Saturday, October 25, 2014

UTA Football Game Eight: What Coulda Been

Today's game is more or less like last week's, chosen for the opponent, rather than anything significant about the game itself, though it was the first win of the 1980 season. Remember, this was the year of big expectations, a 9-2 finish in 1979 and a new on-campus stadium were supposed to be signs of better days ahead for the UT Arlington football program. Instead, the ultimately disappointing football season of 1980 saw its first win come on the road, in the last week possible of October.

I highlight this week more for Louisiana Tech and to make a broader point. At first glance, the Bulldogs were clearly the superior team, owning a 13-5 mark against all time against the Mavericks. However, it really isn't that dominant as it would appear.

La Tech won the last four meetings, of which they were Southland Conference champs twice. They were a dominant team in the mid '70's when UTA struggled and again in the '80's right before what I believe was about to be a UTA surge (hard to argue that a team which was a combined seven points away from a league title and returning 20 of 24 starters in '86 would not have been). In both '84 and '85, La Tech eliminated UTA from a conference title. In reality, the gap between the teams was quite small.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

UTA Football Game Seven: Overpowered

For today's installment of This Day in UTA Football History, I did something a little different than normal. I picked the entry based on the team, rather than game or year. I have said many a time that one of the big causes for the attendance decline was a tough non-conference schedule. The UT Arlington Mavericks played away almost every game in September during the 1970's. They played tough teams. By the time they came back, they were two to four games below .500. Fans then didn't want to come to games. Today is a great example of the tough non-conference competition.

The Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles were an independent team during their contests with UTA. The series began in 1961, but the teams met seven times in the 1970's, with coach Harold "Bud" Elliott manning four of those. It would have been at least one extra in both categories but a 1979 affair was canceled when USM had a chance to add an SEC team. The series was never renewed past that.

Southern Miss, up until a two years ago, was a powerhouse. They own dozens of wins against today's P5 schools, and really could have fared well against any team from the SEC in that time. In fact, they were often better than Ole Miss and Mississippi State. Despite two SEC schools in the same state, it wasn't uncommon for the Eagles to be the best team from Mississippi. On occasion, they were also a top 25 team. And UTA squared off against them repeatedly.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

UTA Football Game Six: Bumblin' instead of Movin'

Prior to the October 11, 1980 home game against the West Texas State Buffaloes, the UT Arlington Mavericks 1980 preseason expectations seemed to be a millennia away. The new home smell had worn off, the 1979 record of 9-2 was a very distant memory and the team was 0-4 heading into the third home game of the season. On top of that, the team just looked generally uncompetitive at times and mistake prone at the worst of times.

A loss to a team like SMU and the Pony Express was understandable. But the previous week was a home loss to the Drake Bulldogs. The Mavs held a halftime lead but lost three fumbles and threw three interceptions en route to a 30-20 loss in front of a paltry crowd of 6,300.

At worst UTA should have been 2-2, but untimely mistakes, a hallmark of Coach Harold "Bud" Elliott's ten-year career, really cost the team. The same would ring true during this game

Saturday, October 4, 2014

UTA Football Game Five: End of the Line

The October 4, 1969 road match-up versus the East Texas State Lions, now known as Texas A&M-Commerce, was a milestone game for UTA football for many reasons. The main one being this would be the final game the two schools would play. The Lions and Mavericks first met in 1962 and played virtually every year until this one. Wherever the game was played would be one of the highest attended games of the season for either team. The UT Arlington Rebels were 4-2 all-time headed into this one.

The series would end as UTA sought University status, the equivalent of DI by today's standards. To attain that status, a team would have to play half its games against other NCAA University status schools. ETSU was a NAIA school. Unfortunately, this rivalry would end as UTA would try for the higher status and achieve it for the 1971 season.

That's part of the reason for UTA's decline in attendance in subsequent years. Replacing the likes of closer, smaller schools with a decent traveling fan base with games against Southwest Conference, Big Eight or even Mid American Conference schools hurt. Many of those schools never played UTA in the DFW area and those that did had few fans travel with the team. For a University that cited poor attendance as the major reason for disbanding the team, it isn't hard to think that playing a team like then-ETSU would have brought more fans than Angelo State (San Angelo, TX-four hours away) or Wichita State (Wichita, KS-5.5 hours away) did in 1985.