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Which College Football Program Would’ve Been Right for Tim Riggins?

Things didn’t necessarily work out at San Antonio State, so two Ringer staff writers set out to find the right fit—schematically and culturally—for the Dillon Panthers fullback

NBC/Ringer illustration

Because Taylor Kitsch has a new show premiering Wednesday night—Waco, a six-part miniseries about David Koresh’s 1993 standoff with the FBI—and because in our (full) hearts, Taylor Kitsch will always be Tim Riggins, we hereby declare January 24 to be Tim Riggins Day.

At the beginning of Season 4 of Friday Night Lights, former Dillon Panthers star Tim Riggins leaves a lecture during his freshman year at San Antonio State, hops in his truck, and heads home, never to consider college again. The decision was in keeping with Riggins’s personality, but we were denied a look at the college career of one of the greatest players in fictional high school football history. What if Riggins had ended up somewhere else, at a program and a university more suited to his personality? Staff writers Michael Baumann and Rodger Sherman set out to find such a school and answer that question.

Michael Baumann: OK. So let’s start in Texas. Rice is out, because Riggins would fail out the instant he so much as looked at a classroom, even with Landry to cheat off of. SMU is too preppy, Baylor is a dry campus, UT feels too much like school. Riggins is a hick, which makes you think he’d fit in at A&M, but A&M is a school for joiners—people who are really into buying into a culture—and I think the cadets and Yell Leaders and everything that makes College Station the single weirdest place I’ve ever been would freak Riggins out. Plus, I don’t think he’s exactly dying to block for Smash Williams again. I kinda like Texas Tech culturally but they’re the Air Raid school and Riggins is the least Air Raid player I can imagine.

Rodger Sherman: I assume we’re operating under the presumption that San Antonio State, Oklahoma Tech, and TMU—the made-up schools from Friday Night Lights—don’t exist.

Baumann: Is TMU just Texas in drag?

Sherman: TMU was technically Texas State in weird dress-up. They didn’t even change the mascot or color scheme.

Baumann: (I secretly like real-life Texas State for Riggins.)

Sherman: You sorta touched on this already, but the weird thing here is that Tim Riggins is, by trade, a fullback. (I don’t know why, of all the football positions, the show chose to make him a fullback. I guess they needed an offensive skill player and they already had a QB and a RB and he’s not a very WR personality?) There are not many schools in the 21st century vying for fullbacks. There are definitely not many schools in Texas vying for fullbacks.

Is Tim Riggins going to have to play for the last remaining fullback fan in the world, Jim Harbaugh?

Baumann: Harbaugh does love a fullback, but Michigan is not the only place he could go. It helps that Riggins isn’t just a blocker, and there are spread schemes where a power runner/H-back can fit.

Sherman: It would fly in the face of the “Texas Forever” movement.

Baumann: Well, that’s one of two big questions we need to settle on: Is this in 2018 or 2009? And can Riggins survive outside Texas?

Sherman: 1. I don’t know yet. Let’s find his best cultural fit across all eras. 2. Definitely not.

Baumann: He did try to move to Alaska … But he also didn’t follow through on his plan to move to Alaska.

Sherman: I think he has to play in either Texas or a state where Lone Star beer is readily available.

Baumann: [Tosses recruiting brochures for Virginia Tech and Wisconsin in the trash.]

Sherman: The other option for avoiding the fullback dilemma: You really have no idea what position Mack Brown would have recruited Tim Riggins to play. Maybe he could have been a star middle linebacker or strong safety for the Longhorns. What do you mean when you say UT feels too much like school for Riggins?

Baumann: I think it’s a little over his head academically, for starters. I also think he’d find Austin too cute and too liberal.

Sherman: And even though Tyra was ABSOLUTELY THE RIGHT GIRL FOR HIM, he wouldn’t dream of following any girl to a school.

Baumann: Too true, though UT is huge and he could easily not run into Tyra if he so chose. He just doesn’t seem like a “flagship state university” kind of person.

But let me give you a pitch for Texas State. It’s in San Marcos, which is less than an hour from Austin but still looks like Tatooine, and both of their OCs are former Urban Meyer understudies, which means they appreciate a power runner like Riggins. It’s in the Sun Belt and really building a program from scratch, which I think would appeal to Riggins’s big fish–small pond mentality.

Sherman: Great pitch. But in this weird hybrid universe where Texas State is TMU, we can presume Coach Taylor’s decision to leave the school in the middle of a season burned every bridge between Dillon and TSU/TMU.

You mentioned A&M being too culty. Is there really that big a leap from Dillon’s “Our entire town’s well-being is dominated by the mood swings of a megalomaniacal car salesman who cares more about a high school football team than his family” and A&M’s “We built a scoreboard outside of our stadium so that the dead dogs in our dog graveyard, who used to be five-star generals in our student military, can see whether our football team is winning?”

Baumann: Do they cancel class at Dillon High School if Buddy Garrity barks?

Sherman: He’s much less cute than Reveille but I think he’s as powerful. Not as smart or good.

Baumann: This is gonna sound ridiculous, but I think it’s even more intense at A&M than Dillon. If nothing else, it’s bigger.

Sherman: If they made FNL about A&M it would have been canceled. Too ridiculous.

Baumann: And I feel like the fanaticism at Dillon is more the desperation of people who realize life is short and brutish, while A&M is like Actually Fanatical. One hundred thousand people do coordinated dance routines there every weekend.

Sherman: Also, they needed a cheerleader character. At A&M, that’s Landry.

Baumann: You think Landry would’ve been a Yell Leader? I don’t think they’d let you into the Corps if you were in a band called Crucifictoroius. They catch you listening to anything spicier than Sam Hunt and you’ll get drummed out for being a Communist.

Sherman: It’s a different type of yelling than Christian death metal, for sure.

I have a school that I think would be perfect for Riggins, but honestly the main point of this exercise was to hear you trash Texas college football programs. Do you want to hit me with any more insults or can I get to it?

Baumann: If you don’t stop me, I will bash A&M clear through Season 5. You should stop me. Though I do have one more suggestion of my own.

Sherman: Let me hear it.

Baumann: New Mexico.

Sherman: It’s a great football fit because they run a weird-ass option, and it’s a great television fit because Riggins going to ABQ gives us the FNLBreaking Bad crossover we need.

Baumann: Plus, you can buy Lone Star in Albuquerque. I checked. And tell me Bob Davie wouldn’t get the most out of Riggins.

Sherman: Tell me that Landry LITERALLY MURDERING A PERSON in Season 2 didn’t start a downward spiral that leads to him joining a neo-Nazi meth gang in Albuquerque.

Baumann: I cannot, because I’m sure that’s what happened. (Another reason Landry wouldn’t have made it in the Corps at A&M: because he killed a guy.)

Sherman: FNL is one of those shows where every actor who was in it will be their character to me for all eternity. I exclusively call Jesse Plemons “Landry.” As in: “Landry is having a baby with Kirsten Dunst.” Side note: Waco now leads me to believe that David Koresh is Tim Riggins. But we’re going off track here.

Baumann: Mount Carmel Center is D-III, anyway. What’s your big idea?

Sherman: Yes. My grand plan for Tim Riggins. It doesn’t work out with the timelines, but: Tim Riggins, beefy RB for Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks.

Baumann: OH YEAH. Chad Morris and Bobby Petrino wouldn’t have had much use for Riggins, but Bert ...

Sherman: So far as I can tell, the whole premise of Arkansas football is to land recruits who need to leave Texas, but who don’t want to leave Texas.

Baumann: I was gonna say Riggins lacks SEC speed, but at Arkansas you only need to outrun the tectonic plates. And they have Lone Star in Fayetteville.

Sherman: Thanks for checking.

Baumann: The danger in turning Riggins over to Bert is he never gets off the bench, or he gets fed up going 4-8 every year.

Sherman: It goes one of two ways: Either he gets recruited as a fullback and works his way into the team’s starting running back role and uses his sheer beer-strength to run for 200-plus yards a game in SEC play, or Day 1 they tell him, “We’re gonna need you to play scout team linebacker,” and he quits and goes home to Dillon just like he always does. But that’s not Arkansas-specific. That’s just his destiny: either greatness or directionless lounging around his hometown.

Baumann: He did so much of both in the show. Pity he has to choose. I think this went well. Tim Riggins is now hypothetically: an all-SEC running back, a system guy with a neo-Nazi friend in New Mexico, and drinking Lone Star no matter what. I am a little disturbed that both of us went outside Texas, though.

Sherman: Well, yes. But nothing in Texas ever works out for Tim; he’d have to leave to make something of himself. And we both know that, at the end of the day, he’d probably end up moving back to Dillon anyway.