Archive for the ‘College football’ Category

College football: Week 1

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

It’s the time of year so many of you love.

It’s college football season.

Once again, we’ll be predicting the winners of all of the games involving NCAA Division I and Division II teams in the state.

No need for further introductions. Let’s get right to it:

Arkansas 48, UTEP 19 — The University of Texas at El Paso rolls into Fayetteville for a hot Saturday afternoon contest that likely will see a lot of the fans heading for the exits by the end of the third quarter. Hopes are high in Hogland, and there’s a reason for that. Coach Bret Bielema’s program has shown steady progress. It’s hard to fully comprehend just how bad things were on the Hill when Bielema arrived. Much of the success — or lack thereof — this season will depend on how Brandon Allen performs at quarterback. The term “manage the game” is often used for quarterbacks who aren’t super-talented, and Allen has worn the label “game manager” in recent seasons. It’s high time for him to go from “game manager” to “playmaker.” UTEP improved from 2-10 in 2013 to 7-6 last season. The Miners return a tailback who gained more than 1,000 yards in 2014, but let’s not kid ourselves. This really shouldn’t be a close game. The key for Arkansas in these first two games is to get the starters some solid reps, put points on the board early, let the backups play in the second half and don’t get anyone hurt.

USC 45, Arkansas State 20 — There’s simply no truth to the rumor that anyone who stays until the end of Saturday night’s game at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is invited over to USC head coach Steve Sarkisian’s house for drinks afterward. Fans of the Red Wolves are a bit spoiled after successful seasons in the one-year coaching stints of Hugh Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Bryan Harsin. Based on those standards, the first year of the Blake Anderson regime (7-6 overall and 5-3 in the Sun Belt Conference) was a disappointment. ASU had won at least a share of the conference title in 2011, 2012 and 2013. That wasn’t the case last year. With nine starters back on offense and six starters returning on defense, the Red Wolves should contend for a conference title. USC has 16 returning starters, including nine on offense. The quarterback, all five offensive linemen and two top receivers are back for the Trojans. The plan for the Red Wolves this week is to try to hang around for a half, avoid injuries and pick up that big check before flying home to Arkansas.

Samford 24, UCA 21 — Just as Arkansas State was somewhat of a disappointment last year under a first-year head coach, so too was UCA. The Bears finished 6-6 overall and 5-3 in the Southland Conference under head coach Steve Campbell, who replaced Clint Conque when Conque headed to the piney woods of east Texas to coach Stephen F. Austin. Samford (which played Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium a couple of years ago and led in the second half) has a new head coach following the retirement of Pat Sullivan, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Auburn. He’s Chris Hatcher, who has a 121-57 record as a head coach. I covered the Gulf South Conference when Hatcher was at Valdosta State and can tell you that he’s the real deal. He led Valdosta to the NCAA Division II national championship in 2004. UCA will have its work cut out Thursday night in Birmingham.

South Carolina State 29, UAPB 23 — The Golden Lions head to Orlando for a rare Sunday game to open the season against South Carolina State. Monte Coleman is just 35-43 as the head coach at UAPB, and there’s pressure to improve on last year’s 4-7 record. The Golden Lions are a veteran team, returning nine offensive and eight defensive starters. South Carolina State, which has had a football program since 1907, has a rich tradition. The school has posted a record of 436-268-28 through the years. Buddy Pugh is 105-47 in his 13 years as the head coach. The Bulldogs were 8-4 last season and tied for the MEAC championship with a 6-2 record. South Carolina State returns nine offensive and eight defensive starters.

Ouachita 28, East Central Oklahoma 27 — It was a dream season in 2014 for Ouachita, which went undefeated in the regular season before losing in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The Tigers had a former Southeastern Conference starter at quarterback — Auburn transfer Kiehl Frazier. Redshirt sophomore Austin Warford from Malvern will get the start on Thursday night in Ada, Okla., and this season will rest on how well he can fill Frazier’s big shoes. The Tigers have a solid offensive line, two quality running backs (Chris Oliver from Arkadelphia and Brandon Marks from Prescott) and two of their top receivers returning. East Central is probably the best of the six Oklahoma teams in the Great American Conference. Don’t necessarily be surprised if East Central pulls the upset in Ada on Thursday night against a Ouachita program that has posted seven consecutive winning seasons (the most of any college football program in Arkansas).

Henderson 36, Southeastern Oklahoma 33 — It’s the post-Kevin Rodgers era at Henderson. Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at the Division II level in Arkansas, led the Reddies to 30 victories the past three seasons along with GAC championships in 2012 and 2013. His replacement, Dallas Hardison, is a winner. Hardison was 25-1 as a starter at Bentonville High School. The Reddies were 9-2 last season (losing to Ouachita and Harding) after undefeated regular seasons in 2012 and 2013. Scott Maxfield (69-38 in a decade as Henderson’s head coach) said: “Around here, we’re not satisfied with 9-2.” Durant, Okla., is not an easy place to win, and that’s where the Reddies must go Thursday. Armo Wood, who covers the Great American Conference for, picked Southeastern to finish second in the conference behind Harding and writes: “This should be the year the Savage Storm finally synchronize their offense and defense and establish themselves as one of the GAC’s top teams.” In other words, the first game of the post-Rodgers era at Henderson could be interesting.

Arkansas Tech 30, Southern Nazarene 12 — Raymond Monica begins the third year of his rebuilding effort at Arkansas Tech with a new offensive coordinator, Brent Dearmon, who was on Gus Malzahn’s staff at Auburn last year (as an analyst rather than an assistant coach). Dearmon is trying to institute the same high-tempo offense that Auburn uses. Tech was 3-8 last year. The good news is that the opener Thursday is against a team that struggled even more. Southern Nazarene, which is having a difficult time making the transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, finished 0-11 in 2014.

Northwestern Oklahoma 41, UAM 39 — A UAM team that finished 2-8 a year ago takes the field in Monticello on Thursday night against a Northwestern Oklahoma team that finished 3-7. Both programs are seeking an identity. In the middle of last season, Alan Hall resigned as the head coach at Northwestern Oklahoma due to health reasons. Emporia State’s offensive coordinator was hired after the season and most expect the Rangers to be improved. Meanwhile, Hud Jackson continues his rebuilding effort at Monticello, which allowed itself to fall behind the other GAC schools in Arkansas from a facilities standpoint, hampering recruiting.

Harding 51, Oklahoma Baptist 26 — Harding has been a consistent winner in recent seasons. The Bisons were 9-2 in 2014, losing to Ouachita in overtime and then not losing again until the NCAA Division II playoffs. A large number of seniors graduated from that team, but that shouldn’t hamper the Bisons on Saturday as they go on the road to play the GAC’s newest member, Oklahoma Baptist. The move from the NAIA to NCAA Division II isn’t an easy one (just ask Southern Nazarene and Northwestern Oklahoma). Oklahoma Baptist will learn that the hard way on Saturday as it attempts and fails to stop Harding’s option offense. To use the cliché, Harding no longer rebuilds. It just reloads.

Southern Arkansas 32, Southwestern Oklahoma 22 — The Muleriders finished 5-5 a year ago but led in the fourth quarter of three of those five losses. Coach Bill Keopple thinks this has the potential to be his best team yet in Magnolia. The Muleriders open at home Saturday night against Southwestern Oklahoma, which was 3-7 a year ago. If SAU can finish games in the fourth quarter this time around, it might indeed lead to a move to the top tier of the GAC (a tier dominated by Ouachita, Henderson and Harding since the conference began playing football in 2011).

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John Prock: Man of influence

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

The information that’s compiled on football players and coaches at the NCAA Division II level isn’t nearly as extensive as the plethora of facts and figures we can find on those who play and coach at the BCS level.

Ken Bissell, a native of Nashville in Howard County and a graduate of Harding University at Searcy, knew what faced him when he began working on a book about John Prock, Harding’s head football coach from 1964-87. There would be dozens and dozens of interviews to conduct. There would be a lot of digging through old files and scrapbooks.

Google the name of any FBS head coach, and dozens of stories will appear.

Google the name of John Prock, and you won’t find much.

To me, though, John Prock was as big a college coaching name when I was growing up as any head coach in the Southwest Conference, Big Ten or SEC. You see, I was a child of the now defunct Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, raised by a sporting goods dealer in Arkadelphia in a home that was walking distance from the football stadiums of two AIC schools. If we weren’t in Arkadelphia on a fall Saturday, we were in Searcy, Conway, Russellville, Magnolia or Monticello.

This was college football to me, and the men who were coaching those AIC teams of the 1960s and 1970s — a Prock at Harding; a Benson at Ouachita; a Sawyer, Berry or Carpenter at Henderson; a Dempsey at Arkansas Tech; a Bright or Stephens at what’s now UCA; a Powell at what’s now SAU — were among the giants of my childhood.

Buddy Benson, the head football coach at Ouachita for 31 seasons, was like an uncle to me, and Prock was the AIC coach who — at least in my mind — was most like Benson: A ruggedly handsome, tough, driven man at a private university, forced to compete without the resources of the state schools.

Ken Bissell and I have much in common. We both hail from southwest Arkansas. I graduated from Ouachita in 1981. He graduated from Harding in 1984. We both were heavily involved as students in sports writing and in sports information work at our alma maters. Our mentors were legendary small college sports information directors, Stan Green at Harding and Mac Sisson at Ouachita.

Bissell later would serve as the sports editor of The Nashville News in his hometown and The Daily Citizen in Searcy before returning to Harding as sports information director in 1987. He was a natural to write “Many Sons To Glory,” which was released this fall.

“My relationship with Coach Prock began in 1980 when I was a freshman sports reporter for The Bison, Harding’s student newspaper, and further developed as I worked for four years as a student assistant in the school’s sports information office,” Bissell writes. “I wouldn’t call our relationship close, but I always found Coach Prock to be supportive and encouraging as we interacted through the years. While studying at Harding, I debated between sports writing and coaching as a career path so I pursued a major in journalism with physical education as my minor, which placed me in Prock’s ‘Coaching Football’ class.

“He frequently poked fun at my questions in the classroom, asking if my inquiries were more from a writer’s than a coach’s perspective. I determined quickly that my skills and demeanor were better suited for the press box than the sideline, but I’ve often wondered what might have been had I chosen the life of gridiron mentor over that of journalist and later PR and marketing professional. I have no regrets, it served my family and me well, but I loved coaching my sons’ youth league teams.”

Bissell explains Prock’s “faith in his assistant coaches to squeeze every drop of talent out of the players, and his determination to stretch every dollar, even at his own expense. … Ask his former players how he influenced their lives, and they often speak with such affection that lumps fill their throats and tears come to their eyes. Many of them are successful high school head coaches with multiple state championships.

“But warm feelings from former players and successfully building a program don’t necessarily warrant writing a book about a coach. There are many sports mentors who endear themselves to their teams and face challenges with determination. What set John Prock apart was the grace with which he faced his adversity-filled youth; the faith-based example he demonstrated with his family and the young men who played for him; and the integrity, humility, character and leadership he displayed throughout his life.”

Prock, an inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, died in July 2012. He was born in March 1929 in the small southwestern Oklahoma town of Hollis, which produced a fellow named Darrell Royal, another college football coach you might have heard of.

“Hollis was like any other plains town in the 1920s and ’30s,” Bissell writes. “With a population of a little more than 3,000, it was the county seat and center of commerce in Harmon County where the large majority of residents made their livings as farmers. Hard work in the fields through the week was typically rewarded with a trip to town on Saturday to buy provisions and other necessities and perhaps catch a flicker show at the LaVista movie theater. Sunday was reserved for church services and rest. That reliance on agriculture as the economic lifeblood of the nation’s breadbasket would become the bane of its existence as the Great Depression and severe drought converged to create the perfect poverty storm known as the Dust Bowl.

“The section of country that embraced the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas, southeastern Colorado and northeastern New Mexico became vulnerable as the influx of homesteaders increased through the first two decades of the 20th century. Endless fields that had served for centuries as the grazing home to buffalo and later cattle herds were converted into millions of acres of wheat in support of World War I food efforts and beyond. Poor land management combined with a three-year drought from 1930-33 eventually destroyed the area’s topsoil. The spring winds of 1934 lifted exposed, parched dirt that was no longer bound together by native grasses and swept it into boiling storms that were aptly called Black Blizzards. Suddenly those whose livelihoods depended solely on crops were left with nothing but silty wind-blown soil covering everything in sight.”

Prock’s parents weren’t among those who headed west to California. They stayed in Oklahoma. In May 1931, Prock’s mother died. The official cause of death was blood poisoning. She was pregnant when she died. Some believed she caught her husband, who was a truck driver, in an affair and tried to abort the baby. At age 2, John Prock moved in with his paternal grandparents. His grandfather died in 1934, leaving his grandmother to raise him during the depths of the Great Depression.

Prock’s grandmother died in April 1941, leaving him to be raised as a teenager by an abusive stepmother.

“As it was with most small rural communities in the 1930s and ’40s, sports served both as an outlet and escape for young men in Hollis,” Bissell writes. “When they weren’t working in the fields, it was common to find the neighborhood boys playing summer pick-up baseball games on makeshift diamonds, fall rag-tag football scrimmages on dusty gridirons or hoops on barn-side dirt basketball courts in the cold of winter. Any boy worth his salt was honing his ball skills with dreams of playing for the Hollis High Tigers and the University of Oklahoma Sooners.”

In a 1996 interview, Prock said: “I was living with my grandmother, and I told her I wanted to be a football coach. I never changed my mind.”

Prock went on to play three seasons of college football — 1952-54 — at Southwestern Oklahoma in Weatherford, lettering each year and earning all-conference honors his final season. He graduated in three years. Prock was hired as the head football and track coach at Buffalo High School in northwest Oklahoma. As August practices approached, however, he accepted a position as an assistant coach in Clinton, Okla., where he began his coaching career under Carl Allison.

Allison, who had starred in football at the University of Oklahoma, was hired by Harding in 1959 to revive the program after a 28-year hiatus. A year later, Prock joined Allison in Searcy. Allison left Harding in 1964 to join Gomer Jones’ staff at Oklahoma. Prock was promoted to head coach. For the next 24 seasons, he would be the face of the Harding football program.

Former Harding President Clifton Ganus wrote the foreword for “Many Sons To Glory.”

“I have often said that a man is what he is taught to be,” Ganus writes. “He is the sum product of his experience and teaching, formal and informal, right or wrong, good or bad. Coach Prock is good example of this. A strong Christian, faithful family man, coach and mentor didn’t happen overnight. A lot of blood, sweat and tears helped mold him into the successful man that he became.

“An early dysfunctional family life was overcome by a loving grandmother and a junior high coach named Joe Bailey Metcalf. He also coached John in senior high and college and left a deep impression on his life. Later, his beloved Charlene entered his life, and he became a Christian. Finances were always meager, and John had to learn how to be economical and to use his hands to build and to improvise. This ability helped him greatly in years to come. John loved football, and his coach became a father figure to him. He also looked up to outstanding players and coaches, one of whom was Carl Allison, a fine Christian man who became his close friend.”

What about the book’s name?

“Many Sons To Glory” comes from the New Testament. Hebrews 2:10 to be exact: “In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

At Prock’s funeral, former player Jim Citty described his old coach this way: “He was a Bulldog from Southwestern Oklahoma before he became a Bison. From his humble beginnings, he became an inspiration to many. He was resourceful and made the most of the facilities and the athletes that he was given. For those of you who didn’t play football, I know it is hard for you to understand this bond. … Coach taught us that you had to work hard, and pain was not a factor. His philosophy was that football provided one of the greatest training grounds available for life, self-discipline, team discipline and Christianity.”

The hearse drove two laps around the football field before heading to the cemetery.

Bissell describes the scene this way: “In a fitting last tribute to the man who did so much more than coach football games on that field, several former players held up a sign on the home side bleachers that read ‘Farewell Coach Prock’ as the hearse made one final lap around the track. They represented the hundreds of Prock’s sons who waged battle on that turf and were forever influenced by the humble Oklahoman.”

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College football: End of the regular season

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014


I’m a believer.

Trust me, I’ve changed my evil ways.

Yes, I picked LSU to come into Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and defeat your beloved Hogs.

Yes, even after that 17-0 shutout, I picked Ole Miss to make the trip to Fayetteville and win.

No more.

I’m picking Arkansas over Missouri on Friday.

No ifs, ands or buts.

Let’s hope it’s not the kiss of death for the Razorbacks as you eat your Thanksgiving leftovers, pray that Aunt Jane doesn’t spend another night at your house and then settle in front of the television Friday afternoon.

For too long we had to list the bad streaks — conference losing streaks, losing streaks to ranked teams, etc.

No more.

How about some positive history:

— The first back-to-back shutouts for an Arkansas team since 2002.

— The first back-to-back shutouts for an Arkansas team in conference play since 1965. That was a Razorback squad that went undefeated in the regular season.

— The first time for an Arkansas defense to shut out an Ole Miss team since 1998, Houston Nutt’s first year as head coach.

— The first SEC team with back-to-back conference shutouts since Tennessee did it in 2002.

This is, mind you, an Ole Miss team that had outscored its first 10 opponents 83-10 in the first quarter.

The score at the end of the first quarter Saturday?

Arkansas 17, Ole Miss 0.

Arkansas now has back-to-back wins over nationally ranked teams for the first time since 2011. Jonathan Williams has topped the 1,000-yard mark in rushing (1,013 yards to be exact), only the 17th time a Razorback has done that. Alex Collins, who is at 965 yards for the season, should join the exclusive fraternity on Friday.

The turnover margin for the Hogs against Ole Miss was plus five.

Does the magic continue in Columbia?

We’re 78-15 for the year. Let’s get to the final set of picks for 2014:

Arkansas 13, Missouri 10 — With or without Brandon Allen, the Arkansas defense will come through yet again. It won’t be a shutout, but it will be enough to win and spoil Tiger hopes for an SEC East crown. It will be Georgia going to Atlanta and losing to Alabama in the conference championship game. Missouri improved to 9-2 overall and 6-1 in the SEC with Saturday’s 29-21 win at Tennessee. It was the 10th consecutive road win for Mizzou. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they’re back home in Columbia where they’ve already lost to Indiana (Indiana for gosh sakes!) by a score of 31-27 and Georgia by a score of 34-0. Faurot Field still has a bit of a Big Eight (yes, I’m that old) feel. The Hogs get it done, finish the regular season with a 7-5 record and accept an invitation to play Texas in the Liberty Bowl. Tickets sell out within an hour. The temperature in Memphis at kickoff will be 28 degrees.

Minnesota-Duluth 30, Ouachita 28 — One of these days, a Great American Conference team is going to win a playoff game. The conference is only in its fourth season and is in the toughest region in NCAA Division II. Henderson and Harding lost playoff games in 2012. Henderson lost again last season. And Harding came up short again Saturday in the first round of the Division II playoffs with a 59-42 loss at the home of a traditional small college powerhouse, Pittsburg State in Kansas. Harding led 21-0 in the first half, but the 11-1 Gorillas came back to tie the score at 21-21 by halftime and then secured a victory over one of the best Harding teams ever. Now, it’s up to 10-0 Ouachita, which hosts 12-0 Minnesota-Duluth at noon in Arkadelphia on Saturday. It has been a dream season for the GAC champion Tigers, who stand a decent chance of getting the conference its first playoff win. After 10 consecutive Saturdays of football, Ouachita received a needed bye in the first round. Minnesota-Duluth is No. 2 nationally. Ouachita is No. 7. The teams are a combined 22-0. It should be quite a game at Cliff Harris Stadium on a day when the temperature will near 70.

Arkansas State 35, New Mexico State 25 — The Red Wolf defense has disappeared in back-to-back losses to Appalachian State and Texas State. In last Thursday night’s 45-27 defeat at Texas State, the Red Wolves gave up 370 yards rushing as ASU fell to 6-5 overall and 4-3 in the Sun Belt Conference. The good news is that a bad New Mexico State team comes to Jonesboro on Saturday. The bad news is that even a 7-5 record is unlikely to get this ASU team a bowl bid. At least Red Wolf fans don’t have to worry about losing their coach this year. New Mexico State won its first two games against Cal Poly and Georgia State. The Aggies have since lost nine consecutive games — 42-24 to UTEP, 38-35 to New Mexico, 63-7 to LSU, 36-28 to Georgia Southern, 41-24 to Troy, 29-17 to Idaho, 37-29 to Texas State, 44-16 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 30-17 to Louisiana-Monroe.

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College football: Week 13

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

It is safe for us to now officially declare that LSU is not a cold-weather team.

And how about that Arkansas defense on a frigid Saturday night in Fayetteville?

LSU finished the game with just 123 yards of offense, 250 less than its season average. The Tigers had only 36 rushing yards.

So long 17-game SEC losing streak.

So long 14-game losing streak to ranked teams, a streak that dated back to the Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State almost three years ago.

Arkansas was the first team this season to hold LSU scoreless in the first half. The last time Arkansas had recorded a shutout victory over LSU was in 1929 in a game played at Shreveport. Huey P. Long was governor of Louisiana at the time and likely at the contest since he was a huge Tiger fan. Only the most serious Arkansas political buff would know that the Arkansas governor at the time was Harvey Parnell.

Arkansas and LSU did play to a 0-0 tie in the Cotton Bowl in 1947.

LSU had not been shut out prior to last Saturday since losing 21-0 to Alabama in the 2011 national title game. The most recent regular-season shutout loss for the Bayou Bengals had been against Alabama in November 2002.

Meanwhile, it was the first shutout victory for Arkansas since a 20-0 win over Utah State in 2006. It was the first SEC shutout for the Hogs since a 23-0 victory over South Carolina in 2002.

LSU is 25-2 under Les Miles after a loss, and Arkansas delivered that defeat both times.

So Razorback fans are feeling good again and ready to start talking bowl games.

But first things first as a Top 10 team rolls into Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon with the CBS audience watching to see if the Razorbacks are for real.

We’re 77-11 on picks for the year. Let’s get to the predictions for Week 13 of the college football season:

Ole Miss 30, Arkansas 28 — I’m tempted to crawl onto that Razorback bandwagon with you. Very tempted. Then I consider the fact that Ole Miss is coming off an open date and has had two weeks to prepare for the game. Effectively, the Rebels have had three weeks to prepare since they played Presbyterian on Nov. 8, winning 48-0 and resting their starters in the second half. This is still the Rebel team that captured the nation’s attention by winning their first seven games by scores of 35-13 over Boise State, 41-3 over Vanderbilt, 56-15 over Louisiana-Lafayette, 24-3 over Memphis, 23-17 over Alabama, 35-20 over Texas A&M and 34-3 over Tennessee. The bloom came off the Rebel rose with losses of 10-7 to LSU and 35-31 to Auburn (both of which are fading late), but this is a team that could be 10-0 with nine more points. It should be a fun game to watch. And the high probability it will be raining will make things even more interesting.

Arkansas State 21, Texas State 19 — The Red Wolves laid a giant egg last Saturday in Jonesboro, losing 37-32 to a mediocre Appalachian State team. Marcus Cox gashed ASU for 229 yards rushing, and Appalachian State scored 31 consecutive points in the game. The loss dropped ASU to 6-4 overall and 4-2 in the Sun Belt Conference. This week the Red Wolves travel to San Marcos, Texas, for a Thursday night game against Texas State. The Bobcats are 5-5 overall and 3-3 in conference. They’ve defeated UAPB, Tulsa, Idaho, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State. They’ve lost to Navy, Illinois, Louisiana-Lafayette, Georgia Southern and South Alabama. We’ll give a slight edge to the Red Wolves because . . . Well, just because.

Harding 40, Pittsburg State 37 — OK, call me a Great American Conference homer. After all, the GAC is 0-3 in the NCAA Division II playoffs in its short history. Harding lost in 2012. Henderson lost in both 2012 and 2013. This is as good a Harding team as I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been seeing Harding teams play since the 1960s. The Bisons are 9-1 and one play away from being undefeated, having lost to 10-0 Ouachita in a game in which Ouachita had to score on the final play of regulation and then convert a two-point conversion just to get to overtime. With its double-slot formation, Harding is among the top rushing teams in the country and also has a senior-laden defense. Pittsburg State will be the favorite Saturday afternoon. The Gorillas are a traditional Division II powerhouse and are playing at home. They’re 10-1, losing only 7-6 to Fort Hays State. Most of their victories (just like Harding) have been by lopsided margins — 37-0, 38-7, 42-0, 23-13, 45-17, 35-17, 36-21, 41-10, 38-31 and 41-14. Harding ended the regular season with a 41-7 victory over 3-8 Arkansas Tech. I just have a feeling that it’s time for the GAC to break through.

Sam Houston State 31, UCA 24 — This UCA team has been inconsistent and hard to figure in its first season under Steve Campbell. The Bears are 6-5 overall and 5-2 in the Southland Conference. They were upset on Nov. 1 by Abilene Christian, 52-35, and then came back a week later to beat Lamar in overtime at Conway, 44-41. They’ve had two weeks to prepare for Saturday’s game in Huntsville against Sam Houston State, Dan Rather’s old alma mater. The Bearkats get the edge. They’re at home, they’re 7-4 and they’ve won four consecutive games (38-21 over Abilene Christian, 42-28 over Stephen F. Austin, 40-19 over Incarnate Word and 76-0 over Houston Baptist).

Alabama A&M 15, UAPB 14 — The Golden Lions are at home Saturday afternoon to end a disappointing season. UAPB fell to 3-7 overall and 2-6 in the SWAC with a 56-6 loss last weekend at Alcorn State. Alabama A&M is 4-7 overall and 3-5 in the SWAC. With two bad teams ending the season in the rain, this is a difficult pick. One of the teams might mail it in as far as effort.

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Tears at 10-0

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

As the clock ticked down to 0:00 on a cold, gray Saturday afternoon, I tried to describe the scene at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia to those who were listening to the broadcast of the 88th Battle of the Ravine.

For the previous 30 minutes — since it had become likely that Ouachita Baptist University would beat Henderson State University to go to 10-0 for the first time in school history — the messages had been flooding my phone. They came from Ouachita graduates across the country who were listening online.

I attempted to paint a verbal picture as the packed Ouachita stands emptied, students and even some adults storming the field in the wake of one of the most historic victories in the rich annals of a football program that dates back to 1895. Henderson had become the giant among NCAA Division II football programs in the state, going undefeated during the regular season in 2012 and 2013 and winning the four previous Battles of the Ravine. The Reddies were 30-1 in regular-season games since the start of the 2012 season, having only lost to a talented Harding squad in the final minute earlier this season.

Ouachita was ranked No. 9, and Henderson was ranked No. 14 in Division II coming into Saturday’s game.  Despite Ouachita’s higher ranking, 100 percent of those who picked the game on the Great American Conference message board had gone with Henderson.

No doubt, the Reddies were Goliath.

As I drove from my home in Little Rock to Arkadelphia on Saturday morning, the clouds thickened. The day reminded me of the Saturday before Thanksgiving in 1975 when Ouachita and Henderson met in another classic at the same stadium. The two schools held a joint homecoming for a few years in the 1970s with the game played each season at Henderson’s newer and larger stadium. Even though the 1975 contest was at Henderson, it was technically Ouachita’s home game and Ouachita sports information director Mac Sisson was on the public address system that day.

Mac would always give the weather before the game, and I can still remember his words in that distinctive baritone: “Winds out of the north at 10 to 15 miles per hour with a temperature of 29 degrees.”

A bit of personal history: I grew up a block from Ouachita’s football stadium, the son of a former Ouachita quarterback and a former Ouachitonian beauty (I still have the yearbook in which my mother was featured as such). I’ve bled purple since birth.

The football series between Ouachita and Henderson was suspended following the 1951 game due to excessive vandalism and was not resumed until 1963. I would have been 4 years old in 1963, and I would have been at the Battle of the Ravine. I’ve been at every Battle of the Ravine since 1963, in fact, with the exception of the 1986-87 games when I was working for the Arkansas Democrat in Washington, D.C. It is, to put it simply, a part of who I am.

Like most boys who grew up in Arkansas, I rooted for the Razorbacks. Unlike most boys, Arkansas was not my main team. Ouachita was.

We didn’t often go to Hog games in Fayetteville or Little Rock. We were too busy following Ouachita. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of trips back from places like Searcy, Conway, Russellville, Magnolia and Monticello in the back of my father’s big Oldsmobile.

From about age 6 through high school, I walked the Ouachita sidelines during games. Legendary Coach Buddy Benson was like an uncle to me, and he welcomed a group of boys — Tab Turner, Neal Turner, Mike Balay, Richard Balay and others — to work as ball boys and water boys.

I was in the 10th grade when that 1975 game occurred. I played high school football on Friday nights but spent my Saturdays watching Ouachita. On the morning of the game, I accompanied the team’s head manager, Wesley Kluck, to my father’s downtown sporting goods store to borrow Coleman stoves, which we put along the sideline so the players could warm their hands on the frigid afternoon.

Henderson was 9-0. Ouachita was 8-1, having lost to Southern Arkansas in Magnolia three weeks earlier. Both teams were ranked nationally.

I love those November games that begin in the daylight and end under the lights. The lights were on and darkness had descended on Arkadelphia. Ouachita trailed 20-14 and faced a fourth-and-25 with time running out.

One last chance.

Quarterback Bill Vining Jr., who had grown up just down the street from me in the Ouachita Hills neighborhood, passed to Gary Reese across the middle. Out came the chains.

The stadium was packed but dead quiet as those chains were stretched. The referee went to a knee for a better look. Then, he came up and signaled that Ouachita had made a first down by inches.

New life.

Two plays later, Vining passed to Ken Stuckey for a touchdown. Russell Daniel kicked the extra point.

Ouachita 21, Henderson 20.

I’ve had the good fortune in my career of covering Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, Cotton Bowls and more. That still rates as the greatest football game I ever attended.

I still have a photo of the players carrying Coach Benson off the field. It was among the most memorable days of my life.

I thought about that day as I pulled into the parking lot of Henderson’s Carpenter-Haygood at noon last Saturday.

Same stadium. Same weather. Same big stakes.

At age 55, I find myself becoming more nostalgic.

I sat in my car for several minutes before walking to the press box and thought about the past.

I thought about how I wish my dad, who died in March 2011, could be here. Oh, how he would have enjoyed the atmosphere that electrified Arkadelphia.

Dad had been raised poor during the Great Depression in Benton. Following his high school graduation in 1942, he took a job with the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co., which was building the aluminum plant in Saline County. The United States had entered World War II in December 1941, and there was a rush to get the plant finished so it could contribute to the war effort. Dad was paid union wages and found himself making more than his father had ever made. He told his parents that he would stay with the company rather than going to college.

He had been offered a football scholarship to Ouachita, and my grandmother was insistent that he go to college, something neither she nor my grandfather had done. She called the Ouachita head coach, Bill Walton, and ordered him not to let my father come home once he reached campus for a visit.

The 1942 Ouachita team went 9-1, losing only to Union University in Jackson, Tenn. Dad joined the Army Air Corps the following spring and served for two years. He returned to Ouachita after the war to obtain a degree and played on the 1945, 1946 and 1947 teams. He met a pretty young lady named Carolyn Caskey from Des Arc and married her prior to graduation in the spring of 1948.

My sister was recently cleaning out the house we grew up in and found the program from the Battle of the Ravine on Thanksgiving Day 1947. My father is listed as the starting quarterback. She gave me the program, which I now consider to be among my most cherished possessions.

As I sat in my car Saturday, I also thought of Coach Benson, who was my childhood hero along with my father and Coach Bill Vining Sr. This would have been his type of game. Buddy Benson had been among the nation’s most highly recruited high school players coming out of high school at De Queen. He signed with Oklahoma, a powerhouse in those days, but later transferred to Arkansas, where he threw the famous Powder River pass to beat nationally ranked Ole Miss at War Memorial Stadium in 1954.

Coach Benson was the head coach at Ouachita for an amazing 31 seasons, winning more than he lost while playing much larger state schools with bigger athletic budgets. He passed away on Good Friday in that terrible spring of 2011, just weeks after I had lost my dad.

I also thought of the aforementioned Mac Sisson, my college mentor who gave me the chance as an untested freshman in 1978 to begin broadcasting Ouachita games, something I’m still doing all these years later. Mac and I spent fall Saturdays for years traveling through Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas and other states for Ouachita games. I miss him every day.

I thought of family friends like Ike Sharp and his son Paul, also gone. They had both played at Ouachita and personified what my alma mater’s football program is all about.

To be fair, I thought of men who had been among my mentors who were on the Henderson side and are also gone, coaches with names like Wells, Sawyer and Reese. They were giants to me. They also would have enjoyed this big-game atmosphere.

Ouachita trailed 17-7 in the first quarter of Saturday’s game, and it appeared the Reddies were poised to blow the Tigers out.

I didn’t say it on the radio, but I thought at that point in the game about something Coach Benson would tell his team before every game: “If at first the game or breaks go against you, don’t get shook or rattled. Put on more steam.”

You see, it’s a 60-minute game.

Coach Benson had played for Bowden Wyatt at Arkansas. Wyatt had played for Gen. Robert Neyland at Tennessee. Wyatt would repeat Neyland’s pregame maxims before each game. Buddy Benson would continue that tradition at Ouachita.

Ouachita indeed put on more steam, outscoring the powerful Reddies 34-3 the rest of the way.

I counted down the final seconds on the radio and looked at the Ouachita fans pouring from the stands. That’s when the tears came.

Silly, you say, for a 55-year-old man to cry at the end of an athletic contest. It’s only a game, you say.

I’m sorry, but it’s more than a game to me. Ouachita football has been one of my passions since birth.

My wish for my sons and for you as we near Thanksgiving is that you have one or more great passions. It might be a passion for music. It might be a passion for acting. It might be a passion for writing. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with sports. It has to do with finding something you care about deeply throughout your life. It’s even more special if you’ve suffered defeats so you more fully appreciate the high points.

I know defeat.

So does Ouachita’s head coach, Todd Knight. I was on the committee that was appointed to search for a head coach following the resignation of Red Parker at Ouachita after the 1998 season. We ended up offering the job to Knight, a former Ouachita player, who had led the Delta State in Mississippi to its first Gulf South Conference title. Delta is bigger, richer and had things rolling.

Todd turned down our offer. He turned it down multiple times. The then-Ouachita president, Andy Westmoreland, wouldn’t take no for an answer. He kept telling Todd to pray about it. Shortly before Christmas, Todd decided to come to Ouachita despite having recruited players to Delta who would win the Division II national championship in 2000.

His 1999 team started 3-1 but, lacking depth, finished 3-7. When you’re a small school like Ouachita, you welcome anyone who wants to jump aboard the bandwagon. Yet I suspect this year’s undefeated season is even more special for those of us who were in Tahlequah, Okla., on the afternoon of Oct. 16, 1999, as Northeastern State beat Ouachita by a score of 57-0. Or those of us who were there for the last game that season as Harding beat Ouachita by a score of 41-7.

Seven of Todd Knight’s first nine seasons at Ouachita, one of the smallest schools in the country to play the sport at the Division II level, were losing campaigns. Most schools wouldn’t have stuck with a coach that long. Ouachita stuck with Todd Knight, and Todd Knight stuck with Ouachita.

Patience paid off.

Ouachita is now the only college football program in the state — at any level — with seven consecutive winning seasons.

So as the students stormed the field and the tears rolled down my cheeks at about 6 p.m. Saturday, my mind wandered.

I thought about Dad, Coach Benson, Ike Sharp, Paul Sharp, Mac Sisson and other men who bled purple who were watching from above.

I thought about Coach Knight and that day in Tahlequah when I had struggled to broadcast the end of a 57-0 blowout.

I thought about how happy I was for the students, the faculty, the staff, the alumni and the other good people associated with this school that has been so much a part of my life.

I thought about my wife and son sitting in the cold across the way, no doubt also enjoying the moment.

I thought of past Ouachita presidents like Dan Grant and Ben Elrod, Arkansas leaders who know how difficult it is for a little school like Ouachita to make it to 10-0.

And I thought about how happy I was to share it all with what I call my “Saturday family,” the men with whom I share the broadcast booth.

My childhood friend Jeff Root, who grew up a few houses down Carter Road from my house, has been in the broadcast booth with me for more than a quarter of a century. Jeff, who is now the dean of the School of Humanities at Ouachita, and I have a special bond. Jeff also was on the committee that hired Coach Knight. Saturday was the culmination of all we had hoped for 16 years ago.

I also was glad to have Richard Atkinson and Patrick Fleming, who have been in the booth for eight years, there. It’s hard to explain to those who aren’t broadcasters, but you really do become like family.

I continued to broadcast — after all, there was still work to do on the postgame show– as the tears ran down my cheeks. I’m not really sure what I said, though. On this cold November day, I had been transported back in time.

I was a kid again, marveling at my good fortune; the good fortune of one who grew up in a small town in the South and attended a small school where people call you by your name and care about you. A place where people give you opportunities. After all, who has ever heard of a 19-year-old college play-by-play man?

Once again, I was in the back seat of the Oldsmobile, fighting to keep my eyes open as Dad drove us through the autumn Arkansas night, home from a Ouachita victory.

Once again, Buddy Benson was on the sideline in his starched shirt and tie, and Mac Sisson was in the press box.

Once again, my beloved Tigers were on top and the future was limitless.

I’m blessed; blessed beyond description as we enter another Thanksgiving season.

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College football: The Battle of the Ravine

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

It’s time for one of the South’s best college football rivalries.

No, silly, not the Battle for the Golden Boot.

That series took a one-two punch to the solar plexus when the wise men on The Hill decided to move the game out of Little Rock and when the Southeastern Conference decided it no longer would be played the week of Thanksgiving.

Now, it’s just another late-season game.

We’re talking about the Battle of the Ravine, one of the nation’s oldest rivalries and the only one in which the visiting team walks to a road game.

Rarely has there been a buildup to compare to that surrounding this Saturday afternoon’s game at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia.

Ouachita is 9-0 and has already assured itself a share of its second Great American Conference championship in four years.

Henderson is 9-1, having lost in the final minute at home to Harding after going undefeated in the regular seasons of 2012 and 2013.

The Arkadelphia teams feature two of the best quarterbacks in NCAA Division II, both of whom could start for a lot of Division I schools.

Henderson has senior Kevin Rodgers, the state’s all-time leader in passing yardage who has started for the Reddies since the middle of his freshman season.

Ouachita has Kiehl Frazier, who was the USA Today National Offensive Player of the Year coming out of high school at Shiloh Christian in Springdale and signed with Auburn University. Frazier was starting as a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference by his sophomore season. He lost the job, wanted to play quarterback his senior year, came home to Arkansas and enrolled in the small school where his brother is an offensive lineman.

The rest, as they say, is history. He has helped give Ouachita a dream season, leading the Tigers to the first 9-0 start in school history.

Ouachita is ranked No. 9 nationally in the American Football Coaches Association Division II poll.

Henderson is ranked No. 14.

Henderson and Ouachita have the two top college programs in the state during the past five seasons based on winning percentages. It only adds to the intrigue that they’re right across the street from each other.

This reminds me of the final game of 1975, when the roles were reversed, though the stadium was the same.

Henderson was undefeated coming into that Battle of the Ravine 39 years ago and had already ensured itself a share of the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference championship.

Ouachita had won loss, having slipped up three weeks earlier against Southern Arkansas in Magnolia.

In what still ranks in my mind as the greatest college football game I’ve ever attended, Ouachita came from behind late to win 21-20 and earn a share of the AIC title.

Henderson will be trying to make Ouachita share the title this Saturday.

There’s one aspect in which the roles aren’t reversed. Henderson was favored in 1975, and Henderson is favored again this year. When I last checked the GAC message board on the main Division II website, 100 percent of those who had picked the game had gone with the Reddies.

Henderson has won four consecutive games in the series, which dates back to 1895 and was suspended from 1951-63 due to excessive vandalism. Last year’s battle was a classic with Henderson winning 60-52 in three overtimes. Ouachita led in the second overtime and had Henderson down to fourth down twice. But Rodgers converted passes each time to stave off defeat, the first one for a first down and the second one for the touchdown that sent the game to a third overtime. It makes me tired just thinking of that game.

We were 7-0 on the picks last week, making the record for the season 74-8.

Here are the picks for Week 12 of the college football season:

Henderson 38, Ouachita 35 — Based strictly on talent, Henderson should be a two-touchdown favorite. But rivalry games like this one are tough to call. In a magical season, the one weak spot for Ouachita has been the Tiger secondary. Southern Arkansas quarterback Si Blackshire torched the Tigers for 415 yards passing two weeks ago even though Ouachita won 38-28. Rodgers should throw for even more yards on Saturday. Based on that and the fact that the Reddies are playing on their side of the ravine, we’ll give the slight edge to Henderson.

LSU 19, Arkansas 14 — Is this the game when the Razorbacks finally get over the hump against an SEC opponent? It’s hard to figure out how Arkansas was established as a slight favorite when the Hogs are 4-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. LSU is 7-3 and 3-3. The Tigers began the season with wins against Wisconsin, Sam Houston State and Louisiana-Monroe before falling to Mississippi State, 34-29. A victory over New Mexico State was followed by a decisive loss at Auburn and an overtime victory over Florida. LSU has played well in its past three games, beating Kentucky by a score of 41-3, upsetting Ole Miss by a score of 10-7 and then falling in overtime to Alabama by a score of 13-10. Remember that the Tigers have only lost two consecutive games once in Les Miles’ 10 seasons as head coach.

Arkansas State 37, Appalachian State 31 — Arkansas State played its best game of the season last Saturday in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves didn’t commit a turnover and scored on six of eight possessions en route to a 45-10 victory. It was the fourth consecutive game for the ASU offense to top 40 points, the first time in school history that has happened. The Red Wolves are now 6-3 overall and 4-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. They’re back in Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon for a 2 p.m. game against an Appalachian State team that’s 4-5 overall and 3-2 in the Sun Belt. Applachian State’s victories have come over Campbell, Troy, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe. The losses have been to Michigan, Southern Mississippi, Georgia Southern, South Alabama and Liberty. The visitors have won three consecutive games following a 1-5 start.

Alcorn State 34, UAPB 15 — The Golden Lions got blown out on homecoming last Saturday by a score of 51-23 against Prairie View A&M. UAPB is 3-6 overall and 2-5 in the SWAC and must visit an Alcorn State team that has already wrapped up the SWAC East Division title with records of 6-1 in conference and 8-2 overall. Alcorn’s only defeats have come against Southern Mississippi and Grambling. Alcorn has won its past three games by scores of 40-25 against Texas Southern, 77-48 against Prairie View and 41-14 against Alabama A&M.

Harding 30, Arkansas Tech 10 — Harding is 8-1 with only an overtime loss to Ouachita. Harding fans are in a tough situation this week. They need Henderson to win in order for their Bisons to earn a share of the GAC title. But they need Ouachita to win for Harding to have a chance at a playoff berth. A very, very good Harding team may stay at home during the postseason. Arkansas Tech is 3-6 with an excellent defense and an awful offense. Tech fell last Saturday by a score of 22-5 at Southeastern Oklahoma. Harding should win with ease this week.

Southern Arkansas 36, UAM 17 — It has been a frustrating season for both of these south Arkansas teams. Southern Arkansas has a fine quarterback in Blackshire but has managed only a 4-5 record. UAM is 2-7 and trailed Ouachita last Saturday by a score of 44-0 at the half.  Blackshire should be too much for the Boll Weevils on Saturday.

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College football: Week 11

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

Razorback fans can take a week off from their agony, left to debate whether they should still declare “moral victories” in the midst of a 17-game Southeastern Conference losing streak.

The school record for consecutive conference losses is 20, set from 1940-43. So Arkansas must win one of its final three games — LSU, Ole Miss or Missouri — to keep from tying that record this season.

I was in the stands on that cold day last November when Mississippi State escaped War Memorial Stadium with an overtime victory over the Razorbacks. None of us could have guessed at the time that it would mark the start of what’s now an 11-game winning streak for the Bulldogs. That’s one of the many reasons I love college football. You can go from agony to ecstasy from one year to the next. Razorback followers should keep that in mind.

It helps to have a quality quarterback, of course. Even on only one good leg, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott was 18 of 27 passing for a career-high 331 yards against the Hogs.

Arkansas is now 4-17 against No. 1 teams with the most recent win over a No. 1 being that 50-48 triple-overtime victory against LSU at Baton Rouge seven years ago to end the HDN era. The Razorbacks have now lost 14 consecutive games to ranked teams with the most recent win over a ranked opponent being the victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl on Jan. 7, 2012.

So here’s to the Hog faithful taking a break, enjoying the first day of deer season or even checking out one of the other teams in the state. Try it. You might like it. There are games Saturday at Jonesboro, Conway, Pine Bluff, El Dorado and Monticello, so there’s no excuse not to get out and enjoy a college football game.

We were 6-2 on the picks last week, making the record 67-8 for the season.

Let’s get to the predictions for Week 11:

Arkansas State 30, South Alabama 28 — Two 5-3 teams square off at Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon. Arkansas State improved to 3-1 in the Sun Belt Conference last week with a 44-28 victory at Idaho. It was the third consecutive road game for the Red Wolves, who were sluggish in the first half. ASU now has three of its final four games at home. Michael Gordon had a Sun Belt record five touchdown runs last week as ASU scored 35 points off Idaho turnovers. The Red Wolves led only 30-28 going into the fourth quarter. They’ll have to play better this week. South Alabama’s victories have come against Kent State, Idaho, Appalachian State, Georgia State and Troy. The losses have been to No. 1 Mississippi State, Georgia Southern and Louisiana-Lafayette. We’ll give the inconsistent Red Wolves a slight edge since they’re playing at home.

UCA 27, Lamar 21 — Speaking of inconsistent, it’s hard to know which UCA team is going to show up from week to week. The Bad News Bears showed up in Plano, Texas, last Saturday as UCA fell to 5-5 overall and 4-2 in the Southland Conference with a 52-35 loss to Abilene Christian. The Bears had seven turnovers, and Abilene Christian scored 31 points off those turnovers. Abilene Christian did it despite its starting quarterback not playing. This is a pretty good Lamar team that comes to Conway on Saturday. Lamar has posted six wins. They’ve come against Grambling, Texas College, Mississippi College, Abilene Christian, Nicholls and Houston Baptist. Granted, that’s a weak slate of teams. The losses have been to Texas A&M, Sam Houston State and Southeastern Louisiana. Once more, the advantage goes to the home team.

Prairie View A&M 19, UAPB 17 — It’s homecoming at Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon, which means the biggest crowd of the season. This is a battle of two 3-5 teams. UAPB won its second consecutive game last Saturday, 24-14, against Mississippi Valley State to go to 2-4 in the SWAC. The Golden Lions took a 17-0 lead at halftime and then hung on. Prairie View started the season 0-4 with losses to Texas Southern, McNeese State, Southern University and Grambling. Prairie View then won games against Jackson State, Alabama State and Mississippi Valley State before falling to Alcorn State. UAPB was hit hard by NCAA sanctions this week, and Prairie View has had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Ouachita 39, UAM 29 — Ouachita goes to Monticello on Saturday afternoon with a chance to wrap up at least a share of its second Great American Conference championship in four years. The Tigers also have an opportunity to go to 9-0 for the first time in school history. Ouachita improved to 8-0 for the first time since 1914 last week with a 38-28 win over a decent Southern Arkansas team in Arkadelphia. The Tigers trailed 21-17 after three quarters but scored 21 consecutive points to start the fourth quarter and put the game away. SAU quarterback Si Blackshire passed for more than 400 yards against Ouachita. The Tiger secondary has been suspect this season so you should expect the 2-6 Boll Weevils, under the guidance of quarterback Hunter Leppert, to score plenty of points.

Henderson 47, Southern Arkansas 31 — The Reddies and Muleriders square off in the Boomtown Classic at El Dorado on Saturday afternoon. SAU is 4-4 with all of its wins coming at home and the four losses coming on the road. It will be interesting to see how the Muleriders compete at a neutral location. Between Blackshire and Henderson’s Kevin Rodgers, there should be plenty of yards gained and points scored. The Reddies bounced back from their loss to Harding to beat UAM, 49-7, last Saturday at Arkadelphia. Rodgers was 28 of 36 passing for 346 yards and three touchdowns. Henderson is 7-1 and needs to win its final two games to secure at least a share of the GAC title and a trip to the NCAA Division II playoffs.

Harding 45, East Central Oklahoma 25 — Just looking at the records, you would expect 6-2 East Central to give 7-1 Harding a close game. But except for Ouachita’s last-second heroics on Oct. 18 at Searcy, no one has been able to handle the Bisons this year. Harding cruised to a 51-6 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma a week ago with 467 yards on the ground. Six Bisons had rushing touchdowns in that game. Harding looks well on its way to a 9-1 regular season.

Southeastern Oklahoma 13, Arkansas Tech 10 — It has been a frustrating season for the 3-6 Wonder Boys, who have a good defense but no offense to speak of.  Tech lost 15-0 last week in Russellville to East Central Oklahoma. The Wonder Boys had just 47 yards rushing and 114 yards passing in that game. Southeastern has a record of 5-4 and typically plays well at home in Durant.

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College football: Week 10

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Thank goodness for nonconference games.

Arkansas evened its record at 4-4 last Saturday with a 45-17 breather in Fayetteville against the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

All four of Arkansas’ victories have come in nonconference contests. Bret Bielema, who has never won a conference game as a Southeastern Conference head coach, is now 7-1 against nonconference opponents.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, it’s back to the SEC West this week.

In fact, it’s the No. 1 team in the country. And it’s on the road.

Mississippi State: No. 1.

That still has a strange ring to it, doesn’t it?

Will the Bulldog magic come to an end in Starkville on Saturday night?

Football analysts across the country kept saying Arkansas would have a breakthrough game — at least they were saying that prior to the debacle against Georgia at War Memorial Stadium two weeks ago. This would be a good time for that breakthrough SEC game.

We were 6-1 on the picks last week, making the record 61-6 for the season.

Let’s get to the predictions for Week 10 of the college football season:

Mississippi State 30, Arkansas 21 — Will it be the Arkansas team that almost knocked off Alabama in Fayetteville or the team that laid an egg against Georgia in Little Rock? Arkansas will need to have success on the ground and, in the process, limit the number of possessions for Dak Prescott & Co. Against UAB, Jonathan Williams rushed for 153 yards and one touchdown with 109 of those yards coming in the first half. Alex Collins finished with 82 yards rushing. Mississippi State had to work hard in Lexington, meanwhile, in its 45-31 victory over Kentucky. That game was in doubt until the Bulldogs’ Christian Holmes returned a short kickoff 61 yards for a touchdown with 2:22 remaining. Prescott ran for two touchdowns and passed for another. He had 216 yards passing and 88 yards rushing. It was Mississippi State’s 10th consecutive victory. Look for Arkansas to hang around for at least three quarters this Saturday night.

Arkansas State 40, Idaho 29 — The Red Wolves have had 11 days to prepare for this game. It was not a good performance on Tuesday of last week as ASU fell at Louisiana-Lafayette by a score of 55-40 in one of those awful Tuesday night affairs. At least the 4-3 Red Wolves get to play on a Saturday this time around. And even though the game is on the road, at least they get to take on a weaker opponent in Idaho, which comes in with a 1-6 record. The Vandals’ lone victory came on Oct. 18 against New Mexico State, 29-17. The losses have been to Louisiana-Monroe, Western Michigan, Ohio, South Alabama, Texas State and Georgia Southern.

UCA 31, Abilene Christian 25 — The Bears are 5-4 overall and 4-1 in the Southland Conference following an impressive 58-35 victory over Northwestern State of Louisiana at Conway last Saturday night. UCA had 306 rushing yards with Willie Matthews getting 114 of those. Ryan Howard was 13 of 16 passing for 150 yards and one touchdown. The ground game was so dominant that the Bears only threw three passes in the second half. There are five teams bunched at the top of the Southland Conference standings with one conference loss each. UCA and Southeastern Louisiana are 4-1. Stephen F. Austin, McNeese State and Sam Houston State are 3-1. Abilene Christian, 4-5, is at home Saturday, but the Bears should have enough firepower to overcome the Texas team. The four Abilene Christian victories have come against Troy, Incarnate Word, Houston Baptist and Ave Maria. The losses have been to Georgia State, Northern Arizona, Lamar, McNeese State and Sam Houston State.

UAPB 20, Mississippi Valley State 19 — UAPB got its first SWAC victory of the season last Saturday, blocking a 37-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds of a 38-37 win over Texas Southern in Houston. The Golden Lions had gone ahead with 2:15 left in the game on a 69-yard pass from Ben Anderson to Willie Young. UAPB is now 2-5 overall and 1-4 in conference play. SWAC games are hard to predict because the teams are so inconsistent. It’s especially hard to make the call between a 2-5 UAPB squad and a 2-6 Mississippi Valley State team. The only Mississippi Valley State wins have been over University of Faith and Jackson State. The losses have been to Illinois State, Alabama State, Alcorn State, Alabama A&M, Texas Southern and Prairie View A&M. We’ll give a slight edge to the Golden Lions since the game is in Pine Bluff.

Ouachita 28, Southern Arkansas 24 — Ouachita is 7-0 for the first time since 1914. That’s right. It has been a century. And the Tigers suddenly find themselves alone atop the Great American Conference standings after Harding’s victory over Henderson last Saturday. Ouachita, the only undefeated college football team remaining in Arkansas and the only college program in the state with seven consecutive winning seasons, relied on its defense a week ago to overcome Arkansas Tech, 14-9. Senior quarterback Kiehl Frazier was about the only bright spot on offense for the Tigers as he passed for 173 yards and ran for another 41 yards, accounting for 215 of his team’s 300 yards of offense. Southern Arkansas has defeated Ouachita each of the past two seasons and seems to have found a quarterback in Si Blackshire. The Muleriders are 4-3 but have had two weeks to prepare for the game and have a chance to pull the upset at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia.

Henderson 49, UAM 22 — Coming into their homecoming game last week at Carpenter-Haygood Stadium in Arkadelphia, the Reddies had moved up to No. 4 in NCAA Division II and had Division II’s longest regular-season winning streak at 30 games. That all ended with a 28-24 loss to Harding. Trailing 24-21, Harding recovered a fumbled pass reception with 4:36 remaining and then took 10 plays to score. The winning touchdown came with 17 seconds left on a three-yard reverse by NFL prospect Donatella Luckett. The Reddies are back home in Arkadelphia on Saturday afternoon. Look for them to bounce back in a big way against a 2-5 UAM team that had to struggle for a 44-37 victory last week against winless Southern Nazarene. Hunter Leppert passed for 323 yards in that game for the Boll Weevils.

Harding 37, Southeastern Oklahoma 17 — The Bisons went from the lowest of lows (an overtime loss to Ouachita at home in Searcy) to the highest of highs (the victory over Henderson on the road) in a week’s time. Harding led Henderson in time of possession, 43:58 to 16:02. Henderson was held to 115 yards of total offense in the second half, and the Bisons finished with a 379-356 advantage in total yards. Expect this 6-1 Harding team to finish the regular season 9-1, playing in either the Division II playoffs or the Live United Bowl at Texarkana.

Arkansas Tech 16, East Central Oklahoma 14 — Arkansas Tech is just 3-5 overall, but the Wonder Boys have a defense that gets better each week. If Tech could ever find an offense, it would be dangerous. East Central Oklahoma, which has a 5-2 record, will enter Saturday afternoon’s game at Russellville as the favorite. Expect Tech, which draws well in Russellville, to squeeze out just enough points to pull off the upset at home.

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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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