Rivalry week graphic

Is everyone excited for rivalry week?

Well, it's kind of a two-week thing to end the college football regular season. This week, the Football Bowl Subdivision rivalries taking place include Florida-Florida State, Southern Cal-UCLA, Stanford-Cal, and Notre Dame-Boston College.

Even at the Football Championship Subdivision level, where the regular season concludes this weekend, there are some meaty rivalry games.

In the greater Northwest, the Brawl of the Wild between Montana and Montana State may be the biggest rivalry in all FCS. Bayou Classic fans may disagree, and they could definitely make a compelling argument.

Other big season-ending FCS rivalries include Harvard-Yale, Florida A&M-Bethune-Cookman (aka the Florida Classic), Sacramento State-Cal Davis (the Causeway Classic), and Maine-New Hampshire (the Battle for the Brice-Cowell Musket) among others.

If you want to bring it closer to home, there's Northwestern State-Stephen F. Austin (the Battle for Chief Caddo) and Nicholls State-Southeastern Louisiana (the River Bell Classic) in the Southland Conference. And just to add a little more spice to the River Bell Classic, this year's winner gets the SLC automatic playoff bid and will at least be crowned with a share of the conference title.

That brings me to Saturday's Battle of the Border. McNeese will wrap up its regular season at Lamar. It's not likely the Cowboys will earn an at-large playoff bid; they've lost too many games and there are too many teams ahead of them in the SLC standings. So Lamar will be the last chance for the seniors to go out with a win.

All the elements are there for this to potentially be a big rivalry. The teams are separated by just about an hour along Interstate 10. Southeast Texas versus Southwest Louisiana. The two athletic departments have created a trophy and competition between the schools whenever they play an athletic event. I can't blame them for trying.

But I just can't shake the feeling that it doesn't feel like much of a rivalry right now. I can't say it's a friendly rivalry, but I also can't say it's a contentious rivalry. Like coaches and players love to say, it feels like another game.

It's not because one side or another has owned the series with decisive blowouts. Yes, since Lamar brought back football in 2010, McNeese has won seven of the nine matchups. But five of the games have been decided by a touchdown or less. Last year, Lamar came to Lake Charles and beat McNeese with a touchdown in the last two minutes of the game. That win more than likely kept the Cowboys out of the playoffs, and it was enough to put Lamar into the playoffs as it finished the regular season winner of six in a row.

In 2014, Lamar also went into Cowboy Stadium and beat McNeese with a last-second field goal and a bit of controversy. The Cowboys seemed to have recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown which would have given McNeese the lead, but the play was overturned and ruled an incomplete pass. The Cowboys were also hit with two 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that were not overturned despite the play being changed. That gave Lamar good field position and the Cardinals converted the winning field goal.

In 2013, McNeese scored a last-minute touchdown to beat Lamar in Beaumont, Texas.

In 2015, the Cowboys went back to Provost Umphrey Stadium, beat the Cardinals, and celebrated winning the SLC title on Lamar's turf.

I bring up all of those results to show that there have been some story-book moments in just the last decade between McNeese and Lamar.

But it still just doesn't have the feel of a rivalry.

Part of that is definitely due to the fact that Lamar axed its football program from 1990-2009. With Lamar gone, McNeese enjoyed what was arguably its most successful decade, going to two FCS (formerly Division I-AA) national championship games and winning 10 SLC championships.

McNeese also took advantage of no Lamar football by going into Southeast Texas and getting players who didn't want to go far from home and still play Division I football. Now, with Lamar back, kids who don't want to leave the area don't have to.

Another possible reason for the lack of a true rivalry is the fact that there aren't a lot of players on each team from the other area. Kirkland Banks graduated from Barbe High. Brothers Daniel and David Crosley graduated from DeRidder. Otherwise, no Southwest Louisiana players play at Lamar.

Likewise for McNeese. Brothers Gabe and Calum Foster graduated from Newton (Texas) High, Jonathan Hageon and Eric Smith went to Silsbee (Texas) High, and that's it.

I've been privileged to be on both sides of this rivalry, although McNeese fans may not want me showing up to Lamar games because the only two I've covered, the Cowboys lost. But I've seen the rivalry through the point of view of both fan bases.

And hard as I've tried, I don't get the true rivalry feeling. I could be wrong, and if I am, I'm sure someone will tell me. I will say, I think the fans don't have any true animosity towards each other, which also could be because of Lamar's two-decade absence from the gridiron. McNeese fans are passionate about Cowboys football. For the most part, Lamar fans are apathetic about the Cardinals. The notable exception was the winning streak to end last season.

Maybe success has something to do with it. Since Lamar reinstated football in 2010, there hasn't been a season when both teams have been elite. Lamar was 8-4 in 2014, but McNeese was 6-5. Last season's game may have been the one time the game had significant consequences.

But even then, it's possible that the Cowboys may not have made the playoffs even if they had won the game.

Maybe if the teams are fighting for the SLC title, a la this year's River Bell Classic, that could stoke a fire.

Otherwise, I don't feel the hype. Hopefully I can eventually be proven wrong.

David Berry covers McNeese State athletics. Email him at dberry@americanpress.com

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