl victory, 32-30 over San Diego State last December in the New Orleans Bowl.
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Mike Gundy says he seldom uses comparative motivation. “Look at what somebody did.”
But he's making an exception this week. Gundy, his team smarting from a beatdown at Arizona, says that with Louisiana-Lafayette on tap, he will remind his squad what Louisiana-Monroe did to Arkansas.
Chances are, the Cowboys will take out their frustration on the Ragin' Cajuns, with a score much like we saw in 2011 (61-34 in Stillwater) and 2010 (54-28).
But you never know. The P-word is getting tossed around college football a lot these days. Some say parity has arrived. And not for the reason you think.
The 85-scholarship limit, which distributes more good ballplayers to more schools, has been with us 18 years.
“I would probably take exception with some of the parity stuff,” Berry said Tuesday from his Monroe office, chatting just after he got off the phone with The New York Times. “We've been under that for a long time.
“I think the parity is coming from the diversity of systems. Teams' ability (or inability) to transition week in to week out. Everybody is so different on offense and defense.”
It's like Gundy has said for years. Even a major talent edge might not overcome a squishy gameplan. That's how Hal Mumme's and Mike Leach's offenses were such a stark success in the SEC and the Big 12, before they became common. How the option offenses of Georgia Tech and Navy are nightmares for a cursed defensive coordinator each week.