It’s become a Thanksgiving weekend tradition in Louisiana, but LSU fans will gladly wish it farewell.
LSU and Arkansas will play Friday this week — likely for the final time in the foreseeable future — ending a nearly two-decade run of Black Friday matchups.
Though the Battle for The Golden Boot received its mostly-annual prime Friday afternoon slot this year on CBS like it has since 1996, it’s never been a popular playing time with fans or players.
Neither LSU coach Les Miles nor the Tigers were dripping with sentiment about the finale of the Friday series.
“I like the traditional week,” Miles said. “It’s one of those things that a coach can get used to — the schedule.”
With so few Saturday night games already on recent home slates, the fanbase never embraced the set Friday slot.
Other than a top-5 matchup in 2011, the actual Tiger Stadium crowd has traditionally been far lighter for the Friday games.
The ire regarding the weekday kick mildly obscured what has been a meaningful and competitive series in the last dozen years.
LSU or Arkansas has represented the Southeastern Conference Western Division in six of the last 11 SEC Championship Games, with two of the meetings going to overtime and another four decided on the final possession.
“We know what Arkansas brings, and it’s not on the fans or anybody else to bring the fire to a rivalry game,” said junior receiver Jarvis Landry. “You saw how tough it was last year up there and we embrace a chance to play them whenever we can.”
At LSU, Miles is 5-3 against Arkansas and 6-3 in weekday games.
But the Razorbacks have recently used the short week to their advantage, playing above their pay grade in upset wins against LSU in 2007-08 and during close calls in 2005 and 2012.
Miles said the quick turnarounds are usually hard on his team’s health, which could be an issue after a physical 34-10 win against Texas A&M.
“Obviously there’s not a lot of time to get health back, and if you’ve lost health in that game ... it’s tough,” Miles said. “[It’s a] new challenge. Our guys look forward to it. It’s a let’s‑play‑quicker kind of thing.”
Though Miles pointed to the physical aspect of an abbreviated week, Landry identified the mental side as the toughest facet of playing six days later.
“You have to embrace the grind,” he said. “Everyone knows about the physical side, but it’s getting to the video and getting in the film study that’s compressed for time. Sometimes, you have to study on Thanksgiving.”
In 15 Friday matchups, LSU owns a 10-5 advantage against Arkansas.
The tradition goes the way of the old SEC next year, as Texas A&M becomes LSU’s final regular season game. The Tigers will travel to College Station for a Thanksgiving Thursday feast in 2014, and the Arkansas game shuffles up to an earlier Saturday.
That means, at least every other year, a weekday game will likely remain on LSU’s schedule. The Tigers take a bye week before next year’s A&M game, but that may not always be possible in future seasons.
Landry said he understands the fan’s disdain for the games, but emphasized that it keeps LSU in the spotlight.
“Watching teams play during the week, it shows a lot about the diversity of football and the different days people want to watch,” Landry said. “People want to see LSU play in primetime, so sometimes that means a Friday or a Thursday.”
But for now, no one’s crying about the final Friday finale, though the Tigers were quick to point out they’ll be sacrificing a little bit of Thanksgiving dinner for the sake of football.
“You’d rather be eating all that turkey, stuffing yourself with all that food,” said junior running back Terrence Magee. “I think we’ll pass up letting turkey settle to get a victory this week.”