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College football: Week 9

Monday, October 20th, 2014

Some of you have complained about next year’s University of Arkansas football schedule since it has Toledo coming to the capital city for the only Little Rock game.

Frankly, I may be ready to say “bring on Toledo” just so Arkansas can win a game again at War Memorial Stadium.

The Hogs are 1-4 in Little Rock in the PMA (Post Motorcycle Accident) era.

The most recent Southeastern Conference win at Little Rock was 44-17 over Mississippi State in 2011. The overall record is still sterling: 149-56-2 in games played at War Memorial Stadium and 167-69-4 in all games played at Little Rock through the decades.

Arkansas had the dubious distinction Saturday of being the first SEC West team to lose to a squad from outside the division. The West had been 26-0 going into the game against Georgia. So we’re at 16 consecutive conference losses for Arkansas. It has been more than two years now since the most recent SEC victory. It was Oct. 13, 2012, to be exact, and the opponent that rainy night in Fayetteville was Kentucky.

I guess that means it’s time to go to the record books. The school record for conference losses is 20 from 1940-43. That may be a record that’s broken. Arkansas will tie it by the end of this season if it can’t upset one of these teams — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, LSU or Missouri.

Brandon Allen did set career bests for completions, attempts and yards. He was 28 of 45 passing for 292 yards and three touchdowns. But Georgia running back Nick Chubb countered with 202 yards rushing on 30 carries, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. The Bulldogs haven’t missed Todd Gurley yet.

We now have an SEC West with four of the top five teams in college football. Obviously, that is unprecedented.

And two of the top three teams are from Mississippi.

What a season.

It seemed we were one of the few people to actually pick Georgia last week rather than following the herd and going with the “boutique pick” of Arkansas.

We were 5-1 for the week, making the record 55-5 for the season.

Here are the picks for Week 9:

Arkansas 42, UAB 22 — It’s a needed break from SEC play for the Razorbacks in front of what likely will be a lot of empty seats in Fayetteville on Saturday morning. The Blazers are decent at 4-3. Their wins have come by scores of 48-10 over Troy, 41-14 over Alabama A&M, 42-39 over Western Kentucky and 56-21 over North Texas. The losses have been by scores of 47-34 to Mississippi State (not bad at all), 34-20 to Florida International and 34-22 to Middle Tennessee.

Louisiana-Lafayette 35, Arkansas State 33 — We’re having to get the picks posted early this week because the Red Wolves have one of those strange Tuesday night games. I detest the thought of college football on a Tuesday, but you do what you have to do when you’re not in one of the Power Five conferences. Louisiana-Lafayette embarrassed ASU last year on a Tuesday night in Jonesboro by a score of 23-7. Louisiana-Lafayette is home this time for a game that will be seen nationally on ESPN 2. The Ragin’ Cajuns are 3-3 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. They have won four of the past six games in this series. This season’s wins have been by scores of 45-6 over Southern University, 34-31 over Georgia State and 34-10 over Texas State. The losses have come by scores of 48-20 to Louisiana Tech, 56-15 to Ole Miss and 34-9 to Boise State. ASU is 4-2 overall and also 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference. In their last outing, the Red Wolves had a dominating 52-10 win at Georgia State. This should be a close game. We’ll give a slight edge to the Cajuns since they’re playing at home.

UCA 27, Northwestern State 24 — It was a disappointing trip to Hammond, La., for the Bears as they fell Saturday to Southeastern Louisiana, 41-24. Southeastern outrushed UCA 289-113. The Bears are 4-4 overall and 3-1 in the Southland Conference. They must beat Northwestern State of Louisiana in Conway on Saturday night to stay alive in the conference race. Northwestern is 4-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play. The Demons started the season with losses of 34-27 to Missouri State and 70-6 to Baylor. That was followed by victories of 51-27 over Southern University and 30-27 over Louisiana Tech. After a 30-22 loss to Southeastern Louisiana, the Demons have won two consecutive games, 49-12 over Incarnate Word and 31-27 over Sam Houston State. The two teams appear evenly matched. Again, we’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Texas Southern 30, UAPB 20 — It’s shaping up to be a year to forget for the Golden Lions. UAPB is 1-5 overall and 0-4 in the SWAC after a 63-39 loss to Grambling on Saturday. Golden Lion quarterback Ben Anderson did have a good day statistically, passing for 467 yards. UAPB outgained Grambling, 570-503, but had three costly turnovers. Texas Southern is 5-2. The season started with victories of 37-35 over Prairie View A&M, 52-14 over Texas College, 30-16 over Central State and 45-23 over Alabama A&M. Losses of 38-3 to Alabama State and 40-25 to Alcorn State have since been sandwiched around a 20-16 victory over Mississippi Valley State. It’s the homecoming game in Houston this Saturday for Texas Southern.

Harding 31, Henderson 29 — It’s hard to pick against a team that has won 30 consecutive regular-season games — especially a team playing its homecoming game — but we’re going to go out on a limb and do it. Henderson has been less than impressive (by lofty Reddie standards) the past two weeks. The Reddies went to 7-0 on Saturday with a 24-3 victory at 3-4 Arkansas Tech. Henderson scored just three points in the second half. Reddie quarterback Kevin Rodgers was 21 of 36 passing for 325 yards, his 23rd game to pass for more than 300 yards. Darius Davis had touchdown receptions of 56, 68 and 58 yards in the first half. Henderson is No. 4 nationally in NCAA Division II. Its opponent, 5-1 Harding, is No. 23. This is a senior-laden Harding team that should be able to bounce back from Saturday night’s heartbreaking overtime loss to Ouachita in Searcy. It should be quite a game Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia. Harding still has the top rushing attack in Division II and one of the top defenses against the run. The Bisons will try to control the clock with their run-based offense and limit the number of possessions for Rodgers, Davis & Co.

Ouachita 25, Arkansas Tech 13 — The 6-0 Tigers, now ranked 18th in Division II, must quickly come down off the high of Saturday night’s miracle victory in Searcy (a game that saw Ouachita score a touchdown on the final play of regulation and then convert a two-point conversion just to get the contest to overtime) and return to business against a Tech team that has a stingy defense. The Wonder Boy offense has struggled, however, meaning that points might be at a premium in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon unless Tiger quarterback Kiehl Frazier gets hot.

UAM 44, Southern Nazarene 18 — It has been a hard-luck season for the 1-5 Boll Weevils. Four of the five losses have been close — by four points to East Central Oklahoma, by three points to Southeastern Oklahoma, by six points to Northwestern Oklahoma and by five points to Arkansas Tech. The only team to blow the Weevils out was Harding, 55-15. UAM will have had two weeks to prepare for this week’s game against an 0-7 Southern Nazarene team that lost 62-7 to Southern Arkansas on Saturday. SAU outgained its opponent 605-88. UAM should be able to take out some frustration in Bethany, Okla.

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College football: Week 8

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

It hurt, didn’t it?

A blocked extra point.

A bad snap on a field goal attempt.

What was about to be a touchdown fumbled into the end zone.

Alabama 14, Arkansas 13.

This is a team that could be 5-1 overall and 2-1 in the Southeastern Conference instead of the team with the longest losing streak in the SEC at 15 games.

The loss to Texas A&M in overtime hurt. The loss to Alabama hurt even more.

But think how far Arkansas has come from the teams that lost 52-0 the previous two seasons to the Crimson Tide.

It would be poetic justice of sorts if the SEC losing streak ended in Little Rock on Saturday at a time when the athletic administration in Fayetteville seems dead set on ending the great Razorback tradition of Little Rock games (though I suspect the final decision again will be made by the UA Board of Trustees, not Jeff Long).

The weather should be perfect Saturday afternoon. I hope War Memorial Stadium is its old rockin’ self.

Meanwhile, anyone who claims to have predicted before the season that the state of Mississippi would be the center of the college football world in the middle of October is a liar.

I don’t know how to say it more plainly. Nobody saw this coming.

Arkansas still gets to take a swing at Mississippi State in Starkville and Ole Miss in Fayetteville.

But first things first: It’s Georgia in Little Rock on Saturday afternoon.

We were 7-0 on the picks last week, making the record 50-4 through the first seven weeks of the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 8:

Georgia 28, Arkansas 25 — No Todd Gurley for Georgia? Todd who? Freshman Nick Chubb carried 28 times for 143 yards and one touchdown as Georgia shut out Missouri in Columbia, 34-0. Georgia rolls into the City of Roses with records of 5-1 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. The Bulldogs had the ball for more than 42 minutes against Missouri and finished with 379 yards of offense. Missouri never reached the red zone. Is this the week the Hogs break through? Arkansas did manage 335 yards of offense against Alabama, but only 89 of that came on the ground. Brandon Allen was 21 of 40 passing for 246 yards as Arkansas lost for an eighth consecutive time to Alabama. If Arkansas is going to pull the upset on Saturday, it’s going to have to score in the fourth quarter. The Razorbacks have been outscored 62-0 in the fourth quarter and overtimes of their past five SEC games. And Arkansas has lost 12 consecutive games to ranked teams. The most recent victory over a ranked team came in January 2012 against Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl when that fellow named Petrino was the head Hog.

Southeastern Louisiana 31, UCA 30 — The Bears are 3-0 in the Southland Conference (and 4-3 overall) after a 70-0 thrashing of an awful Houston Baptist team in Conway last Saturday night. It could have been worse. UCA led 56-0 at halftime. It was the sixth-highest margin of victory ever for a UCA team. Three Bear quarterbacks threw touchdown passes. Taylor Reed out of El Dorado was five of five passing in the first half for 106 yards and two touchdowns. UCA ended the game with 287 yards passing and 258 yards rushing. Things will be much more difficult this week as the Bears make the long trip to Hammond, La., to take on a Southeastern Louisiana team that’s also 3-0 in conference play after victories of 63-7 over Incarnate Word, 30-22 over Northwestern State and 61-34 over Lamar. Southeastern is 5-2 overall, having won nonconference games by scores of 44-3 over Jacksonville University and 41-14 over Southern Utah and having lost 35-20 to Tulane and 24-23 to Southeast Missouri. This should be a heck of a game. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Grambling 29, UAPB 19 — The Golden Lions have had two weeks to prepare for this game, but it might not help at Eddie Robinson Stadium on Saturday afternoon against a much-improved Grambling squad. The Tigers lost their first three games by scores of 42-27 to Lamar, 47-0 to Houston and 36-23 to Bethune-Cookman. Then they entered SWAC play and have won four consecutive contests — 40-35 over Jackson State, 26-20 over Prairie View A&M, 38-28 over Alabama A&M and 28-21 over Alcorn State. UAPB’s only victory this season has been against tiny Concordia College out of Alabama. The losses have been to Texas State, Alabama State, Jackson State and Southern University.

Harding 38, Ouachita 27 — The biggest game to this point in the season in the Great American Conference will be played in Searcy on Saturday night. Harding is 5-0 and No. 13 in NCAA Division II. Ouachita is 5-0 and No. 22 in NCAA Division II. That gives the GAC three ranked teams since Henderson (6-0) is No. 6. This is the first meeting between two ranked GAC teams since Ouachita and Harding met in October 2012. Harding won that game, 34-14. Harding beat 1-5 UAM, 55-15, last Saturday in Monticello as the Bisons’ option attack gained 454 yards on the ground. The Bisons lead NCAA Division II in rushing, averaging 410.2 yards per game. Harding has won nine consecutive games, a school record. Ouachita is off to a 5-0 start for a third consecutive year after making the long trip to Northwestern Oklahoma and defeating the 1-5 Rangers, 41-10. Etauj Allen returned two punts for touchdowns in that game. In a victory the previous week against Southwestern Oklahoma, the Ouachita defense scored three touchdowns. The Tigers likely will have to have scores from the defense or special teams to knock off Harding. Ouachita is the only college program in the state with six consecutive winning seasons, but the Tigers have not defeated the Bisons since Ouachita’s GAC championship season of 2011.

Henderson 49, Arkansas Tech 24 — The Reddies played their worst game of the season and still managed to beat 2-4 Southwestern Oklahoma on the road, 28-14. That game was tied 14-14 at the half. Don’t expect Henderson to play poorly two weeks in a row. Arkansas Tech is 3-3 overall following a 21-14 loss to Southern Arkansas in Magnolia. Henderson quarterback Kevin Rodgers should have a field day against a Wonder Boy defense that gave up 334 yards through the air against the Muleriders.

Southern Arkansas 40, Southern Nazarene 20 — This is a Mulerider team that’s 3-3 and getting better every week behind quarterback Si Blackshire, who had three touchdown passes in the win over Arkansas. SAU is 3-0 at home and 0-3 on the road. The Muleriders are home Saturday against an 0-6 Southern Nazarene team. Enough said.

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College football: Week 7

Friday, October 10th, 2014

The college football spotlight was on the state of Mississippi last weekend for the first time in my memory.

After Rebel and Bulldog victories, we entered the week with Ole Miss and Mississippi State tied for third in The Associated Press poll. That’s the highest the Rebels have been ranked since 1963 (the last time they won a Southeastern Conference championship in football) and the highest the Bulldogs have ever been ranked. Mississippi State’s previous best was No. 7 in 1981. The last SEC title at State? It was in 1941.

The AP poll has been around since 1936, and this was only the second time that four of the top six teams lost on the same weekend. The other time was 1990. It was quite a weekend of college football.

You have to believe that Alabama has been extremely focused in practice this week following that 23-17 loss at Ole Miss. As much as those of us in Arkansas would like it to be so, it’s hard to imagine an Alabama team losing back-to-back conference games.

For four consecutive weeks, I’ve missed only one pick per week. Last week’s miss was UCA at Stephen F. Austin. The 3-3 Bears have been hard to figure out in their first season under head coach Steve Campbell. They will try to go to 3-0 in Southland Conference play on Saturday night in Conway against Houston Baptist.

With last week’s 6-1 record on the picks, the season record is now 43-4.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 7 of the college football season:

Alabama 30, Arkansas 19 — Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 251 yards and three touchdowns as the Rebels went to 5-0 for the first time since 1962, ending a 10-game losing streak against the Crimson Tide. Arkansas will try to establish the run first on Saturday in Fayetteville, but quarterback Brandon Allen is also going to have to have a great day passing for Arkansas to have a chance. Arkansas, which has the SEC’s longest losing streak when it comes to conference games, has not scored on Alabama since the third quarter of the 2011 game. Alabama has shut out the Razorbacks the last nine quarters. Arkansas will score some points Saturday; just not enough.

Arkansas State 28, Georgia State 22 — The Red Wolves are 3-2 overall and 1-0 in the Sun Belt Conference following last week’s victory over Louisiana-Monroe in a night game at Jonesboro. It’s off to Atlanta this week as ASU takes on Georgia State in its homecoming game at the Georgia Dome. Georgia State is 1-4 overall and 0-2 in Sun Belt conference action but has kept most games close. The only win was 38-37 over Abilene Christian in the season opener. The losses have been by scores of 34-31 to New Mexico State, 48-38 to Air Force, 45-14 to Washington and 34-31 to Louisiana-Lafayette.

UCA 35, Houston Baptist 20 — This is a weak Houston Baptist team that’s coming to Conway. The only win was over the awful Texas College team (almost a club program) that a few of the Division II schools in Arkansas have picked on through the years. The Houston Baptist losses have been by scores of 26-17 to McMurry, 28-20 to Northern Colorado, 59-14 to Abilene Christian and 31-8 to Incarnate Word. It was a sweet victory for the Bears last week over former head coach Clint Conque, 49-39. UCA came back from a 31-21 deficit in the third quarter. Quarterback Taylor Reed out of El Dorado completed 14 of 18 passes for 212 yards and four touchdowns.

Ouachita 47, Northwestern Oklahoma 26 — Ouachita is one of four undefeated college teams in the state (along with Harding, Hendrix and Henderson). The 4-0 Tigers make their longest road trip of the season this week to Alva, Okla. Ouachita has won the past two seasons against the Rangers by scores of 45-21 and 55-3. The defense scored three touchdowns in Ouachita’s 54-21 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma last Saturday at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia. Kyle Lamothe had two fumble returns of 20 yards each for touchdowns and A.J. Burton returned an interception 70 yards for a score. It was 54-7 when Ouachita put in the substitutes.

Henderson 49, Southwestern Oklahoma 27 — The Reddies are 5-0 and ranked No. 7 in NCAA Division II. Last Saturday in Arkadelphia, they won their 28th consecutive regular-season game with a 63-14 thrashing of Northwestern Oklahoma. You’ll remember that Henderson quarterback Kevin Rodgers became the state’s all-time passing leader earlier in the fall. Well, Henderson also now has the state’s all-time receiving leader, senior Darius Davis. He has 2,959 receiving yards, breaking the record of 2,934 yards set by Jarius Wright at Arkansas from 2008-11. Rodgers was 25 of 33 passing last week for 296 yards and four touchdowns. Henderson led 43-0 at halftime, having outgained the Rangers 352 yards to 23 yards. Henderson finished the game with 619 yards of offense. This week’s opponent, Southwestern Oklahoma, is 2-3.

Southern Arkansas 31, Arkansas Tech 25 — This may be the closest game of the weekend in the Great American Conference. We’ll give a slight edge to the Muleriders since they’re playing at home. SAU is 2-3, and Arkansas Tech is 3-2. The Wonder Boys won by a point, 14-13, last year. Tech held on for an 18-13 victory over 1-4 UAM last Saturday in Russellville. Southern Arkansas, meanwhile, was being pounded by Harding, 56-13.

Harding 40, UAM 18 — Let’s again state what we’ve been saying all year: This is a VERY good Harding team. The Bisons lead NCAA Division II in both rushing and rush defense. In last week’s win over SAU, which made the Bisons 4-0, Harding rushed for 500 yards with six backs gaining 45 or more yards. It was Harding’s eighth consecutive victory, tying a school record set in 1972-73. UAM has lost four games by a total of 18 points. Against Arkansas Tech last week, the Boll Weevils had only 27 yards rushing and 169 yards of total offense.

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College football: Week 6

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014

For three consecutive weeks, I’ve gone 8-1 on the picks.

For two consecutive weeks, I’ve been unable to figure out the Boll Weevils of the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

Two weeks ago, I picked UAM to beat the woeful club from Northwestern Oklahoma. The Weevils lost.

Last week, I figured the 0-3 Weevils would lose to a Southwestern Oklahoma team that came to Drew County with a 2-1 record following victories over Arkansas Tech and Southern Arkansas. The Weevils won convincingly, 33-14.

I was on the mark with everything else, including the prediction that Texas A&M would knock off Arkansas in Arlington, Texas. Granted, I would have been glad to have been wrong on that one.

The Razorbacks’ Southeastern Conference losing streak is now 14 games.

This is painful, I know, but here’s a quick recap: Arkansas led 28-14. It was the first play of the fourth quarter. Jonathan Williams ran 55 yards to the Aggie 1. With a 21-point lead, there would have been no way at that point for Arkansas to lose.

But tackle Dan Skipper was called for tripping. The 55-yard run was nullified, and the game changed course. And it changed course drastically.

From that point on, the Aggies outscored Arkansas 21-0 and outgained the Hogs 233 yards to 89 yards.

A&M had just 182 yards passing through three quarters, but the Aggies had 204 yards passing in the fourth quarter and overtime. Arkansas was unsuccessful on six third-down conversion attempts in the fourth quarter and overtime.

So the most recent SEC victory for the Hogs is still almost two years ago — Oct. 13, 2012, against Kentucky.

There’s an open date this week, and then Alabama comes to town.

With the Hogs open, it’s a chance for college football fans across the state to catch a game in Arkadelphia (where there are two contests), Jonesboro, Magnolia or Russellville on Saturday.

With that 8-1 record last week, the record for the season moves to 37-3. I shouldn’t be complaining, I guess. But dang those Weevils. A record of 39-1 would sound even better.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 6:

Arkansas State 29, Louisiana-Monroe 28 — This is a tough game to figure. It’s likely to be close. Louisiana-Monroe opened the season with wins of 17-10 over Wake Forest and 38-31 over Idaho before losing 31-0 to LSU in Baton Rouge. Last week, the Warhawks struggled at home before overcoming the weakest Troy team in years by just two points, 22-20. Arkansas State has had two weeks to prepare for this game following a 21-14 overtime victory over Utah State that evened the Red Wolves’ record at 2-2 heading into Sun Belt Conference play. ASU leads the series with Louisiana-Monroe, 21-14, since the first meeting in 1959. The Red Wolves have a 9-4 series lead since both teams have been in the Sun Belt. ASU has won in each of the past four seasons, including a 42-14 victory last year in Monroe. We’ll give a slight advantage to the home team due to the two weeks of preparation and the fact that it’s homecoming at Jonesboro.

Stephen F. Austin 24, UCA 21 — The Bears face their old coach, Clint Conque, down in the piney woods of east Texas on Saturday night. Conque has Stephen F. Austin off to a good start. After a 55-16 loss at Kansas State to open the season, the Lumberjacks have posted victories of 38-3 over Incarnate Word of Texas, 38-17 over Texas A&M-Commerce and 35-20 over Weber State. The 2-3 Bears have been hard to figure out in their first year under Steve Campbell. They got a break last week in getting to play poor ol’ Nicholls State, which lost to an FBS (Arkansas), a Division II (Henderson) and an FCS (UCA) team from the state of Arkansas all in the month of September. UCA downed the Colonels, 52-18, in a game in which the Bears never punted and even had two touchdown drives led by their third-team quarterback.

Southern University 17, UAPB 10 — The Golden Lions fell to 1-3 with a 33-30 loss to Jackson State in overtime last Saturday in Pine Bluff. UAPB was held to a 21-yard field goal in overtime, and then Jackson State scored on a 15-yard quarterback scramble. Southern is 2-3. The wins have been by scores of 56-14 over Central Methodist and 34-24 over Prairie View A&M. The losses have been by scores of 45-6 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 51-27 to Northwestern State of Louisiana and 56-16 to Alcorn State. SWAC games can be tough to figure. We’ll give Southern the nod since the game is being played at Baton Rouge.

Ouachita 35, Southwestern Oklahoma 27 — Ouachita is 3-0, but the Tigers haven’t always made it look easy. In their first road game of the season last Saturday at Durant, Okla., the Tigers scored with just 11 seconds left to win. Southeastern Oklahoma had gone ahead, 29-28, with 58 seconds remaining, but sophomore Brandon Marks from Prescott scored on the ground from 14 yards out to secure a 35-29 victory. Southwestern was blitzed by Harding in its first game by a score of 42-6 and then came back with two narrow victories — 27-23 over Arkansas Tech and 27-24 over Southern Arkansas. That was followed by the loss to a UAM team that had entered the game with an 0-3 record. It’s homecoming at Ouachita.

Henderson 69, Northwestern Oklahoma 20 — Northwestern is 1-3 after a 62-21 loss last week to Southern Arkansas. Henderson will do just as much, if not more, damage. The Reddies won their 27th consecutive regular-season game last Saturday with a 44-27 victory at East Central Oklahoma. Senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers was 30 of 45 passing for the Reddies for 309 yards and two touchdowns. Henderson, 4-0, finished with 465 yards of offense. Don’t expect Rodgers to play in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon after the first half.

Arkansas Tech 34, UAM 32 — Tech stepped up in classification last week and got thrashed by McNeese State down in Lake Charles, La. The Wonder Boys are 2-2. UAM lost its first three games by a total of 13 points and then looked like a real football team last week against the Southwestern Oklahoma squad that had defeated Tech earlier in the season . You should expect this game to be close with the advantage going to the home team. Among the six Great American Conference teams in Arkansas, it seems to be shaping up this way for 2014: Henderson and Harding in the top tier; Ouachita alone in the middle tier; Southern Arkansas, Arkansas Tech and UAM all in the next tier with little difference among those three teams.

Harding 41, Southern Arkansas 23 — Harding improved its record to 3-0 last week with a 58-0 victory over Southern Nazarene. The Bison defense, which is one of the best in NCAA Division II, held 0-4 Southern Nazarene to four yards rushing, two first downs and 42 yards of offense. Southern Arkansas seems to have found a quarterback. In the win over Northwestern Oklahoma that made the Muleriders 2-2 on the season, Si Blackshire passed for 377 yards and six touchdowns. SAU finished that game with 675 yards of offense.

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College football: Week 5

Friday, September 26th, 2014

Razorback fans are feeling good again.

At least the program matters, something you couldn’t say the past two years.

In fact, it matters enough that the main CBS broadcast — Verne, Gary and the 2:30 p.m. kickoff — is slated for Arkansas vs. Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.

Yes, the Razorbacks have a fighting chance as they show continued improvement in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema era.

Last week in Fayetteville, you could tell that Northern Illinois’ 17-game road winning streak was over just as soon as Korliss Marshall returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Arkansas has now won three games in a row by 21 or more points for the first time since 2010. The Huskies are 1-10 through the years against Southeastern Conference foes, but this was a fairly talented Northern Illinois team that Arkansas dismantled by a final score of 52-14.

Unlike the win over Nicholls State, this was a quality victory.

Arkansas’ offense showed that it could pass the football in addition to running it. Brandon Allen had 199 passing yards. Keon Hatcher, with 107 receiving yards, became the first Razorback receiver this year to top 100 yards in a game. Arkansas actually passed for more yards than it ran for, 215 to 212.

As for the Aggies, they’re 4-0 for the first time since 2006. Texas A&M toyed with 0-3 SMU in Dallas last Saturday, winning by a final score of 58-6. It could have been worse. Quarterback Kenny Hill played for only a half at quarterback but still accounted for 322 yards of offense. He was 16 of 22 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.

I went 8-1 on the picks for a second consecutive week, missing only on UAM’s 34-28 loss at Northwestern Oklahoma. The 0-3 Boll Weevils have now lost three consecutive games in the final minutes.

The season record is 29-2.

On to the picks for Week 5:

Texas A&M 49, Arkansas 36 — The Aggies have been impressive in victories of 52-28 over South Carolina, 73-3 over Lamar, 38-10 over Rice and 58-6 over SMU. This is a far superior Arkansas team to the one that took the field last year, losing nine consecutive games to end the season. Texas Tech did not look as bad as advertised in its 45-35 loss Thursday night to No. 24 Oklahoma State. So the Arkansas wins over Texas Tech and Northern Illinois both could be described as quality wins. Now comes the death march known as the SEC West. Texas A&M should win. Arkansas might.

UCA 50, Nicholls State 22 — Poor ol’ Nicholls. The Colonels have now lost by scores of 44-16 to Air Force, 73-7 to Arkansas, 27-10 to Henderson and 77-3 to North Texas. Nicholls will have the distinction of having lost to an FBS, an FCS and a Division II school from Arkansas, all in the month of September. The Bears are off to a 1-3 start in the first year under head coach Steve Campbell. It was a heartbreaker in Conway last Saturday night as Missouri State hit a 53-yard field goal as time expired to win, 33-31. Willie Matthews scored for UCA with 59 seconds left. The extra point gave the home team a 31-30 lead. That drive included a fourth-and-11 completion by Ryan Howard, but it wasn’t enough. The task will be much easier this Saturday in Conway.

Jackson State 20, UAPB 14 — This doesn’t appear to be a good UAPB football team. In a nationally televised game on Thursday night of last week, UAPB fell to 1-2 with a 42-7 loss at Alabama State. The Golden Lions have now lost eight of their past 10 SWAC games. UAPB is 1-2, having lost its two road games by a combined score of 107-7. The only win was 31-0 at home over Concordia College of Alabama, which has only 565 students and fields the equivalent of an intramural team. Jackson State is 2-2, having started the season with wins of 22-17 over Florida A&M and 59-0 over Virginia University of Lynchburg (which is about like Concordia when it comes to football). That was followed by losses of 35-7 to Tennessee State in the Southern Heritage Classic at Memphis and 40-35 to Grambling State.

McNeese State 47, Arkansas Tech 27 — For a second consecutive year, the Wonder Boys step up in classification to play an FCS opponent. And it’s a traditional FCS power, McNeese State. Tech will take its check in Lake Charles and come home with a loss. The Cowboys are ranked No. 4 nationally in the FCS coaches’ poll. McNeese has played just two games, giving Nebraska all it could handle before losing 31-24 in Lincoln and then defeating Prairie View A&M, 48-16. Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles is never an easy place for an opponent to visit on a Saturday night. Arkansas Tech is 2-1, having posted a 34-14 win over 0-3 Southern Nazarene in Russellville last week. Southern Nazarene earlier had lost 72-7 to Henderson and 28-7 to Ouachita.

Ouachita 31, Southeastern Oklahoma 21 — Ouachita went to 2-0 last Saturday with a 41-20 win at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia over an East Central Oklahoma squad that had rolled in with a 2-0 record. Senior running back Steven Kehner out of Glen Rose gained 160 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns for the Tigers. Senior quarterback Kiehl Frazier out of Shiloh Christian gained another 105 yards on the ground and passed for 165 yards. Meanwhile, the Ouachita defense came up with five interceptions. Southeastern is 1-2 with losses to Southern Arkansas and Henderson sandwiched around a 52-49 victory over UAM.

Henderson 45, East Central Oklahoma 25 — The Reddies were on national television (CBS Sports Network) on Thursday night of last week and rolled past Southeastern Oklahoma, 60-17. Henderson scored 28 points in the final 9:28 of that game to move to 3-0 on the season. Henderson has now won 26 consecutive regular-season games, and that streak shouldn’t come to an end Saturday in Ada against the 2-1 Tigers. Reddie senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers passed for 382 yards last week to become the state’s all-time leading passer with 11,035 yards, breaking Ryan Aplin’s record of 10,758 yards set from 2009-12 at Arkansas State. Look for Rodgers to have another big day tomorrow.

Harding 51, Southern Nazarene 18 — Southern Nazarene is bad. Harding is good. Really good. And the Bisons have had two weeks to prepare for this game due to an open date. Harding boasts one of the top rushing attacks in NCAA Division II. In two prior meetings, Harding has outscored Southern Nazarene, 105-34, and outrushed the Crimson Storm, 946-161. Harding rushed for 505 yards last year against Southern Nazarene, the eighth-highest total in all of Division II in 2013. Harding now ranks No. 8 in Division II with an average of 317.5 rushing yards per game. The Bisons opened the season with wins of 42-6 over Southwestern Oklahoma and 45-7 over Northwestern Oklahoma.

Southwestern Oklahoma 32, UAM 26 — The Boll Weevils have lost three games by a total of 13 points — 38-34 to East Central Oklahoma, 52-49 to Southeastern Oklahoma and 34-28 to Northwestern Oklahoma. Since that season-opening loss to Harding, Southwestern has bounced back with victories of 27-23 over Arkansas Tech and 27-24 over Southern Arkansas. The Bulldogs rallied from double-digit deficits to win those two games. Expect this one to be decided in the fourth quarter. The Bolls Weevils went ahead of Northwestern last week, 28-27, following a touchdown with 1:56 left. But Northwestern came back to score with only 32 seconds on the clock.

Southern Arkansas 37, Northwestern Oklahoma 28 — The Muleriders, who won their season opener with a touchdown on the final play of the game, have since dropped two consecutive games. SAU fell to 1-2 with a 27-24 loss at Southwestern Oklahoma. The Muleriders led 24-13 early in the fourth quarter. They lost despite having a 392-252 advantage in total offense. Playing back home in Magnolia, SAU should have the upper hand in this one.

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College football: Week 4

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

We were almost there.

Having gone 13-0 during the first two weeks of the college football season, we were on the verge of keeping a perfect record intact after three weeks of predictions.

Arkansas Tech held a 23-7 lead at Southwestern Oklahoma in the fourth quarter, and we appeared on our way to being 9-0 for the week. Then, the Wonder Boys melted down. The winning points for Southwestern came on a 63-yard interception return.

So it goes.

Meanwhile, Arkansas was the most pleasant surprise of the week. We had picked the Hogs to win but certainly not by a margin of 21 points.

It was just like the old Southwest Conference days when Arkansas would dominate the Red Raiders. Arkansas is now 16-2 in games played at Lubbock, losing only in 1966 and 1991. The Razorbacks are 29-7 overall against Tech.

The highlights of Arkansas 49, Texas Tech 28 were many. Some of those highlights were:

– Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins combining for 357 yards and six touchdowns rushing. Collins had 212 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries. Williams had 145 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries.

– Bret Bielema getting his first road victory as the head coach at Arkansas.

– Arkansas getting its first nonconference road victory since the 38-28 win at Texas in 2003.

– Arkansas dominating in time of possession, 40:39 to 19:21. That’s amazing.

– Williams becoming the first Hog to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Darren McFadden in 2007.

– Collins becoming the first Razorback to rush for more than 200 yards in a game since McFadden in 2007.

– The most rushing first downs (24) in a game for an Arkansas team since 1969.

Texas Tech had come into the contest with a 26-game home winning streak against nonconference foes, dating back to September 2002 when current head coach Kliff Kingsbury was the Red Raider quarterback.

Next up for the Hogs is Northern Illinois in Fayetteville on Saturday night.

So we were 8-1 on the week, making the record 21-1 for the season.

On to the picks for Week 4:

Arkansas 45, Northern Illinois 30 — This is a good Northern Illinois team. It will force the Razorbacks to work hard for a home victory. Northern Illinois has the winningest program in Illinois and in the Mid-American Conference during the past decade. The Huskies have won four consecutive MAC West titles and in 2013 made a sixth consecutive bowl appearance, which is a MAC record. NIU leads the country with 17 consecutive road victories in games played at an opponent’s home stadium. That includes wins at Northwestern, Iowa and Purdue. The Huskies’ 49 wins during the past four years ranks second among FBS teams, trailing only Oregon and leading Boise State and LSU (47 each). Northern Illinois is 3-0 with wins of 55-3 over Presbyterian, 23-15 over Northwestern and 48-34 over UNLV. All of that said, no SEC team should lose at home to a MAC team. The Huskies are 1-9 against SEC foes. Still, let’s not forget that Saturday will mark the 11th anniversary of the day Northern Illinois went to Tuscaloosa and defeated Alabama, 19-16.

Arkansas State 35, Utah State 33 — The Red Wolves fell 41-20 at Miami last Saturday and are 1-2 under new head coach Blake Anderson. Fredi Knighten was 22 of 40 passing for ASU for 217 yards. He ran for one touchdown and caught a 19-yard pass off a double reverse for a second touchdown. Utah State rolls into Jonesboro on Saturday with a 2-1 record. The Aggies lost to Tennessee in Knoxville by a score of 38-7 to open the season (Arkansas State fell 34-19 in Knoxville a week later) and have since posted victories of 40-20 over Idaho State and 36-24 over Wake Forest. These two teams appear evenly matched. It should be a close game. We’ll give the slight advantage to the Red Wolves since the game is in Jonesboro.

Missouri State 29, UCA 24 — The Bears fell to 1-2 with a 43-33 loss at Montana State, the team Arkansas State had defeated in its season opener. Bear quarterback Taylor Reed out of El Dorado started the game for UCA but left in the second quarter with a concussion. Ryan Howard finished the contest at quarterback. He was 39 of 48 passing for 333 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions. Missouri State opened the season with a 34-27 victory over Northwestern State of Louisiana, lost 40-23 at Oklahoma State and them blitzed North Dakota by a score of 38-0. Missouri State is making its first trip to Conway since 2006. The Bears from Missouri are ranked 26th in this week’s FCS coaches’ poll.

Alabama State 23, UAPB 17 — The Golden Lions will receive national television exposure tonight (Thursday) on ESPU as they travel to Alabama State, which comes into the contest with a 2-1 record. Alabama State opened the season with a 51-20 loss to Sam Houston State in Huntsville, Texas, on the same day UAPB was in San Marcos losing by a score of 65-0 to Texas State. The quality of football in the SWAC seems to decline with each passing year. The Golden Lions returned home a week later to defeat tiny Concordia College of Selma, Ala., and have had two weeks to prepare for this game. Alabama State has come back with victories of 27-21 over Tennessee State and 47-22 over Mississippi Valley State. This will mark the third consecutive home game for Alabama State at its new stadium in Montgomery.

Henderson 50, Southeastern Oklahoma 22 — Like UAPB, Henderson will receive national television exposure tonight. The Reddies are on the CBS Sports Network for a Great American Conference game against Southeastern Oklahoma at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia. Last Saturday, Henderson won its 25th consecutive regular-season game by going to south Louisiana and defeating the Nicholls State team that the Razorbacks had played a week earlier in Fayetteville. The Reddies’ 27-10 victory was the third time in school history that Henderson has beaten an FCS foe. The Reddies are still No. 7 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association NCAA Division II poll. Senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers was 23 of 35 passing for 169 yards against Nicholls. He needs just 106 yards passing tonight to break the state’s career passing yardage mark of 10,758 yards set by Arkansas State’s Ryan Aplin from 2009-12.

Ouachita 32, East Central Oklahoma 21 — Ouachita plays for a second consecutive Saturday in its sleek new Cliff Harris Stadium in what looks to be the best GAC game of the week. The Tigers opened the stadium and their season with a 28-7 win over Southern Nazarene. Auburn transfer Kiehl Frazier was 19 of 30 passing for 209 yards and two touchdowns as Ouachita won its season opener for an eighth consecutive season. East Central is 2-0 with wins of 38-34 over UAM and 47-40 over Southern Arkansas. East Central’s Will Bond is a talented quarterback. Ouachita won by seven points last year at Ada.

UAM 40, Northwestern Oklahoma 38 — Two 0-2 teams face off Saturday night in Alva, Okla. The Boll Weevils had a 12-point lead against East Central in the opener before falling apart in the fourth quarter. Last Saturday, Southeastern Oklahoma got a field goal as time expired to beat UAM, 52-49. The two Northwestern losses have come by scores of 33-14 to Arkansas Tech and 47-7 to Harding.

Arkansas Tech 27, Southern Nazarene 10 — Tech opened the season with that win over Northwestern Oklahoma and appeared to be on the way to 2-0 last Saturday with a 23-7 lead in the fourth quarter at Southwestern Oklahoma. Southwestern came back to win, 27-23. Southern Nazarene has been outscored 100-14 by the Arkadelphia schools to open the season, losing 72-7 to Henderson and 28-7 to Ouachita.

Southwestern Oklahoma 31, Southern Arkansas 25 — The Muleriders’ first two games came down to the final minute of play. Southern Arkansas scored a touchdown on the final play of the game to beat Southeastern in the opener. Last week, East Central got a touchdown with 47 seconds left to beat the Muleriders, 47-40. Give Southwestern a slight advantage since it’s playing at home in Weatherford.

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College football: Week 3

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

Way to go, Muleriders.

I had returned to my home in Little Rock late Saturday night after having watched the University of Central Arkansas’ come-from-behind victory over Tennessee-Martin.

I had just checked the college football scores and knew that I was 8-0 on my picks for the week for games already completed.

One game had yet to conclude.

Southern Arkansas University was hosting Southeastern Oklahoma in Magnolia in a game that had been delayed two hours at the start due to lightning. I went to the website www.d2football.com (an excellent source for NCAA Division II scores) and clicked on the radio link for the Southern Arkansas broadcast.

I tuned in just in time to hear longtime Mulerider play-by-play man Dan Gregory describe the last play.

Trailing 29-23, the Muleriders had one chance. And guess what? Si Blackshire found Aaron Johnson in the end zone for a touchdown to tie the game as time expired. Dylan Nowak then kicked the winning extra point. SAU had put together a 10-play, 61-yard drive in the final 1:31 to make me 9-0 for the week.

So thank you.

At the FBS level, the day’s big story was Black Saturday for the Big Ten.

Ohio State lost to Virginia Tech.

Michigan lost to Notre Dame, getting shut out for the first time since 1984. That shutout ended an NCAA record string of 376 games in which the Wolverines had scored.

Michigan State lost to Oregon.

Purdue even lost to Central Michigan.

In the Southeastern Conference, it was a day of really bad football games. The only conference game was a rout as Ole Miss downed Vanderbilt, 41-3, in Nashville. It was the largest margin of victory for Ole Miss against a conference team in six years. Bo Wallace threw for 320 yards and a touchdown. The Rebels scored on seven of their first eight possessions. Vanderbilt has now been outscored 78-10 since James Franklin left for Penn State.

At the start of the weekend, Arkansas and Virginia were tied for the second-longest FBS losing streaks at 10 games each.

Miami of Ohio was first, and its losing streak grew to 18 games with a 17-10 loss to Eastern Kentucky.

Virginia and Arkansas both won.

UVA downed the Richmond Spiders.

Arkansas won a glorified scrimmage against Nicholls State. That Nicholls team hosts Henderson this week. How many of you are picking the Reddies after what you saw in Fayetteville on Saturday?

What can you say about Arkansas 73, Nicholls State 7? How about these highlights:

– It was the most points scored by a Razorback team since 1928.

- It was the fifth-largest margin of victory in school history.

– Arkansas set a single-game school record for yards per play with a 12.7 average.

– The Razorbacks’ 684 yards of offense were the third most in school history. The record was set when the Hogs gained 859 yards in a 53-0 win over the Pittsburg State Gorillas in 1936.

– Arkansas scored eight touchdowns in its first 20 plays from scrimmage.

– In the event you were counting, it was 356 days between Razorback victories.

Last week’s 9-0 record makes us 13-0 for the season. That perfect record is going to be hard to keep intact this weekend with some interesting matchups.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 3:

Arkansas 28, Texas Tech 27 — This is a game Arkansas can win. At this point in the program’s evolution, any win over a Big 12 team would have to be considered a quality win. Tech has been less than impressive in its first two games. In the season opener, UCA took a 16-7 lead at Lubbock in the first half. After trailing by two scores in the second half, the Bears cut the Red Raider lead to seven points with 2:57 left and attempted an onside kick. Tech recovered the kick and ran out the clock, but the Red Raiders certainly had been tested by an FCS team. On the second Saturday of the season, Tech went to El Paso and hung on for a 30-26 victory over UTEP. The Red Raiders just aren’t getting it done for second-year head coach Kliff Kingsbury. This is a golden opportunity for Arkansas to show the ABC audience that there is indeed improvement in the second year of the Bielema era.

Miami 34, Arkansas State 24 — Too bad this is not Miami of Ohio, which has that 18-game losing streak dating back to October 2012. Instead, it’s the U down in south Florida, though this is not to be confused with the U of old. Bobby Petrino got his return to Louisville off to a rousing start on Labor Day with a 31-13 win over Miami. The Hurricanes rebounded for a 41-7 victory over outmanned Florida A&M, which is better known for band scandals that football. To give you an idea of where the Miami program stands, the Hurricanes went 9-4 in 2013, 7-5 in 2012, 6-6 in 2011, 7-7 in 2010 and 9-4 in 2009. Decent but not dominant. Tennessee had to work hard for its 34-19 win over Arkansas State in Knoxville on Saturday. The Red Wolves had come into that game as a 17-point underdog. ASU quarterback Fredi Knighten out of Pulaski Academy passed for 166 yards and ran for 65 yards. ASU is bothered by injuries right now, but look for the Red Wolves to put up another fight. I like what I’ve seen of the new coaching staff in Jonesboro.

Montana State 30, UCA 29 — The Bears evened their record at 1-1 with that exciting win over Tennessee-Martin in Conway last Saturday night. UCA drove 80 yards in 13 plays at the end of the game for the 26-24 victory. Senior quarterback Ryan Howard replaced Taylor Reed out of El Dorado as the Bears’ quarterback on the final drive. UCA had no timeouts and had to convert a fourth-and-15 play. I saw the Montana State opener as the Bobcats gave ASU all it could handle for a half in Jonesboro before falling 37-10. In the second game, Montana State posted a 57-10 victory over tiny Black Hills State. Sophomore quarterback Dakota Prukop is the real deal. His 176 yards rushing against Black Hills State were the most ever for a Bobcat quarterback. Montana State is a traditional FCS power and is ranked 18th in the current FCS coaches’ poll. UCA would be No. 28 if the poll extended out that far. Expect this to be a good game between two talented FCS teams.

Henderson 42, Nicholls State 33 — There. I did it. I picked Division II Henderson to beat an FCS team on the road. After all, the Reddies have won 24 consecutive regular-season games. I can guarantee you that they won’t be intimidated by anything they find in the swamps of south Louisiana. Reddie senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers could start for a lot of FBS schools. Henderson beat Southern Nazarene by a score of 72-7 in its season opener. It could have been a lot worse since the Reddies led 59-0 at the half. Playing only the first half, Rodgers was 27 for 36 passing for 408 yards and seven touchdowns. Darius Davis set a Great American Conference record with five touchdown receptions. Nicholls could well lose this game and then lose again when the Colonels travel to Conway to play UCA later this month. Nicholls will then have the distinction of having lost to an FBS, FCS and Division II school from Arkansas all in the same season.

Ouachita 49, Southern Nazarene 21 — Ouachita has the only college football program in the state with six consecutive winning seasons and opens its new Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia on Saturday night. The Tigers won’t score as many points as Henderson did against Southern Nazarene, but the home team should do just fine in its season opener with Auburn transfer Kiehl Frazier at quarterback. You’ll remember that Frazier was the USA Today Offensive Player of the Year nationally following his senior season in 2010 at Shiloh Christian. He joins a senior-laden Ouachita team that took Henderson to three overtimes in last year’s Battle of the Ravine and hopes to fight it out this season with Henderson and Harding for the GAC title.

Harding 48, Northwestern Oklahoma 20 — Harding opened the season in Searcy with a 42-6 win over Southwestern Oklahoma, outgaining the Bulldogs 485 to 196. The Bisons have one of the top rushing attacks in the country. They had no turnovers against Southwestern as Romo Westbrook became the fifth player in school history to top 2,000 yards rushing. A Northwestern Oklahoma team that won only two games last year and fell by a score of 33-14 to Arkansas Tech in the 2014 season opener won’t come close to slowing down the Bisons this week.

Arkansas Tech 32, Southwestern Oklahoma 31 — The Wonder Boys began their season on a Thursday night with a school-record 98-yard touchdown pass and a 33-14 victory over Northwestern Oklahoma. Tech scored 24 consecutive points in the first half of that game after the Rangers had taken a 7-0 lead. Wonder Boy quarterback Dennis Robertson was 12 of 29 passing for 226 yards. Tech makes the long trip to Weatherford, Okla., this week to take on a Southwestern Oklahoma team that’s a bit better than it looked against Harding.

East Central Oklahoma 19, Southern Arkansas 16 — The Arkansas schools in the GAC went 4-1 against the Oklahoma schools during the first week of play. The only winner from Oklahoma was East Central with its win over UAM by a final score of 38-34. Southern Arkansas, which lost its quarterback and leading rusher from a year ago, will come in on a high after the last-second victory in Magnolia. But East Central always plays tough in Ada. Look for the Tigers to move to 2-0 against Arkansas competition.

Southeastern Oklahoma 38, UAM 36 — Both teams are coming off disappointing losses in their openers. UAM fell to East Central despite two kickoff returns for touchdowns. East Central had trailed by 12 points heading into the fourth quarter of that game. And, of course, Southeastern lost on the final play in Magnolia. This appears to be an evenly matched contest. The game is in Durant, and we’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

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College football: Week 2

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Well, we started 2014 just where we left off in 2013. Another Razorback loss.

Arkansas’ losing streak is now 10 games, the longest in school history. Prior to this streak, the longest losing streak was seven games in 1990 (the Jack Crowe era) and seven games in 1952-53 (the end of the Otis Douglas era and the start of the Bowden Wyatt era). The 45-21 loss to Auburn marked the 13th consecutive conference loss, that obviously another school record.

Arkansas is 0-9 against ranked teams since the start of the 2012 season (curses, Bobby Petrino; you almost killed a program with your affair). For the first time in nine seasons as a head coach, Bret Bielema lost an opener.

Native Arkansan Gus Malzahn, by the way, is 30-3 at Jordan-Hare Stadium as either the offensive coordinator or head coach at Auburn. And to think that they called him “high school” during his one season at Arkansas.

At least there will finally be a victory this Saturday afternoon in front of a lot of hot fans and quite a few empty seats at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Arkansas State, which looked solid in the second half of its season-opening victory over Montana State, travels to Tennessee this week.

All in all, though, it’s a sorry week for SEC football.

The only conference game is Ole Miss at Vanderbilt, not exactly must-see TV. There will, however, be a lot of starched pink shirts and BMWs in the parking lot as the frat boys turn out from both schools.

The rest of the schedule consists of:

Florida Atlantic at Alabama

San Jose State at Auburn

Ohio at Kentucky

Sam Houston State at LSU

UAB at Mississippi State

Missouri at Toledo

East Carolina at South Carolina

Lamar at Texas A&M

Are you kidding?

I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to go to Conway and watch the UCA Bears, who played well in a 42-35 loss at Texas Tech last Saturday.

Last week’s record was 4-0.

On to the picks for Week 2:

Arkansas 49, Nicholls State 15 — Yes, this is an improved Arkansas team. But you could be improved and still go 4-8. Auburn outgained an Arkansas squad that still can’t tackle 267-61 in the second half last Saturday. The Hogs had just two rushing yards in that second half. Auburn had both a 150-yard rusher and a 150-yard receiver for the first time in 13 years. This Razorback defense helps other schools set offensive records. It was the 11th consecutive game in which Auburn scored 30 or more points. Meanwhile, Nicholls State lost last week to Air Force, 44-16. I’ll likely pick the Henderson Reddies against Nicholls State next week. I wonder when was the last time Arkansas and Henderson played the same opponent on consecutive weekends.

Tennessee 37, Arkansas State 24 — The Red Wolves struggled for a half to start the Blake Anderson era in front of 26,143 spectators in Jonesboro before rolling to a 37-10 victory. It was the eighth consecutive ASU win over an FCS opponent. In his first career start at quarterback, Fredi Knighten out of Pulaski Academy had 368 total yards — 219 passing, 104 rushing and 45 receiving. Montana State, which trailed only 13-10 in the third quarter, came in ranked No. 18 in the FCS and has been ranked for more than 60 consecutive weeks. After cutting the Red Wolf lead to three points, the Bobcats punted five times and turned it over twice as the ASU defense took charge. Tennessee, coming off four consecutive losing seasons, had its first sellout in seven years and beat Utah State, 38-7, in a rare Sunday night came. Expect ASU to make it competitive for three quarters or so in Knoxville on Saturday.

UCA 29, Tennessee-Martin 20 — The Bears played well in Steve Campbell’s first game as the UCA head coach. In fact, the Bears had a 16-7 lead at one point and trailed just 21-16 at the half. UCA cut the Red Raider lead to seven points with 2:57 left in the game and tried an onside kick, but Tech recovered the kick and ran out the clock. Tennessee-Martin did not play quite as well against its FBS opponent. Kentucky scored on almost every possession in a 59-14 rout and outgained Tennessee-Martin, 656-398.

UAPB 38, Concordia College 27 — Poor ol’ UAPB. Last year, the Golden Lions started the season with a 62-11 drubbing at Arkansas State. This year’s opener was even worse. UAPB opened the season with a 65-0 loss to Dennis Franchione’s Texas State Bobcats down in San Marcos. UAPB is 1-6 in season openers under head coach Monte Coleman. Texas State (FYI, former Arkansas State defensive coordinator John Thompson is now on Franchione’s staff) had a school record 697 yards of offense. UAPB had just 215 yards. The good news is that tiny Concordia College out of Selma, Ala., comes to Pine Bluff on Saturday if the bus doesn’t burn up. Concordia is little more than a club program. Its only victory during a 1-9 campaign in 2013 was a one-point win over Little Rock’s Arkansas Baptist College, which plays at the junior college level. Corcordia did receive national attention last year when all of its equipment was destroyed in a bus fire as the Hornets were traveling to a game. Assistance streamed in from across the country, including the Green Bay Packers. Put this down as a Golden Lion victory. There may not be many more of them in 2014.

Arkansas Tech 35, Northwestern Oklahoma 21 — The Great American Conference season begins tonight (Thursday) in Russellville. Last season, Tech had 445 yards of offense in a 38-10 victory over Northwestern. The Wonder Boy defense gave up just 214 yards, its best outing of the season. The Wonder Boys have won nine of their past 10 season openers and will win again tonight. Tech was 5-6 last season. Northwestern was 2-9.

Harding 40, Southwestern Oklahoma 28 — This Harding program is the real deal. The Bisons went 9-2 a year ago (including a bowl game victory) with one of the top rushing attacks in NCAA Division II. Southwestern Oklahoma was 6-5. A Bison offense that averaged 359.7 yards per game on the ground in 2013 has four of the top five running backs from 2013 returning. That group of returners includes All-American fullback Romo Westbrook, who gained 1,123 yards. A key will be the play of Harding’s new starting quarterback, Ryley Claborn.

Henderson 57, Southern Nazarene 17 — The Reddies went undefeated in the regular season in 2012 and 2013, losing in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs each time. Henderson beat Southern Nazarene by scores of 63-21 in 2012 and 82-10 in 2013. Saturday’s game should be similar. Senior Reddie quarterback Kevin Rodgers could start for a number of FCS schools. In his previous two games against Southern Nazarene, he was 39 of 55 passing for 928 yards and 10 touchdowns. Southern Nazarene was 0-11 in 2013. Blowout alert.

East Central Oklahoma 39, UAM 36 — An East Central team that was 5-5 a year ago and a UAM team that was 5-6 square off in one of the most evenly matched games of the weekend. East Central took a 33-8 lead over the Boll Weevils in the first half last year and ended up winning by a score of 46-22. UAM had just 23 yards rushing in that game. East Central returns quarterback Spencer Bond, who threw for 2,811 yards and 23 touchdowns in 2013.

Southern Arkansas 26, Southeastern Oklahoma 25 — The Muleriders were 6-4 in 2013, while Southeastern finished with a 2-9 record. The Muleriders have put together back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2002-03, but Southern Arkansas looks to be a bit down this year after losing quarterback Tyler Sykora and leading rusher Mark Johnson.

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College football: Week 1

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Here we go.

Labor Day weekend approaches, and that always meant three things when I was growing up in southwest Arkansas: My birthday was coming up (it falls on the day after Labor Day this year), dove season was about to start (Saturday, Sept. 6, this year) and college football season was beginning.

I love this time of year.

Once more I’ll make predictions for all of the NCAA Division I and Division II schools in the state.

The Division II schools don’t get started until next week, but the four Division I programs kick off their seasons Saturday.

Arkansas travels to Auburn to play an afternoon game on the plains of Alabama. After launching the new SEC Network’s extensive schedule of games on Thursday night with Texas A&M at South Carolina, the No. 1 crew of Brent Musburger and Jesse Palmer will be in Jordan-Hare Stadium for Saturday’s game.

Meanwhile, Arkansas State unveils its new video board in Jonesboro with a game against traditional FCS power Montana State.

UCA begins the Steve Campbell era with a trip to west Texas to take on Texas Tech.

And UAPB travels to the hills of central Texas to take on Texas State, coached by Dennis Franchione.

I’ll try to attend all or parts of 17 to 18 college football games this year. I say “parts of” since there are several Saturdays when I’ll broadcast a Ouachita game in Arkadelphia and then rush across the street to catch the second half of a Henderson game. Those are golden Saturdays: Tigers, Reddies and steak night at Fat Boys in Caddo Valley all on the same day. I make it a point each season of seeing as many of the Arkansas schools as possible. This Saturday will take me to Jonesboro, where excitement is high following the announcement this week of Johnny Allison’s $5 million gift. The money will go toward a new press box and private suites. Even with the fifth head coach in as many years, the perception still is that this is a program on the way up.

For the first time since 1980, Arkansas opens a season with a conference game. That brings back a lot of memories.

ABC moved up the Arkansas-Texas game in Austin to the evening of Labor Day that year. Wally Hall and I decided to make a Texas road trip in my Olds Cutlass. Wally was not yet the sports editor of the Arkansas Democrat, but he was the lead sports columnist. I was the sports editor of the Daily Siftings Herald in Arkadelphia. We covered a Dallas Cowboys preseason game in Irving on Saturday night. We headed to Austin on Sunday, in plenty of time for Mexican food at Matt’s El Rancho. We covered the Arkansas-Texas game on Monday.

I was even cursed by Jones Ramsey, the legendary Texas sports information director. Ramsey was the man who once uttered the famous quote: “The only thing worse than track is field.” And this one: “There are only two sports in Texas. Football and spring football.”

Long after the game had concluded, I noticed a typed sheet of seating assignments taped to the wall of the press box. I wanted to write a column about how writers had come from across the country to cover the game. I figured no one would have use for that sheet. I could take it back home to Arkansas for reference. Ramsey saw me and let me know — in no uncertain terms — that he saved the seating charts from past games.

Lesson learned.

It’s hard to believe it has been 34 years. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Enough ancient history. On to the picks for Week 1 of the 2014 season:

Auburn 29, Arkansas 17 — Thank goodness they’re actually playing a game. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love college football, but my interests are just too broad to listen to radio talk shows in April, May, June and July with people calling up day after day to ask: “How do you think the Hogs are going to do?” I don’t know how the hosts do it. Now we have an actual game to play, a conference game at that. Will the Gus Malzahn magic continue in 2014? It’s hard to believe that anyone could repeat that kind of season. Once August hit and I decided it was time to get fired up for football, I went to the computer and listened to Auburn play-by-play man Rod Bramblett’s call of the late scoring play against Georgia and the final play of the Iron Bowl. If those calls don’t excite you, you just don’t love college football (or you’re a Georgia or Alabama fan). Yes, I think Arkansas will be better. It’s hard to be worse than 0-8 in the SEC, isn’t it? And, yes, I think Brandon Allen will be improved at quarterback. Let’s rally ’round the old burning truck and say that Arkansas hangs around for at least three quarters Saturday afternoon before being worn down by a team with superior talent and depth.

Arkansas State 39, Montana State 24 — ASU opened the season last year with a 62-11 victory over UAPB in Jonesboro. This won’t be the same type of game. At No. 19 nationally, Montana State is one of four Big Sky Conference schools in the preseason FCS coaches’ poll. Montana State has been nationally ranked for 61 consecutive weeks. Coach Rob Ash is a legend in Montana. He is 233-126-5 in 34 seasons overall as a head coach and 57-27 at Montana State. Due to a massive buyout provision in his contract, it certainly seems as if Blake Anderson will be the head coach at ASU for more than one season. The school is making all the right moves to keep him around. The 39,000-square-foot addition to the stadium will cost more than $15 million and include not only a new press box but also 18 private suites and 300 club seats. As noted, a new video board debuts Saturday. An indoor practice facility is being built. And ASU officials still say that a $28 million football operations center is in the works. ASU fans also were excited when athletic director Terry Mohajir announced this week that Missouri will be coming to Jonesboro next year rather than playing the game at a neutral side — Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Texas Tech 42, UCA 21 — The Bears’ new coach has won national titles at the junior college and the NCAA Division II levels. Now we’ll see what he can do at the FCS level. Clint Conque has moved on to the Piney Woods of east Texas as the head coach at conference foe Stephen F. Austin, and Steve Campbell has moved north from south Mississippi to Conway. The Bears were picked fourth in the preseason Southland Conference polls. The Red Raiders enter their second season under head coach Kliff Kingsbury. Texas Tech jumped out to a 7-0 start in 2013 and moved to No. 9 in the USA Today coaches’ poll on Oct. 27. They faded down the stretch, though, and finished with an 8-5 record. They were 4-5 in Big 12 play but ended the season on a high note with a 37-23 win over No. 16 Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl. The Red Raiders enter the 2014 season unranked for a sixth consecutive year.

Texas State 40, UAPB 19 — The Golden Lions won’t take the beating they suffered in the opener at Jonesboro last year, but it probably won’t be pretty. Texas State begins its second season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference and is playing an FBS schedule for a third year. Texas State beat Houston in the season opener in 2012 and defeated Southern Mississippi in the season opener last year. Franchione is in the fourth season of his second term as the Bobcats’ head coach. He’s 29-29 at Texas State and 203-121-2 as a head coach, a career that has included stops at Alabama and Texas A&M. His new defensive coordinator is Forrest City native John Thompson, who was not retained by Anderson at Arkansas State despite the fact that Thompson is 2-0 in bowl games as the Red Wolves’ interim head coach.

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All aboard the Gus Bus

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Do you want to understand what makes Gus Malzahn tick?

Well, don’t spend the weekend in Pasadena (though the warmer weather would be nice).

Don’t head to east Alabama to visit Auburn, either.

Drive instead through the rice, soybean and cotton fields of the Arkansas Delta and visit the poor farming community of Hughes.

Hughes’ population in the 2010 census was 1,441. That was down from a high of 1,919 in the 1980 census.

The Hughes entry in the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture notes that the second largest town in St. Francis County is “typical of the towns in this part of the state, although it is not known for any major historical events or as the home of any significantly famous people.”

Translation: Not much happens here.

But if you really want to understand why the head football coach at Auburn University is so driven, go to Hughes.

It was at Hughes, far from the limelight of American sports, that Malzahn’s coaching career began.

It was at Hughes that Malzahn learned to love the challenges of being a football coach.

It was at Hughes that Malzahn began to refine his coaching philosophies.

Remember the Hail Mary pass that Auburn used back in November to beat Georgia?

In the Auburn playbook, the play is called Little Rock, as in the city that hosts the high school state championships in Arkansas each year. Malzahn thought back then that such a play might be necessary to get his team to War Memorial Stadium.

George Schroeder, the former Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sportswriter who’s now the lead college football writer for USA Today, was in Arizona three years ago this week as Auburn prepared to play the University of Oregon for the national championship (a game Auburn would win). Schroeder was writing for the Sports Illustrated website at the time and remembered the weekend in 1994 when Malzahn brought his Hughes squad to War Memorial Stadium for the Class 4A title game.

“They’d arrived a few minutes late, and as they were about to take their seats in the stands, the coach turned around, pointed to the state championship game unfolding below and addressed the stunning reality,” Schroeder wrote. ”The next day, his bunch would play for a title, too. ‘This,’ Gus Malzahn told the Hughes Blue Devils, ‘is the big time, guys.’ For those wide-eyed kids from a tiny farming community in the Mississippi River Delta, there was nothing bigger. For their 29-year-old, third-year head coach, too.”

Hughes lost to Lonoke the next day, 17-13.

“I thought I’d never be back,” Malzahn told Schroeder. “I thought I’d never get a chance again.”

This is the man who will try to lead Auburn to a national championship on Monday night in just his second year as a college head coach.

He’s a man who often describes himself as a “high school coach who just happens to be coaching college.”

Two years ago, soon after he had taken the head coaching job at Arkansas State University, I sat down with Malzahn at his office in Jonesboro. I asked him about the coaches he had looked up to when he was just getting started in the business.

He didn’t list college head coaches.

He listed Don Campbell of Wynne, now retired and soon to be inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

He listed Frank McClellan of Barton, also retired and already in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.

He listed Barry Lunney Sr., formerly of Fort Smith Southside and now at Bentonville.

And he said his football bible in those days was a book titled “The Delaware Wing-T: An Order of Football.”

Schroeder described that 1994 state championship loss to Lonoke: “In the final moments, the Blue Devils drove inside the 10. But a halfback pass misfired. A sure touchdown pass was dropped. Their last chance was intercepted. And the head coach still second-guesses himself. He knows he should have run the ball because there was still time and that was the Blue Devils’ strength. He remembers the awful empty feeling, that this was his one shot at the big time.”

Malzahn coached one more season at Hughes and then moved across the state to Shiloh Christian, a private school at Springdale that had started in 1976 as an outgrowth of the First Baptist Church.

In 1986, a Texas native named Ronnie Floyd came to First Baptist as the senior pastor. In addition to the growth at the church, the dynamic minister oversaw growth at the school.

We all know how important high school football is to Texans. Having a winning football program at Shiloh Christian was important to Ronnie Floyd, especially since his son Josh was the quarterback.

The Shiloh Christian athletic director was Jimmy Dykes, now an ESPN commentator. When Malzahn saw a note on his desk at Hughes High School asking him to call Dykes, he knew what it was about. He knew he would be heading from the Delta to the Ozarks.

At Hughes, his offense had depended primarily on the running game. At Shiloh, Malzahn moved from a run-oriented offense to the hurry-up passing attack for which he’s known. He coached the Saints from 1996-2000. The 1998 team set what at the time was a national record with 66 passing touchdowns, and Josh Floyd almost set a national record with 5,878 yards of offense (5,221 passing yards and 657 rushing yards).

Malzahn, who had feared he would never get back to War Memorial Stadium for a state championship game, led the Saints to four consecutive title game appearances. His teams lost 54-30 to Frank McClellan’s Barton Bears in 1997, defeated Hector 49-14 in 1998, defeated Carlisle 47-35 in 1999 and lost 30-29 in overtime to Rison in 2000.

Following the 2000 season, Malzahn was the choice of the Springdale School Board to replace highly respected Springdale High School head coach Jarrell Williams.

“What people don’t remember is that there were still a lot of questions about whether I could coach in the state’s largest classification,” Malzahn told me that day two years ago. “I guess I was the only one crazy enough to try to fill Coach Williams’ shoes. He was Springdale football.”

The memory of the Williams years cast a long shadow over Springdale High School football during the 2001 season.

“The job I did wasn’t good enough for the people of Springdale, and I knew it,” Malzahn said.

Across town, Shiloh was winning another state championship, defeating Augusta 34-20 in the 2001 title game. Malzahn questioned whether he had made the right career move. By 2002, though, Malzahn had the Bulldogs in the state championship game, where they lost to Barry Lunney Sr.’s Fort Smith Southside Rebels, 17-10.

Gus Malzahn was well on his way to becoming an Arkansas high school coaching legend at age 37.

Malzahn’s legend grew at Springdale when his 2005 squad went 14-0, outscored its opponents 664-118 and routed West Memphis, 54-20, in the state championship game at War Memorial Stadium in front of the largest crowd to ever watch a high school event in the state.

Sportswriter Kurt Voight even wrote a book about that 2005 Springdale team.

All Arkansans who follow sports are familiar with what happened next.

Malzahn joined Houston Nutt’s staff at the University of Arkansas in December 2005. There are those who believe that Frank Broyles, the school’s athletic director at the time, forced Nutt’s hand. Nutt mispronounced Malzahn’s name at the news conference that was held to introduce the coach, and Malzahn was never fully accepted by members of the coaching staff (some of whom derisively referred to him as “high school”) even though Arkansas won the Southeastern Conference Western Division championship in 2006.

With the tension between Malzahn and the rest of the staff evident, few were surprised when Malzahn accepted an offer from the new head coach at the University of Tulsa, Todd Graham. The two men had become friends when Graham, now the head coach at Arizona State University, was coaching the high school powerhouse at Allen, Texas. Graham purchased a video that Malzahn had hosted. It concerned the hurry-up, no-huddle offense. Graham discovered that they had the same ideas.

With Malzahn as the offensive coordinator, Tulsa ranked first nationally in total yards per game and third in passing in 2007. The Golden Hurricane became the first college team to have a 5,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard rusher and three 1,000-yard receivers in the same season. In 2008, Tulsa led the nation again in total yards, averaging 570 yards per game while ranking second in scoring.

It didn’t take Auburn’s new head coach, a defensive specialist named Gene Chizik, long to lure Malzahn back to the SEC in December 2008. The Tigers finished the 2009 season ranked 16th in total offense and 17th in scoring after having been tied for 100th in the country in scoring the previous season.

Auburn won the 2010 national championship, quarterback Cam Newton won the Heisman Trophy and Malzahn won the Broyles Award as the top assistant football coach in the country.

No assistant coach in America had a higher profile at the time. Some reports had Vanderbilt University offering Malzahn as much as $3 million a year to be its next head coach. Malzahn feared that accepting the Vanderbilt job in December 2010 would take the focus off preparations for Auburn’s appearance in the national championship game. Auburn increased his annual salary from $500,000 to $1.3 million, making him one of the nation’s highest paid assistant football coaches.

Gus Malzahn stayed at Auburn for the 2011 season.

To the west in Jonesboro, Arkansas State relieved Steve Roberts of his duties as head football coach at the end of 2010 and promoted first-year offensive coordinator Hugh Freeze to the top position. At the time, Freeze was best known as the man who had coached Michael Oher at Briarcrest Christian School in Memphis. Oher was the subject of Michael Lewis’ 2006 book “The Blind Side” and the 2009 movie of the same name in which Freeze was portrayed by Little Rock actor Ray McKinnon.

ASU went 10-2 in 2011, won the Sun Belt championship and earned a spot in a bowl game at Mobile, Ala.

Freeze parlayed his success at ASU into the head coaching job at Ole Miss, where he replaced Houston Nutt.

A year earlier, then-ASU athletic director Dean Lee had called Malzahn at Auburn to ask him about Freeze. At the end of that phone conversation, Lee joked: “You wouldn’t want to come back to Arkansas, would you?”

As soon as Freeze left for Ole Miss in December 2011, Lee again called Malzahn to pick his brain about possible successors. Once more the ASU athletic director joked: “You wouldn’t want to come back to Arkansas, would you?”

This time, though, there was a long pause.

Finally, Malzahn said: “I would consider that.”

He was ready to be a college head coach.

On Friday, Dec. 9, 2011, Lee and Malzahn talked three more times on the phone. By 10:30 a.m. that Saturday, Lee was on the way to Auburn in his personal vehicle. Paranoid that Malzahn’s home was being watched by the media, Lee had taken the ASU license plate off the front of the vehicle and even removed the Red Wolf bumper stickers. For three hours that Saturday evening, Lee visited Malzahn and his wife in their home.

Lee pulled out of Auburn late that evening. Too nervous to sleep, he drove through the night to Jonesboro, arriving at 6:45 a.m. Sunday. He had made calls on the way back to ASU President Chuck Welch and Gov. Mike Beebe, an ASU graduate and strong supporter of the school’s football program.

By the following Wednesday, Malzahn was being introduced as the next ASU head coach before a large, enthusiastic crowd in the Convocation Center on the ASU campus.

Things had moved quickly.

No one, however, could have guessed all that would happen during the next two years.

Like Freeze, Malzahn led ASU to a Sun Belt title and a spot in a bowl game at Mobile.

Like Freeze, Malzahn left ASU after one season to become a head coach in the SEC.

Like Freeze, Malzahn turned around an SEC program and got his team to postseason play.

But this is a far larger game than the one in Birmingham where Freeze took his Rebels a year ago.

This is the national championship game.

This is the famous Rose Bowl stadium.

This is indeed the big time.

This is a long way from Hughes.

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