LSU doesn't have a marquee rivalry, but one may be blossoming
The LSU Tigers have been members of the SEC since it formed in the 1930s. In that time, they’ve played hundreds of games in the conference. Yet even the most heated games the Tigers have played don’t have the air of a true rivalry.
The rest of the conference is brimming with storied rivalry matchups. The Iron Bowl and Egg Bowl are beautifully hate-filled affairs, with fans that have their rooting interests ingrained in their blood. Georgia and Florida meet in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party every year, although both of those teams have in-state rivals that they meet during rivalry week every year.
Make no mistake: LSU has opponents that inspire more vitriol than the rest. The Tigers’ annual matchup with Alabama has spawned some of the best games in recent SEC history, and Nick Saban having coached on both sides of the rivalry only adds fuel to the fire. Auburn and LSU have engaged in some legendary games, with cigars and earthquakes playing into the rivalry. Neither of those teams views LSU as its biggest rival, though, despite those two games often being the biggest on the schedule for the Tigers.
LSU has a cross-divisional matchup with Florida every year, although that game generally lacks the same fire as the SEC West tilts on the schedule. An annual meeting with Arkansas in The Battle for the Golden Boot is probably the closest LSU comes to a true rivalry, although the fact that the game isn’t played during rivalry week tones it down a bit.
Still, it’s the Tigers’ only trophy, or “name” game on the slate every year, adding some meaning to the border rivalry. The fact that the game has had some thrilling moments in recent years adds to the allure of the annual showdown, but it doesn’t carry the national clout of the SEC’s other rivalries, both in- and out-of-conference.
There is a budding rivalry on the horizon for LSU, one that has occupied their rivalry week game for the last two years and will again this year: Texas A&M.
After playing the Aggies in the Cotton Bowl just before they joined the SEC, LSU has had two close games with Texas A&M, helping to spark what could be the next great rivalry in the conference.
This offseason may have turned the spark into a full-fledged blaze. Former LSU defensive coordinator John Chavis left Baton Rouge to take the vacant defensive coordinator job. As if leaving for a divisional rival wasn’t enough to irk LSU fans, Chavis was apparently negotiating with the Aggies right up until LSU’s bowl loss to Notre Dame, which featured a head-scratching defensive performance. He seemingly had his bags packed before kickoff in the Music City Bowl.
On top of Chavis’ presence, the game should carry conference and national significance for the next several. Both teams will be loaded with talent for the next several seasons, and both are poised to make a leap up from the middle of the conference to SEC and national contention.
The budding rivalry could be missing out on a chance to truly make itself nationally relevant. Last fall, Texas A&M and LSU met on Thanksgiving night. While it butted up against the NFL’s programming, it was still the marquee college game f0r the day, with only Texas vs. TCU standing to rival it. This year, the game will move to a normal Saturday kickoff.
Still, the game will take place during rivalry weekend this year, likely vying for one of the prime television slots if both teams live up to expectations. The Chavis dynamic only makes it that much more entertaining.
It will be years before the Aggies and Tigers have the kind of history that LSU does with Auburn, Alabama, or even Arkansas, Florida or Ole Miss. But with both teams in need of a marquee opponent to do battle with in the final week of the regular season, as Texas A&M no longer plays old rival Texas anymore. The teams used to play somewhat often, with more than 50 matchups throughout history, and the SEC West has renewed it. It could be a rivalry made out of convenience that blossoms into one fueled by emotion and title aspirations.