AUSTIN, Texas — The schedule makers of LSU and Texas finally came together in the fall of 2014.
Verge Ausberry, LSU's deputy athletic director, received a call from longtime friend Arthur Johnson, who held a similar position overseeing scheduling at Texas.
The short-lived Charlie Strong era had just begun in Austin, and the former Longhorns coach wanted to start a series with a Southeastern Conference team that he was surprised hadn't been scheduled since the 1950s — a desire that wasn't expressed by his predecessor.
"We had been talking with Texas for a while," Ausberry said. "And when Mack Brown left the University of Texas, it gave us an opportunity."
The phone call was brief.
"Would you be interested in a home-and-home?" Johnson asked.
"Very interested in Texas," Ausberry said.
Quickly, the dates were set and signed: Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin; Sept. 12, 2020, in Baton Rouge.
The deal went down as simply as co-hosts mutually setting up a class reunion five years in advance.
Oh, but how much unforeseeable life can happen within those five years.
Who could have known the deal would outlast the athletic directors and football coaches at both schools?
Or that Texas football would continue its downward spiral until it plucked the very coach that LSU had pursued so closely to pull itself out of its own rut?
And when the dust cleared after that Thanksgiving weekend in 2016 — when LSU announced its hiring of interim coach Ed Orgeron on the same day Texas announced Tom Herman — those two dates Ausberry and Johnson agreed upon became all the more interesting.
We all knew this day was coming, and so did both coaches, who each deflected the inevitable narrative surrounding their destined meeting 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium.
"I'm talking about Texas this week," Herman said Monday on the Big 12 Conference teleconference.
"Don't care," Orgeron said the next day at his weekly news conference. "I'm happy to be the coach at LSU. This is about our football players against their football players. None of that means anything."
No, there is plenty more at stake now than just the reputation of two coaches and the validation of administrative decisions made three years ago.
This was initially about giving the fans what they wanted: heavyweight matchups in their home stadiums.
LSU abandoned its highly lucrative neutral-site games, $23 million in seven games, to make Texas happen.
And Texas is just the beginning: LSU will host UCLA in 2024, Clemson in 2026 and Oklahoma in 2028.
"Our fan base has been talking about good home-and-homes," Ausberry said, "and having the University of Texas? Who's better? And as you see how big this game is this weekend, it has the highest ticket value out there."
Texas announced the game was sold out Wednesday, and as of Thursday, the lowest cost of a single ticket was $390 on StubHub.
Those are the kinds of dividends LSU expects next season, when the Longhorns come to Tiger Stadium.
Then there's what ultimately matters on the field: both programs are on the doorstep of returning to their former glory, and the winner between No. 6 LSU (1-0) and No. 9 Texas (1-0) almost certainly will get launched into the AP poll's Top 5 with an inside track toward the College Football Playoff.
And with ESPN's College GameDay in town, there won't be a football recruit between the battling border states who can't easily tune in.
So how can this game impact the future of the LSU football program?
"Everyone will be watching," said LSU athletic director Scott Woodward, who was hired in April, in a statement. "Our players love it, and our recruits want to be a part of it."
One of the clearest snapshots of the recruiting battle between LSU and Texas can be found on a short drive west of the Sabine River.
There's no greater blend of both state cultures than in the region nicknamed "The Golden Triangle," where blue-collar workers commute from both sides of the border to work in the oil refineries.
It's a place where you can eat boudin quesadillas at a staple like Tia Juanitas in Beaumont, Texas, where Mardi Gras beads dangle next to hanging sombreros and zydeco music plays in the background.
"It's Texasiana around here," said Eric Peevey, the football coach at West Brook High. "In southeast Texas, you've got a ton of Bayou Bengal fans, just like you've got Longhorns and Aggies. We eat gumbo around here, just like they do in Louisiana. We're going to throw everything in the pot. It's just our culture."
Yes, there are four Louisiana players on the Longhorns roster and 13 active Texas players on LSU's. The nation's top running back of the 2020 class, the undeclared Zachary Evans, attends nearby North Shore High in Houston.
But this is where Texas landed future NFL All-Pros like running back Jamaal Charles at Port Arthur Memorial and safety Earl Thomas at West Orange-Stark, and found quarterback Roschon Johnson (now a converted running back) at Port Neches-Groves.
It's where Orgeron was able to fend off Herman's late effort to flip Kary Vincent, a Memorial graduate, who became an undercover agent on a Texas campus visit to help Orgeron sign star pass rusher K'Lavon Chaisson out of North Shore.
"When I went there my mind was made up," Vincent said Tuesday. "That's the only reason I went was to make sure that we got K'Lavon here."
"He kept that bug in my ear even while we were on UT's campus," Chaisson said. "Even when we were at functions, he was still saying 'Geaux Tigers' in front of a whole bunch of UT fans. But that's just who he was and he made sure he got the job done, and it looks like he did, obviously."
Just last Sunday, LSU snatched a commitment away from Texas in West Brook High's Bryce Anderson, the nation's No. 7 rated safety of the 2022 recruiting class, according to 247Sports.
Perhaps there is no greater example of the Cajun-Texan hybrid than Anderson, a 15-year-old who grew up idolizing Tyrann Mathieu and ropes calves at weekend rodeos.
Anderson's mother was once a barrel racer, and his family raises sheep and steers and bulls.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore attended LSU's 55-3 win over Georgia Southern, and while everyone's eyes were on the Tigers' shiny new spread offense, Anderson was transfixed by a defense that gave up 98 yards.
Anderson walked into Orgeron's office the next day and committed.
As the news broke over social media, Anderson received a text message from a Texas coach.
"Committed?" It read.
"Yeah," Anderson wrote back.
Anderson will be attending Saturday's game ... on the LSU side.
Didn't Texas invite him?
"They did ... before I committed," Anderson said with a smile.
Three years is a long time until signing day, and it's doubtful Texas is going to relent just because of a verbal commitment.
"Oh there's no doubt," Peevey said. "There is no doubt. Especially as young as he is, they're not gonna stop."
Could he be persuaded to flip?
"Some players are more open to it, because coach Herman's good at what he does," Peevey said. "He's real good. And he has the ability to talk to plays, and they want to hear what he has to say."
Saturday's triple-digit degree forecast will force thermometers to rise almost as high as the expectations for the LSU football team in 2019.
Orgeron's validation ended last season, when the Tigers went 10-3 and won their first New Year's Six bowl game of the playoff era.
The Larose native has earned widespread respect as a head coach, and the recruitment of Ohio State grad transfer quarterback Joe Burrow and hiring of passing-game coordinator Joe Brady have produced hope and buzz that the Tigers offense just might be elite enough to make the jump to championship contention.
"Coach O has everybody excited again," said Richard Lipsey, a founding member of the Tiger Athletic Foundation. "Bringing in new coaches, excellent recruiting. I admire what he's done."
The offensive numbers produced against Georgia Southern were impressive: the 55 points were the most the program had scored in a season opener since 2000, Burrow tied the school's single-game record with five touchdown passes and sophomore wide receiver Terrace Marshall's three touchdown catches were third-most in a game in program history.
Texas is the true test.
"It's very important," Orgeron said. "But there will be a lot of games down the road just as important or more important. We better learn how to handle this."