Early kickoff deprives fans of true LSU experience

This article was published November 10, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

The Southeastern Conference office booked Saturday's Arkansas-LSU game for an 11 a.m. kickoff before last week's results made the early starting time logical.

The Battle for the Boot gets bumped to the cartoon hour while Auburn and Georgia take the matinee slot and Alabama and Mississippi State play in prime time.

The morning show was scripted before LSU lost to Alabama for the sixth year in a row, 24-10 in Tuscaloosa, and Arkansas salvaged a hollow victory, 39-38 over Coastal Carolina on homecoming weekend in Fayetteville.

Arkansas' desperate struggle against a Sun Belt Conference doormat aired on something called SEC Network Alternate, which otherwise shows test patterns unless the SEC has a glut of games or said games overlap. With a 3 p.m. kickoff, the Arkansas-CC game provided weak viewing competition for the Breeders' Cup (horse racing's world championships) and an Oklahoma-Oklahoma State matchup of nationally ranked teams that was 38-all at halftime and that the Sooners won 62-52.

Arkansas' perilous one-point win over the CC Chanticleers did more harm than good, if you can believe it, to Bret Bielema's approval rating among Razorback fans. That great escape followed a 38-37 Arkansas victory at Ole Miss, which at least allowed people on this side of the Mississippi River to celebrate a fourth-straight triumph over the Rebels. Although Ole Miss led that one 31-7 in the second quarter, it counted as an SEC win for Arkansas and against a team that, despite nothing to play for, won at Kentucky last week.

Arkansas had little to celebrate against Coastal Carolina, now 1-8 and which Arkansas State crushed 51-17 in Jonesboro. (Also having beaten New Mexico State, Arkansas is 2-0 in an unofficial bid to win the Sun Belt championship. Arkansas, of course, does not schedule the one Sun Belt school that could guarantee a Fayetteville or Little Rock sellout, operating under a puritanical law that says "Thou shalt not play Arkansas State or any in-state team.")

LSU, meanwhile, played gallantly on defense against Alabama, holding the top-ranked Tide to 299 yards, although its senior quarterback missed two deep throws that could have heightened the pressure against Nick Saban's team.

Although turning to freshman Myles Brennan in the fourth quarter at Tuscaloosa, LSU coach Ed Orgeron said Monday that Danny Etling would start against Arkansas.

"Danny is our starting quarterback," said Orgeron, "and Danny's done a good job for us. ... Myles would have to beat Danny out on a play-by-play basis in practice. He'd have to play better than he would in a game. He hasn't done that yet."

To which Etling said, "If coach is putting me out there, he has faith in me."

LSU can finish the regular season 9-3, 6-2 in conference, and represent the watered-down SEC in a major bowl.

Arkansas' best-case scenario is 7-5, 4-4 in conference, and another backwater bowl.

These are curious times in Fayetteville. Bielema's press conferences have become as evasive as Fran Tarkenton scrambling out of the pocket. After his rambling remarks in a Monday presser, UA beat writers weren't sure which rehabbing quarterback, senior Austin Allen (shoulder) or 6-7 freshman Cole Kelley (turf toe), who has started the last three games, would be behind center at LSU.

Offensive coordinator Dan Enos: "Obviously, who we think is going to be the most healthy and give us the best chance at winning is going to get the majority (of practice reps)."

Not exactly a vote of confidence for either. It might not make any difference. Arkansas won on its last trip to Baton Rouge but was run out of Reynolds Razorback Stadium by Derrius Guice (252 yards) and company last year.

Though favored by double digits, LSU might be disadvantaged by the early kickoff, only the 12th game played in Tiger Stadium before noon since 1969. From Billy Cannon's time to present day, LSU usually is toughest to beat at night in Baton Rouge.

It's not true that medication is required to watch a game in Death Valley, although liquid refreshment of all kinds is common at an LSU tailgate party. Before cheering themselves hoarse, amateur Bobby Flays outside the stadium produce Cajun food and other delicacies to rival those of a New Orleans chef. With most of them wishing you a nice day.

One almost wants to suit up when PA announcer Dan Borne issues his call to arms: "Ladies and gentlemen, the sun has found its home in the western sky; it is now Saturday night in Tiger Stadium."

Sports on 11/10/2017
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