Bowled over by Memphis date? Hardly


Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson warms up before the start of a game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo. - Photo by L.G. Patterson of The Associated Press
Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson warms up before the start of a game against Missouri in Columbia, Mo. - Photo by L.G. Patterson of The Associated Press

While lunching with a friend visiting home, I picked up a sightseer's guide to Elvis' adopted residence and my wife's birthplace.

Perhaps it was overlooked in Samantha Crespo's book, but I don't recall an Arkansas-Kansas Liberty Bowl game among 100 things to see in Memphis before one dies.

The Dec. 28 matchup risks being played in bitterly cold conditions, like that encountered when the Razorbacks met East Carolina in January 2010. Arkansas won in overtime, thanks largely to an opposing kicker who couldn't find the center of the uprights that night with a GPS. For some reason, UA quarterback Ryan Mallett was named most valuable player in a game that his team did not convert a third down.

If you're traveling for the 4:30 p.m. kickoff, expect traffic delays on Interstate 40 and don't leave home without a warm coat. So cold was it on that January evening that a college friend bailed out after the first quarter. The late rocker Eddie Money earned my respect merely providing halftime entertainment. "Two Tickets to Paradise," one of Money's biggest hits, proved not a fitting selection that night.

What can one say about two football teams with 6-6 records? Gasoline prices have dropped sharply but is this one worth ponying up for? Will one's life be diminished without seeing these teams' first matchup in football since 1906? Does Jeff Long, past athletic director at both schools, present the championship trophy?

And does the losing team receive a pronunciation guide? A former Kansas coach, Les Miles, while at LSU, had trouble with the names -- is it Ar-kan-SAW or Ar-KAN-sas?

Such matchups occur when conferences -- in this case, the Big 12 and SEC -- make numerous bowl tie-ups and pair up teams slotted sixth or seventh in their leagues.

The Liberty Bowl picked Kansas, it it said, when Missouri wanted no part of a border feud that has raged since the Civil War. Missouri sneaked in to the bowls, its qualifying sixth win coming against Arkansas in a Thanksgiving Friday game that losing coach Sam Pittman said "we got our butts whipped."

As a reward, Missouri gets a Florida trip for a Dec. 23 game with Wake Forest (5:30 p.m. kick), a strong contender for much of the season out of the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Though Alabama did not make the College Football Playoff, SEC members have some savory bowl matchups. The Texas Bowl, for which Arkansas was mentioned, gets Ole Miss and Texas Tech Dec. 28 with an 8 p.m. kick in Houston after the Liberty Bowl signs off. A chance to watch a Lane Kiffin-coached team, whether rooting for the the Rebels or not, is worth marking on one's calendar.

Alabama vs. Kansas State may not be a matchup made in heaven -- but the Dec. 31 Sugar Bowl is a product of the Wildcats' handing CFP-bound TCU its first loss in the Big 12 championship. Yes, Alabama lost two games, both on the road and by a total of three points, but the Crimson Tide, even with Heisman Trophy defender Bryce Young, did not inspire fear nearly as much this year. Oddly for Alabama, the team's lack of a signature win likely cost Nick Saban's team on Selection Sunday.

Bret Bielema's Illinois team, which had Rose Bowl aspirations for a time, plays Mississippi State and may that one be as captivating as the 2015 Arkansas-MSU game in Fayetteville, Dan Mullen's team winning 51-50 in a showcase game for QBs Brandon Allen and Dak Prescott. Sam Pittman, then at Arkansas,coached the offensive line and served as associate head coach and recruiting coordinator for Bielema that night.

The SEC's holiday roll call includes Florida vs. Oregon State, 6:30 p.m. Dec. 17 in Las Vegas (another bowl that looked at Arkansas) and South Carolina vs. Notre Dame,, two schools with Lou Holtz in common (trust me, there are others), 2:30 p.m. Dec. 30, at the former Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Florida.

No. 1 Georgia, after rolling past LSU, plays Ohio State (Atlanta) at 7 p.m. Dec. 31, after Tennessee and Clemson tangle at 7 p.m. Dec. 30 in Miami. LSU, knocked out of the CFP in a 50-30 loss to Georgia, plays Purdue at noon Jan. 1 in Orlando, a warm-weather bowl that Arkansas targeted when it was 3-0 in September.

Arkansas and Kansas can generate more headlines if the Liberty Bowl matchup is changed to basketball. Think anyone would watch a Bill Self-Eric Musselman matchup at FedExForum? As Dick Vitale would say, "Awesome, baby."

On a list of 100 things to see in Memphis, Arkansas vs. Kansas in basketball might rank highly with Graceland, Beale Street and the Memphis Zoo, even if they played the game in the old Pyramid or Melrose High School. (Schedule alert: Arkansas plays LSU the same day at Baton Rouge in its SEC opener, 8 p.m. on the ESPN family of networks -- immediately after the Liberty Bowl).