How LSU and Wyoming Met in the 1968 Sugar Bowl
The Sugar Bowl, still basking in the glory of 1967’s outstanding game, felt it could get one of football’s storied names into the 1968 classic. Army, 5-1 at the time, had indicated an interest in breaking its bowl ban in either the Sugar or the Gator Bowl. New Orleans would have loved it, even taking into account that Army was more of a curiosity piece than a proven commodity. Army hadn’t beaten a single winning team and lost 10-7 to five times beaten Duke.
If West Point had any such notion, it disappeared as soon as the story came out in the open. Secretary of the Army Stanley Resor stated officially, “It is concluded that accepting any invitation to play in a postseason game would tend to emphasize football to an extent not consistent with the basic mission of the academy, which is to produce career Army officers.”
The host spot would also be hard to fill because Tennessee, the Southeastern Conference champion, let it be known early that its first preference was Miami, and Bear Bryant was guiding his 8-1-1 Alabama team to Dallas for the first time since 1954.
Circumstances pained the Sugar into what was becoming its usual wait-and-see position. On the second-to-last weekend of the regular season, it was decided that 1) If Ole Miss beat Tennessee, the Rebels would be invited; 2) If Ole Miss lost and Auburn beat Georgia, Auburn would be invited; 3) If both Ole Miss and Auburn lost and North Carolina State beat Clemson, North Carolina State would receive the invitation; 4) If all three lost, Penn State would be considered the visitor; 5) In case Ole Miss lost, an alternate possibility was LSU, then a precarious 4-3-1 but impressive enough in its final two games to merit a bid. Wyoming, then 9-0-0 and seventh-ranked, but like Army somewhat of a curiosity, couldn’t be counted out of the visitor’s corner because of its impressive record. However, the Western Athletic Conference was an unknown quantity, and the Sugar Bowl had not scouted the Cowboys. The results rolled in: Tennessee 20, Ole Miss 7; Georgia 17, Auburn 0; Clemson 14, N.C. State 6.
Penn State defeated Ohio University 35-14 to save what appeared to be a snakebitten Sugar Saturday. That night LSU waxed Mississippi State 55-0, and Wyoming completed a person season with a 21-19 edging of Texas Western. The Sugar jumped at an LSU-Penn State match, but the Nittany Lions wanted to hold off any firm decision until after their game with Pittsburgh the following week. Sight unseen and reminiscent of the early days, the Cowboys were contacted and asked if they’d be interested. Wyoming most certainly was.
The Cowboys led the nation in rushing defense (42.3 yards) and total defense (185.2 yards) and was 10th in passing offense (207.7 yards). It had not lost in 14 consecutive games and was unbeaten in one Gator and three Sun Bowl appearances. According to one fan, the reaction to the Sugar Bowl invitation by Wyoming’s 330,000 inhabitants was, “It’s the biggest thing since statehood.”
LSU, an old bowl hand, took things as a matter of course. Despite its 5-3-1 record and unranked standing, LSU was an excellent football team and one that stood only 10 points away from a perfect season. Each of its losses and the tie could be traced to its placekicking game. “I’ve never seen more losses in one season stemming from the place-kick,” said Tiger Coach Charlie McClendon. “If we would have made all our placekicks, we’d be on top.”
With only arch-rival Tulane left to play, LSU looked like a shoo-in for a 6-3-1 record. At the half the Tigers were ahead 28-0. In the second half Tulane picked up the fight and cut the difference to 34-27 in the fourth quarter. With Tulane driving for a possible tying or winning touchdown, an ill-looking Sugar Bowl President Sam Corenswet, Jr., forced himself to his feet and told States-Item columnist Peter Finney he was going to search for a place to jump out of the stadium. “Try the press box window,” advised Finney. “That’s high enough so that if they go for two and miss you’ll have enough time to pull the rip-cord.”
Fortunately for Corenswet, matters didn’t come to that. LSU won, 41-27.
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.