The McNeese State football team makes its first visit to LSU’s Tiger Stadium on Oct. 16, 2010. The Cowboys will make a return trip in 2015. (American Press Archives)
Last Modified: Monday, April 21, 2014 4:33 PM
It’s one thing to get invited to the castle, it’s another to get asked back.
Yet McNeese State has not only been invited back into one of college football’s kingdoms but also to play inside the castle that is Tiger Stadium.
Last week it was announced that the two teams will open the 2015 season in Baton Rouge.
It is an honor for the Cowboys, but it is also one they have earned.
If you don’t think the Tigers and those who run things over there don’t think much of McNeese then you have no idea what is going on.
When Tyrann Mathieu was kicked off the LSU team and searching for a new football home, it is said that Tiger officials did more than just suggest McNeese might be a soft landing.
They all but drove him over for his visit.
Mathieu decided to stay at LSU and we all saw how that worked out for him.
Still, the point is there must be some type of a relationship between programs for McNeese to even be considered.
McNeese became the first FCS level state school to play LSU when it lost back in 2010. Only Northwestern State has followed.
On that night, the Cowboys lost 32-10 but did hold the lead and did anything but embarrass themselves.
That is probably part of the reason LSU was willing to talk about a rematch so quickly.
“I think it is a compliment to the type of program (head coach) Matt Viator runs here and what type of a school we have,” said McNeese Athletic Director Bruce Hemphill.
Viator calls playing in Tiger Stadium an honor, one he is happy to exploit on the recruiting trail.
“We use anything we can, but yes it helps to say we play teams like LSU and Nebraska,” Viator said.
McNeese opens its season this fall against the Cornhuskers in Lincoln, showing it doesn’t look to duck people.
“We like to play in those big, traditional venues,” Viator said.
When it comes to the lower level of college football, McNeese’s tradition stacks up pretty well. That might be one of the reasons that teams are willing to play the Cowboys.
“The game with LSU is just a continuation of what this program has done historically,” Hemphill said. “McNeese football has a good reputation throughout the country and we want to keep building on that.
“For this I think you have to again give credit for what Matt and his people have done since they got here and those before him.”
McNeese has clearly built a solid relationship with the state’s football giant.
“I know for a fact they have respect for what McNeese does as a program and a school,” Hemphill said. “They have been willing to help us out and work through things so both sides can benefit.”
While it seems like an easy on-field win for the Tigers, who the last dozen years have become one of college football’s true powers, it is even a bigger win for McNeese.
The Cowboys get invited to play with the big boys while others must can only watch.
And that’s just not a win thanks to the paycheck.
LSU will give McNeese exposure not only nationally, but more importantly, within the borders of Louisiana. These days that helps.
It also could be a benefit long term.
With some of the mega schools and mega conferences saying they might not play lower level programs in the future, it’s good to have one of the biggest on your side, or at least knowing who you are.
You also want as many people in your corner when the final seats are being filled and all the new divisions are starting to be made up.
Of course, playing well at LSU one week and getting a call back from them for another game doesn’t mean McNeese is ready for the SEC, or even the Sun Belt.
“There is absolutely no correlation between getting the game and anything that is going to happen in the future,” Hemphill said.
Still, playing games against Nebraska and LSU, and beating South Florida like McNeese did last year sure should not hurt.
“That will be a completely different process,” Hemphill said.
So maybe this is just one of those things were everything falls into place and McNeese gets the win.
And maybe LSU has great respect for McNeese that it is willing to lower the draw bridge to its castle for yet a second time.
It really doesn’t matter why, it only matters that they are willing to play the Cowboys.
For that, McNeese should say thanks but also remember that rewards, like respect, are earned.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org