Archive for September, 2012

College football: Week 5 (Alabama edition)

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

It’s great to be here in the state of Alabama.

We’ll start the week by picking the outcome of the Alabama Crimson Tide and Auburn Tiger games.

What’s that you say?

Auburn has an open date, giving the Tigers two weeks to prepare for Arkansas?

OK, let’s start with Ole Miss at Alabama.

Excuse me?

Say what?

We’re not in Alabama?

We’re in Arkansas?

Never mind.

There I go.

Having fun, along with everyone else, at the expense of John L. Smith.

I should refrain from that. What a nice guy. I enjoyed visiting briefly with him before Monday’s meeting of the Little Rock Touchdown Club. I know I would enjoy having him as a dinner companion.

I was sitting just to Smith’s right when he made the now-famous verbal slip (the story even made The Wall Street Journal this morning). I whispered “Arkansas.”

He didn’t hear me.

Look, I’ve spent decades giving speeches and talking on the radio. It’s easy to make mistakes when speaking. This man was put in a no-win situation. He will be a blip in the history of University of Arkansas football.

Take a deep, deep breath and enjoy the fall weather. This too shall pass.

Let’s repeat a couple of things we’ve said in previous weeks:

1. The best thing Jeff Long can do for the long term is nothing in the short term. Focus on hiring the best coach possible at the end of the season. Another change now would only add to the confusion.

2. Everyone should have realized coming into the season that due to the unusual circumstances, this would be a season to survive, not a season to savor. We have only ourselves to blame for buying into the preseason hype.

There’s good college football being played in Arkansas. It’s just not being played in Fayetteville.

UCA opened Sun Belt Conference play with an important win at home.

UAPB won a second consecutive conference game on the road.

Four of the state’s six Great American Conference teams are undefeated — Henderson is 4-0, Ouachita is 3-0, Harding is 3-0 and Southern Arkansas is 3-0.

We were 6-3 last week on the picks — and should have known better than to pick Arkansas over Rutgers – making the record 28-6 for the season thus far.

On to the picks for Week 5:

Texas A&M 44, Arkansas 31 — The Razorbacks will score lots of points. Unfortunately, the Aggies will score more against a horrible (by SEC standards) Arkansas defense. After having its first game postponed due to a tropical storm (the Aggies were supposed to play Louisiana Tech in Shreveport; that game will now be played Oct. 13), A&M opened at home against Florida. The Aggies fell, 20-17. They’ve since come back with victories of 48-3 over SMU and 70-14 over South Carolina State.

Western Kentucky 32, Arkansas State 30 — It will be a tough Sun Belt Conference opener in Jonesboro on Saturday night for the 2-2 Red Wolves. Western Kentucky opened with a 49-10 victory over Austin Peay and didn’t play that badly in a 35-0 loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa (17 points closer than the Razorbacks came to beating Alabama). That was followed by two quality victories –32-31 over Kentucky in Lexington and 42-17 at home against Southern Mississippi. After having to play at Oregon and Nebraska in two of its first three games, Arkansas State got a nice break last weekend against lowly Alcorn State, winning 56-0 in Jonesboro. ASU outgained Alcorn, 634-130. Ryan Aplin was 12 of 13 passing for 198 yards and three touchdowns. It should be a fun, close game before hopefully a big crowd in Jonesboro this weekend.

UCA 29, Stephen F. Austin 27 — Last Saturday’s win for UCA was one of the biggest in the history of the program. Sam Houston State came in ranked No. 3 in the FCS and led 20-10 with less than four minutes remaining in the game. First, Bear quarterback Wynrick Smothers scored on a 17-yard run with 3:18 left. He then threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Dominique Croom with just 57 seconds showing on the clock. The Bears are now 3-1 after beating Sam Houston for the first time since 2008. Smothers was 24 of 41 passing for 318 yards and two touchdowns. Croom had seven catches for 113 yards. Stephen F. Austin opened with a 49-14 win over an NCAA Division II foe, Southwestern Oklahoma. SFA has since lost three consecutive games — 52-0 to SMU, 43-35 to Montana State and 41-37 to Texas State.

Tennessee State 17, UAPB 13 — On Thursday night of last week, UAPB went to 3-1 overall and 2-1 in the SWAC with a 24-21 victory over Alabama State in Montgomery. The game was televised nationally by ESPNU. Alabama State missed a field goal attempt in the final minute that could have sent the game to overtime. It was the Golden Lions’ second road conference victory in a six-day period. Ben Anderson passed for 220 yards, and Justin Billings rushed for 127 yards. UAPB goes on the road for a third consecutive game as Tennessee State celebrates its homecoming in Nashville. Tennessee State is 4-0 with victories of 17-14 over Florida A&M, 38-12 over Jackson State, 34-14 over Austin Peay and 21-14 over Bethune-Cookman.

Ouachita 28, Southeastern Oklahoma 24 — Ouachita moved up to No. 12 nationally in NCAA Division II following a 31-24 victory over Arkansas Tech in Arkadelphia. But injuries already are adding up for the 3-0 Tigers, the defending Great American Conference champion. Ouachita lost its starting quarterback, GAC 2011 Offensive Player of the Year Casey Cooper, in the first game. Last Saturday, quarterback Benson Jordan injured his shoulder. The Tigers’ defense is improved over last season, however. Southeastern Oklahoma opened the season with a nonconference victory over Texas A&M-Commerce but has since dropped two consecutive conference games — 31-24 to Southern Arkansas and 56-20 to Henderson.

Henderson 52, Southwestern Oklahoma 35 — The Reddie offense just outscores folks. Henderson is now ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division II. In last Saturday’s 56-20 victory over Southeastern Oklahoma at Arkadelphia, Reddie quarterback Kevin Rodgers was 15 of 28 passing for 269 yards and two touchdowns. Southwestern Oklahoma is 1-2 overall and 1-1 in conference play. Southwestern will score some points, but it won’t be enough to match Henderson’s output.

Harding 33, East Central Oklahoma 22 — The Bisons, who have won three consecutive road games, are not yet nationally ranked. But they should be. They have the best ground game in Division II. In a 42-13 win over Southern Nazarene last Saturday, Harding rushed for 441 yards on a school-record 79 running plays. Harding is 3-0 for the first time since 2004. East Central is 2-2 overall and 1-1 in the GAC, having defeated UAM, 31-17, last weekend.

Southern Arkansas 19, UAM 17 — The 3-0 Muleriders have been a pleasant surprise. They posted a 35-34 victory over Southwestern Oklahoma last Saturday. Mulerider quarterback Tyler Sykora is the real deal. He was 24 of 36 passing for 281 yards and five touchdowns against Southwestern Oklahoma. UAM dropped to 1-3 with its loss to East Central Oklahoma in Ada.

Arkansas Tech 35, Northwestern Oklahoma 16 — The Wonder Boys looked much better in their 31-24 loss to Ouachita than they had looked the week before in a 73-34 loss to Henderson. Tech is 1-3, but there’s a bright side. That’s the fact that the Wonder Boys have scored a combined 58 points the past two weeks against the No. 17 and No. 12 teams in the country. It will pay off this week against an 0-4 Northwestern Oklahoma team.

Post to Twitter

Rex’s Rankings (after four weeks)

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Finally, we had nice weather on a Friday night.

Following three consecutive Fridays of thunderstorms and delays, it was good to have a beautiful evening for football. I took in the first half of the Salt Bowl at War Memorial Stadium — there were more than 20,000 people in attendance — before having to leave for the scoreboard show.

Remember to join Grant Merrill, Nate Olson and me each Friday night from 10 p.m. until midnight for Scoreboard Central on more than 60 stations across the state of Arkansas. These rankings are first released in the second hour each week.

There were some memorable performances on Friday night.

Jonesboro beat West Memphis in a battle of Top 10 teams.

And my alma mater, Arkadelphia, shocked Nashville with a 35-0 run in the second half.

Here are the rankings after four weeks of the high school football season:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Greenwood

4. Camden Fairview

5. Conway

6. Jonesboro

7. Rogers Heritage

8. Pine Bluff

9. Fayetteville

10. West Memphis

7A

1. Bentonville

2. North Little Rock

3. Conway

4. Rogers Heritage

5. Fayetteville

6A

1. Greenwood

2. Jonesboro

3. Pine Bluff

4. Lake Hamilton

5. El Dorado

5A

1. Camden Fairview

2. Greenbrier

3. Watson Chapel

4. Alma

5. Wynne

4A

1. Malvern

2. Stuttgart

3. Arkadelphia

4. Pine Bluff Dollarway

5. Nashville

3A

1. Glen Rose

2. Smackover

3. Prescott

4. Fordyce

5. Harding Academy

2A

1. Carlisle

2. Gurdon

3. East Poinsett County

4. Junction City

5. Bearden

Post to Twitter

KAAY — The Mighty 1090

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

I can’t remember when I’ve had as much fun as I had last week attending the 50th anniversary party for the radio station that was such a key part of my youth — KAAY-AM, the Mighty 1090.

Thank you, Barry McCorkindale, for including me.

As I pointed out in a newspaper column earlier in the week, there’s still a Little Rock radio station with the call letters KAAY. And it’s still at 1090. But the Mighty 1090 has been gone for more than a quarter of a century, having died on April 3, 1985, when the station switched from its mix of Top 40 music, news and Razorback sports to paid religious programming.

We were in the side room of the Little Rock Oyster Bar for the anniversary party. The Oyster Bar long has been among my favorite dives, and it was probably fitting that we were in a room with cheap wood paneling from the 1970s and a sagging roof. That’s because the memories that came rushing back that night were from the 1960s and 1970s.

Bob Robbins, who went on to become one of the nation’s top country DJs at KSSN-FM, first came to Arkansas because of KAAY. Born in Florida in 1944, Bob was the youngest of 13 children. He was living in Americus, Ga., when the job offer came from the 50,000-watt Little Rock station.

“I drove through the night from Georgia, and I listened to KAAY the entire way,” he said. “I never lost the signal. Somehow, I found out where the studio was. I remember thinking, ‘My gosh, what is this place?’ Jonnie King was on the air as I pulled up.”

King would go on to a long radio career in the St. Louis market.

Sharing the stage with Robbins at the anniversary party was Sonny Martin, who handled the morning-drive shift for many years with legendary newsman George J. Jennings.

Bob and Sonny talked about heavily promoted events during KAAY’s heyday that would draw thousands of people — the cow chip throwing contest, the skunk festival, etc.

The late Pat Walsh, who was the station’s general manager in those days, was a marketing genius. He also was able to mold a group of eclectic characters into a team.

“The way we lived back then, it’s amazing that any of us got to this age,” Robbins said. “We cared for each other. We were a family. Radio has changed in so many ways. I wish I could live long enough to see radio stations be like they were back then.”

In an age of massive corporations, satellite programming and an eye only on the bottom line, it’s unlikely there will ever be anything again like the Mighty 1090.

It was an interesting mix. There was Top 40 music during the day. There was “Beaker Street” and its so-called underground music late at night. There was a solid local news operation. There were Razorback football games. There were the Marvin Vines farm reports early in the morning and during the noon hour.

Vines had started at KAAY’s predecessor, KTHS, in 1953.

“He was one of the few people and the only on-the-air person to make the change to KAAY in 1962,” wrote A.J. Lindsey, whose on-air name was Doc Holiday. “Marvin’s talent was not so much on the air as it was driving 64,000 miles a year and speaking everywhere he could.

“My memory of Marvin was his terrible coffee. He arrived at the station early — like 4 a.m. — to prepare his show. The all-night jock wasn’t interested in making coffee, so the first pot of the day was made by Marvin, and it was terrible.

“I arrived at 6 a.m. as Marvin was doing the farm reports. By then, the coffee was old. But Marvin was always in a good mood.”

Vines was killed in May 1978 in a tractor accident on his farm. Lindsey, a Little Rock native, died in May 2009.

Speaking of KTHS, the station signed on in 1924 with studios in the Arlington Hotel at Hot Springs.

“KTHS began broadcasting on Dec. 20, 1924, at 8:30 p.m. with an inaugural program originating from the ballroom,” Bud Stacey writes for the online Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture. “On Jan. 1, 1925, the Arlington opened for hotel guests. KTHS programs consisted mainly of live big band music from the ballrooms. … In August 1928, the Arlington Hotel presented KTHS to the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce as a gift; the station was shut down during the week of Aug. 13 to move its facilities to the Chamber of Commerce building at 135 Benton St.”

It was in April 1931 that Lum and Abner were invited to perform on KTHS for a flood relief benefit, helping launch what would be remarkable broadcast (and movie) careers.

An email from Scott Lauck arrived after this week’s newspaper column was published.

“My grandfather was Chet Lauck, and he played Lum,” Scott said. “He told me about those first broadcasts that he and Tuffy Goff (who played Abner) made on KTHS before the show was quickly picked up by NBC and moved to Chicago. Those were the golden years of radio, and they had so much fun doing that show for 25 years. They also made six movies for RKO.”

KTHS was granted permission by the Federal Communications Commission in 1951 to move from Hot Springs to Little Rock. A new transmitter was set up at Wrightsville.

Randy Tardy, with whom I once worked at the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, remembers that last day before KTHS became KAAY in 1962.

“I was news director for KTHV, Channel 11, whose companion radio station was KTHS,” Tardy says. “I had somehow inherited the night news reporter’s job for radio since their man was out sick or on vacation. It was Labor Day weekend 1962. I had wrapped up preparing the 10 p.m. news for the television side and put together some wire copy and local stuff for the 10 p.m. radio news on KTHS. As I entered the booth a few minutes before the top of the hour, the engineer in the control room said: ‘You know, this is the last KTHS 10 p.m. newscast. Next time around it will be the new folks.’

“I was anxious to leave Eighth and Izard, where the studios were, so that the secretary to the program director, Miss Elizabeth Timmel, and I could drive all night in my 1955 Pontiac to Kentucky Lake near Murray, Ky., to meet her mom and dad. She had prepared sandwiches for us to nibble on overnight as we made our way east on U.S. 70. Interstate 40 was a few years in the future.

“I wrapped up the final newscast, and off we went. While at Kentucky Lake with her parents, I proposed to her on their lake dock. Fortunately for me, she said ‘yes.’ So as the Mighty 1090 celebrates its 50th anniversary, Elizabeth T. Tardy and I are approaching our 50th anniversary on Oct. 12. We were married on Oct. 12, 1962, in the chapel of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. We had the weekend off but were both back at work on Monday at the television station.”

KTHS had been purchased by the LIN Broadcasting Corp. and changed its call letters to KAAY on Sept. 3, 1962 (the day after my third birthday).

“Labor Day weekend listeners were teased by a new, temporary format: that of radio announcers reading names and addresses out of the Little Rock phone book and welcoming them to The Friendly Giant over Henry Mancini’s ‘Baby Elephant Walk,’” Stacey writes.

Tardy remembers listening to that on the way back from Kentucky with his new finacee.

“The only thing that sounded the same was Marvin Vines, whose format did not change,” he says. “In fact, I think he still said KTHS rather than the new call letters. The newscasts were delivered by George J. Jennings and B. Bruce Jenkins, two pretty darned good radio newsmen.

“It was a good time to be where I was, especially watching and listening to Howard Watson and others prepare for ‘Ear on Arkansas’ as I watched Bob Hicks, Evelyn Elman and Steve Stephens do ‘Eye on Arkansas’ on KTHV.”

“Eye on Arkansas” was a true magazine-style television show.

“Ear on Arkansas” was satire and comedy, far ahead of its time.

On-air names were taken from the real names of LIN board members.

“As DJs left for other markets, their air names were dropped to the bottom of a list and the next new announcer would pick up the air name at the top of the list,” Stacey writes. “These names were trademarked by the station so that they could not be taken to competitors’ stations. In some cases, a former announcer would be hired again by KAAY while his original air name was being utilized, so he used his real name. This happened with Wayne Moss in later years since a ‘Sonny Martin’ was on the air at the time.”

The “Sonny Martin” at last week’s event is really Matt White. He runs the Pot O’ Gold Restaurant at Lindsey’s Rainbow Resort on the Little Red River near Heber Springs and has a show on KWCK-FM, 99.9, in Searcy. White was the last Sonny Martin from 1966-77.

KAAY stories often revolve around the Funmobile, the trailer used for remote broadcasts.

David B. Treadway, a familiar voice in Arkansas radio, once wrote of White: “The Funmobile was parked in a huge field some miles south of Little Rock for a big music festival headlined by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. We were all doing our shows live from the event that day, and it was well after dark when Sonny showed up demanding my belt and KAAY buckle. Yes, he had been there all day.

“A fan had admired Sonny’s buckle, so naturally he had given it to her, belt and all. He was due onstage to introduce the Dirt Band in a couple of minutes, and his jeans were in danger of going south. Reluctantly, I gave him my belt and, of course, never saw it again. But that’s how we did it back in the day — everything for the station, all glory to the call letters.”

I hear there’s a book in the works on the Mighty 1090.

I hope so.

There are enough stories out there to fill several volumes.

Post to Twitter

College football: Week 4 (after the deluge)

Wednesday, September 19th, 2012

What’s left to say at this point?

I’m drawn back to a piece Danny West wrote from Fayetteville in the wake of the University of Arkansas’ loss to Louisiana-Monroe.

The points he made at that time rang even more true after the Razorbacks were humiliated by Alabama.

To wit: “So how did this happen? Simple. Arkansas wasn’t prepared, and it wasn’t prepared because Bobby Petrino wasn’t the one directing practice all week, the week before and the four weeks before that.

“I remember one day during two-a-days when John L. had the marching band come down to the intramural fields to greet the players with the fight song as they ran off the bus. Cute. But cute doesn’t win.

“I remember another time, at media day, when media members didn’t receive a card with a list of our interviews, or even a chair to sit in while interviewing the players inside the Broyles Center. Those were small things that we had always received.

“Trey (Biddy) told me then, ‘I just have a bad feeling that the small things, the attention to detail, has left now that Bobby’s no longer in charge. Everyone’s just a little too nice around here right now.’

“Another time at practice, one of the assistant coaches had to wait for the ball boy to run and get a bag of footballs before practice could resume. Think those things would have happened under Bobby Petrino? Not a chance, and I’d pray for the poor soul who was responsible if they did happen. The man had everything under control at all times. No distractions, 100 percent focus on every small detail.”

Yes, the little things matter.

The man I considered my football guru, the late Buddy Benson, always said, “There’s a fine line between a winner and a loser.”

Obviously, the little things aren’t being taken care of in Fayetteville.

Of course, Petrino had to go. In my mind, that’s not even open to debate. As I noted last week on the Southern Fried blog, we should have understood coming in that this is a season to survive, not a season to savor.

Too many of us bought into the preseason hype. Even a Petrino-led team would have been challenged by the lack of talent on the Razorback defense.

The out-of-state correspondent I quoted last week — who has followed the Hogs since birth — checked in again this week.

“Disgust with the current coaching staff should be tempered somewhat by pity for the players,” he wrote. “Tyler Wilson was right. Many did seem to quit against Bama. But it’s almost forgivable, given the bill of goods sold these kids. They came to play for a whole other program and were then subjected not to a more typical, comes-with-the-territory coaching change — an adios for a better job — but a shock to the system.

“Imagine: The man they respected/feared/trusted, the coach any young player would naturally want to please in that father-son way of coach-player, the man who was The Man embarrassed the hell out of himself and them.

“Most kids that age hunger for adult leadership and a sense of authority even as they think they want to revolt against it. When the authority disappears, they are lost. These players had to witness the public humiliation of their authority figure. How do you get past that quickly?

“Talk of an SEC title? Whispers of a national championship run? A Top 10 ranking? That’s a lot of pressure for a crew suddenly steering without a rudder. Throw in a head coach who is the polar opposite of the offensive genius and disciplinarian they came to play for, and who was surely found out within weeks of his hire as an empty headset, and combine that with a staff loyal mainly to future employment . . .”

His conclusion? It’s a sad time to be a Razorback player.

“I feel sorry for them,” he writes. “Their heads are spinning already from a crazy offseason, just months removed from all that. Now they find themselves being bludgeoned by Alabama on national television without their best player/coach on the field and with knowledge that little help will arrive from the sidelines. Having played on teams that were poorly coached, I can attest to that feeling of being lost at sea and on your own out there. It ain’t fun.”

No, it isn’t.

So where does the Arkansas program go from here?

Our correspondent writes: “The state’s inferiority complex — let’s be honest, we have one — will now manifest itself in outrage and anger, demand for something being done yesterday. Like firing the lot of them on The Hill, starting with Jeff Long and ending with the water boy. But all that would accomplish is scaring off potential head coaches. Who would want to work for an athletic director who is so easily bullied by the fans?

“The best thing Long can do long term is nothing in the short term. He has made his stand for principle. Like it or not, you have to admire him for it. The alternative would have been so much easier and, by now, excused and accepted by a majority of the fan base and a sports culture that understands that victories rule all.

“This won’t be easy, but Long has to suffer through this. It’s his Passion. In the meantime, he could busy himself with ignoring what’s happening on the field and concentrate on securing the money to afford a head coach, the man who can and would clean up this mess and turn it around quickly. Because, as bad as things look now, the right head coach can make a difference. That we know.”

We were 6-1 on the picks last week, making us 22-3 on the season.

Let’s move on to the picks for Week 4:

Arkansas 24, Rutgers 23 – I’m not sure why I’m doing this. I guess I think, as I write this, that Tyler Wilson will play. Without Wilson’s leadership on the field, Arkansas will be lucky to make it to a bowl game. There’s some athletic talent on this Razorback team, but I wonder how much heart there is after watching key players quit on the field during last week’s second half.

Arkansas State 42, Alcorn State 10 — After trips to Oregon and Nebraska, the Red Wolves get a well-deserved break when Alcorn State comes calling from the SWAC. The Arkansas State defense is still showing its youth. Remember, it returned just three starters from last year. Bo Pellini wasn’t on the sideline during the second half of last week’s game with the Huskers, but it didn’t matter as Nebraska coasted to victory. The Red Wolves finished the game with 286 yards of offense, but just 89 yards of that came in the second half of the 42-13 loss. Alcorn State is 1-2 following a 24-6 loss to UAPB.

Alabama State 21, UAPB 19 — The Golden Lions go to Montgomery, Ala., for a Thursday night game that a national television audience will be able to watch on ESPNU. The Golden Lions moved to 2-1 overall and 1-1 in the SWAC with their win over Alcorn State. Ben Anderson ran for a touchdown and passed for another in that game. Alabama State lost its opener, 38-28, to Bethune-Cookman in a game played at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando but has since come back with victories of 29-7 over Mississippi Valley State and 19-18 over Grambling. We’ll go with the home team in a tight game.

UCA 31, Sam Houston State 28 — The Bears picked on an NAIA school, Bacone College out of Oklahoma, in Conway last week. UCA is 2-1 after that 70-3 victory. Things get much tougher this week as Southland Conference play begins before a home crowd in Conway and a regional television audience. Sam Houston State is 1-1, opening the season at home with a 54-7 win over Incarnate Word out of San Antonio and following that victory with a 48-23 loss to Baylor in Waco.

Henderson 49, Southeastern Oklahoma 29 — The 3-0 Reddies, now ranked No. 24 nationally in NCAA Division II, are on a roll. The Reddies, who are off to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1981, went on the road last Saturday and destroyed Arkansas Tech, 73-34. Henderson led 56-27 at halftime — the most points ever scored by a Henderson team in a half. The Reddies returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown and never slowed down, finishing the night with 581 yards of offense. Southeastern Oklahoma is 1-1 after a 31-24 loss to Southern Arkansas in Durant. The Reddies win big yet again.

Ouachita 37, Arkansas Tech 27 — Ouachita moved up to No. 13 nationally despite an open date. The Tigers have outscored their first two opponents by a combined count of 86-3 with wins of 55-3 over Northwestern Oklahoma and 31-0 over Stillman College. Now begins a stretch of eight consecutive Saturdays of conference contests as Ouachita attempts to repeat as Great American Conference champion.

Southwestern Oklahoma 14, Southern Arkansas 13 — The Muleriders are off to a 2-0 start following victories over Texas College and Southeastern Oklahoma. Southwestern started the season with a 49-14 loss to an FCS foe, Stephen F. Austin, but came back in its conference opener to upset East Central Oklahoma, 13-10. This should be a close game in Magnolia.

Harding 59, Southern Nazarene 15 — Ouachita and Henderson are nationally ranked. Harding should be. The Bisons began the season by shocking North Alabama on the road, 31-10, and followed that up with a 52-7 victory over UAM in Monticello. Southern Nazarene has lost 63-21 to Henderson, 37-15 to East Central and 17-7 to a school out of Kansas known as Friends. The Bisons cruise to an easy victory.

East Central 30, UAM 20 — The Boll Weevils were thoroughly outclassed against Harding. East Central, picked to finish second in the GAC, will be seeking to make amends for its loss to Southwestern Oklahoma.

Post to Twitter

Rex’s Rankings (after three weeks)

Monday, September 17th, 2012

I’ve been following high school football in this state for most of my 53 years, and I can never remember when we’ve had three consecutive weeks of games affected by bad weather.

Each Friday of the season has seen delays and cancellations.

Here’s hoping for better weather for Week 4, which includes the Salt Bowl between Benton and Bryant at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

Remember to join Grant Merrill, Nate Olson and me each Friday night from 10 p.m. until midnight on more than 50 radio stations across Arkansas for scores and analysis.

Here are the rankings following three weeks of the season:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. West Memphis

3. North Little Rock

4. Greenwood

5. Camden Fairview

6. Conway

7. Jonesboro

8. Rogers Heritage

9. Pine Bluff

10. Fayetteville

Class 7A

1. Bentonville

2. West Memphis

3. North Little Rock

4. Conway

5. Rogers Heritage

Class 6A

1. Greenwood

2. Jonesboro

3. Pine Bluff

4. Lake Hamilton

5. El Dorado

Class 5A

1. Camden Fairview

2. Greenbrier

3. Watson Chapel

4. Alma

5. Wynne

Class 4A

1. Malvern

2. Stuttgart

3. Nashville

4. Pine Bluff Dollarway

5. Arkadelphia

Class 3A

1. Glen Rose

2. McGehee

3. Smackover

4. Prescott

5. Fordyce

Class 2A

1. Carlisle

2. Gurdon

3. East Poinsett County

4. Junction City

5. Bearden

Post to Twitter

Bessemer’s Bright Star

Friday, September 14th, 2012

Through the years, I’ve tried to visit as many iconic Southern restaurants as possible.

One place that had long been on my restaurant bucket list was the Bright Star in downtown Bessemer. It’s Alabama’s oldest restaurant.

Last Friday night, I was able to finally eat there. In a previous post, I wrote of how important college football road trips have become to me. Finding great restaurants is an integral part of any football road trip worth its salt.

Realizing months ago that Ouachita Baptist University would be playing a September game in Tuscaloosa, I made it a point of planning a Friday night trip to the Bright Star,  which was founded by Greeks in 1907.

Ouachita athletic director David Sharp and I were staying in nearby Hoover. We headed to Bessemer — just 10 miles away — shortly before 6 p.m. and parked on the street in an old downtown that has seen its better days.

As we approached the Bright Star, a tall gentleman in a suit, who was standing on the sidewalk outside, asked a question.

“Are you coming to dinner?” he said.

“Yes sir,” I quickly replied.

“Is this your first time at the Bright Star?” he asked.

“It sure is,” I said.

Then, without mentioning the next day’s football game (the real reason we were in Alabama), I added: “We drove all the way from Arkansas just to eat here.”

Yes, I used to work in politics.

He opened a door that said “Exit Only” and invited us inside. I looked left toward the lobby and could see that there was a wait. The man took us directly to a booth up front and told us to sit down.

Before a waitress could bring the menus, he had brought us two cups of the best seafood gumbo I’ve ever had outside of Louisiana.

“On the house for our friends from Arkansas,” he said.

I soon learned that the man we had had the good fortune of running into on the sidewalk was none other than Jimmy Koikos, the oldest of the two brothers who now own the Bright Star. We later met his younger brother, Nicky.

Gene Stallings, who was the head football coach at the University of Alabama from 1990-96, wrote this in a book published in 2007 by the University of Alabama Press in honor of the Bright Star’s 100th anniversary: “Every once in a while — possibly only once in a lifetime — if we are really lucky we will run across a restaurant that is truly special. I’ve had the privilege of eating at five-star restaurants in Europe as well as here in the United States, and without question my favorite restaurant in the world is the Bright Star in Bessemer.

“The restaurant stands on its own, but the story of a young man from Greece who had very little money and could not speak English making his way to Alabama and starting a restaurant that has thrived for more than 100 years is a heartwarming one. His struggles, his love for his restaurant and his love for the people of Alabama and his family is one you’ll not soon forget.”

Bill and Pete Koikos immigrated from Greece in 1923 and two years later purchased an ownership interest in the restaurant from its founder, Tom Bonduris. Jimmy and Nicky Koikos have owned and operated the business since 1966.

It started as a 25-seat cafe. It now seats 330 people.

There’s a tradition of quality Greek-owned restaurants in the South. Birmingham natives can run down the list from that area. In addition to the The Bright Star, there’s The Fish Market, Gus’s Hot Dogs, Niki’s Downtown, Niki’s West, Pete’s Famous Hot Dogs, The Smoke House, Yanni’s and Zoe’s.

The Southern Foodways Alliance has devoted a section of its website (www.southernfoodways.org) to interviews with people at these restaurants.

“It is written that the first immigrant from Greece, George Cassimus, arrived in Birmingham in the late 19th century, had a brief stint as a fireman and then turned to the resturant business,” the SFA website notes. “His Fish Lunch House, which opened in 1902, may or may not be the first Greek-owned restaurant in town, but it was certainly a starting point — and perhaps even an inspiration — for the multitude of Greek-owned restaurants that have fed generations of hungry folks in Birmingham since.

“The names of these restaurants create an interesting kind of foodways genealogy. Greek immigration and restaurant history can be traced through a place like Gus’s Hot Dogs, which was started by a man named Gus, then owned by Aleck and now run by George — all Greeks who saw opportunity in the Magic City.

“Whether it’s souvlaki or hot dogs, baklava or peanut butter pie, Greeks in Birmingham have perfectly melded their own food traditions with those of the Deep South.”

Take Niki’s West. Gus Hontzas came to this country from Greece and ended up in Jackson, Miss., where his uncle, John Hontzas, had a restaurant called John’s. The Hontzas family opened Niki’s Downtown in 1951 at Birmingham. Niki’s West opened six years later, and Gus moved to Birmingham to run it. He died in 2001. His sons, Pete and Teddie, took over Niki’s West.

An article at the website www.seriouseats.com noted: “The cafeteria line at Niki’s West is legendary. Mid-morning you can find folks in line, piling their plates high with some of the freshest and most colorful vegetables in Birmingham. And if the cafeteria line isn’t your style, they also have an a la carte menu where you’ll find even more fresh seafood, steaks and a few traditional Greek dishes.”

Jackson, Miss., also has a strong restaurant tradition.

When I was going to Mississippi’s capital on a regular basis as part of my work for the Delta Regional Authority, I loved to eat downtown at the Mayflower Cafe and the Elite.

The Mayflower, long a hangout for Mississippi politicians, has been open since 1935 and is known for its seafood.

The Elite, which has been around since 1947, is also known for seafood along with its yeast rolls. There are also broiled steaks, hamburger steaks smothered in onions, homemade soups and enchiladas.

When dining in Jackson, you must have what’s known locally as comeback sauce. You use it as a salad dressing. You dip your crackers in it. You dip fries and onion rings in it.

Comeback sauce, sort of a mix of thousand island dressing and remoulade sauce, became popular in the 1940s at the Mayflower and the Greek-owned restaurants operated by the Dennery family in Jackson. The Rotisserie, which was owned by Alex Dennery and was in the Five Points area of Jackson, simply called it house dressing. The Mayflower’s comeback sauce has a touch of celery that the others don’t have.

We digress.

Let’s get back east to Bessemer and the Bright Star.

Bessemer, long a steel town, was founded in 1887 by Henry F. Debardeleben. He came to the Birmingham area at age 30 and acquired a controlling interest in the Red Mountain Iron & Coal Co., which was later renamed the Eureka Mining Co.

Bessemer came to life after Debardeleben bought 4,040 acres about 13 miles southwest of Birmingham. He planned to build eight furnaces and add two railroad outlets. The original name of the city was Brooklyn, but Debardeleben renamed it in honor of Sir Henry Bessemer, the British scientist who was a pioneer in the process of making steel.

By 1890, Bessemer was the fourth-largest city in Alabama.

Bessemer had 33,428 residents in the 1970 census. Since then, it has fallen to 27,456. Ore mining ended as supplies were exhausted, leading to economic decline.

Iron ore once was mined in the hills just to the southeast of the city, coal was mined to the north and to the west, and there also were significant deposits of limestone.

By the time the Bright Star was founded, Bessemer was served by five railroads and downtown sidewalks were busy 24 hours a day. The Bright Star started in 1907 as a small cafe with only a horseshoe-shaped bar. It outgrew three locations and moved to its present location in 1914. There are still original ceiling fans, tile floors and marbled walls. There also are murals painted decades ago by an itinerant European artist.

Seafood is brought from the Gulf Coast daily. After our complimentary cups of gumbo, David and I shared the cold shrimp platter as an appetizer. We both decided on a Greek salad followed by the restaurant’s specialty — snapper broiled Greek style. This is a red snapper fillet broiled with olive oil, lemon sauce, oregano and other seasonings.

There’s no state — not even Texas — in which college football consumes a higher percentage of the populace than Alabama. Though the Bright Star has both Alabama and Auburn memorabilia on its walls, Crimson Tide fans far outnumbered Tiger fans. Almost 50 percent of those dining there last Friday night (with an afternoon game scheduled for Tuscaloosa the next afternoon) had on some type of Alabama shirt, jacket or button.

In addition to being Gene Stallings’ favorite restaurant in the world, the Bright Star was a favorite haunt of Paul “Bear” Bryant. Both Nicky and Jimmy Koikos graduated from the University of Alabama and remain Crimson Tide fans.

After dinner, Jimmy took us to the back of the restaurant to see the somewhat hidden “Bryant Booth,” where the coach would hang out, eat, drink and smoke. It features a painting of Bryant and is reserved weeks in advance on game weekends.

The waitresses all wear either Alabama or Auburn jerseys on the night before football games.

The man in the booth next to us, obviously a regular who eats lunch and dinner at the Bright Star several times a week, told us of his plans for a party at his Tuscaloosa condo the next day. He attends both home and road games, meaning he’s likely already in Fayetteville as I write this.

In the book published for the Bright Star’s centennial, Jimmy Koikos had these memories of Bryant: “Daddy wasn’t a big football fan, but I was always interested in the sport. When I was a junior in high school, I remember going to Mobile to see Coach Bryant’s first game. Later, I went to Memphis to see his last game. I followed him through his entire career. The man knew exactly what to say and when to say it. He was a master at motivating people.

“I remember one Monday night in the 1970s before our expansion, I got a telephone call from a man who wanted to make reservations for two for dinner. I told him that since it was a Monday evening, we would not be full. He could just come by at his convenience.

“He again told me that he wanted to reserve a private booth for two people. I told him that our booths are reserved for eight or more guests, but to just come by, ask for Jimmy and I would be glad to accommodate him.

“He proceeded to tell me that he wanted a private booth for two with a television.

“I said, ‘Sir, may I ask who is requesting a private booth for two people with a television?’

“He said, ‘This is Bear Bryant.’

“I said, ‘You got it, Coach.’ I ran home, took my mother’s television set out of her house, returned to the restaurant and set it up in a private booth in the back. Coach Bryant wanted to come for dinner and watch Monday Night Football.

“I also remember driving by one night when I wasn’t working and seeing a huge crowd. I thought, ‘Wow, Nicky’s really got a crowd in there tonight.’ But I wondered why the television was being played so loudly that I could hear it out in the street. I went inside and turned the set down and asked why it was so loud. Someone said it was because Coach Bryant wanted it loud. I walked right back over there and turned it up again. Coach and Mrs. Bryant and several of their friends were eating there that night.

“Another time, I walked out onto the practice field in Tuscaloosa to watch the team work out. Coach was sitting on a golf cart. It was really hot that day. I said, ‘Coach, how are you?’ He looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here? Every time I see you I get hungry.’

“He was a wonderful coach and a real motivator. It was a real pleasure to talk to a man like that. I came to understand that if you run a business the way he ran a football team, you’d have a pretty successful business.”

After last week’s visit, I can assure you that’s exactly how Jimmy and Nicky Koikos run their business.

Long live the Bright Star.

Post to Twitter

The college football road trip

Wednesday, September 12th, 2012

As we drove across Alabama last Friday afternoon, my thoughts turned back to a trip to Birmingham that I had made more than three decades earlier.

It was November 1981.

I was a student at Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia while also holding down two jobs — sports editor of the Daily Siftings Herald and sports director of radio stations KVRC-KDEL.

I also was a fan of University of Alabama Crimson Tide football. My favorite teams — in order — were Ouachita in the Arkansas Intercollegiate Conference, Arkansas in the Southwest Conference and Alabama in the Southeastern Conference.

A bit of history is in order here: When my father played football at Ouachita in the 1940s, he had a teammate from south Arkansas named Sam Bailey. Bailey’s college football career had begun at Magnolia A&M (now Southern Arkansas University), which was a junior college at the time.

Bailey had grown up in tiny Sandyland near Smackover. The United States was entering World War II when he graduated from high school, and he joined the armed services. By the time he was discharged, he had a wife and a 2-year-old son.

Bailey worked in the oil fields after the war to support his family and also played in an independent basketball league.

In 1946, Elmer Smith was hired to resurrect the Magnolia A&M athletic program, which had been suspended in 1942 due to the war.

Here’s how an SAU news release put it back in 2008 when Bailey was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame: “There were no practice facilities, uniforms or an on-campus playing field. Smith happened to see Bailey playing basketball on an independent team at Stephens and liked what he saw. He encouraged Bailey to visit the campus in Magnolia and showed his family where they would live, a very small trailer.

“When Bailey told Smith he had never played football, Smith gambled one of his 22 allowed scholarships on someone who had never even seen a football game. In Bailey’s first season, the Muleriders were only 4-5, but they soared to a 9-2-1 record in 1947, including a tie with McNeese State in the Cajun Bowl at Lake Charles. La.”

Because Magnolia A&M was a junior college, Bailey had to transfer following his sophomore season. He played as a junior and a senior as Ouachita’s quarterback. After graduating from Ouachita, Bailey joined Smith’s staff back in Magnolia.

The Muleriders, now representing a four-year school called Southern State College, won AIC titles in 1951 and 1952. Bailey also coached baseball, and his teams captured AIC titles in 1953, 1954 and 1956.

Smith joined Paul “Bear” Bryant’s staff at Texas A&M in 1954. Bailey followed Smith to College Station in 1956. When Bryant left for Alabama following the 1957 season, Bailey went with him. He would spend more than three decades on the Alabama staff as Bryant’s right-hand man.

Bailey started at Tuscaloosa as the freshman football coach. He was appointed assistant head coach in 1966. In 1969, Bailey was named assistant athletic director. Bryant had the athletic director’s title, but Bailey ran the department. Alabama’s track and field facility is named for Bailey.

The friendship between my dad and Sam Bailey gave me a tie to Alabama football. Bryant was among my childhood heroes.

In 1981, Bryant was in line to pass Amos Alonzo Stagg as the winningest coach in major college football history. It was fitting that for Bryant to reach 315 wins, his team had to win the greatest major college rivalry in the country, the Iron Bowl against Auburn (Think about it: Sam Bailey played in the greatest small college rivalry — the Battle of the Ravine — and coached in the country’s greatest major college rivalry, the Iron Bowl).

The Iron Bowl was played at Birmingham’s Legion Field in those days (which ironically is reached by driving down Arkadelphia Avenue), and the two schools would alternate as host. Though the media focus was on Bryant, Auburn was the home team.

I wrote a letter on Siftings Herald stationery to David Housel, Auburn’s sports information director, requesting media credentials. I told him that though we were a small newspaper, we were one of the closest daily newspapers to Bryant’s hometown of Fordyce.

Housel, the epitome of a Southern gentleman who went on to become Auburn’s athletic director, wrote me back. He noted that he was expecting hundreds of writers from across the country, most of them from newspapers much larger than mine. But because he liked my chutzpah, he would find a way to get me in the main press box.

I visited about that game with Housel several years ago when he was in Little Rock for the SEC women’s basketball tournament.

It was an afternoon game, and those with media credentials were asked to meet at a downtown Birmingham hotel on the morning of Saturday, Nov. 28, and then take police-escorted chartered buses to Legion Field.

Here was my problem: The Arkadelphia High School Badgers, in their third season under head coach John Outlaw, were in the state semifinal game. I had to handle the radio play-by-play duties of Arkadelphia’s game against Alma and then write a story for the newspaper.

Fortunately, I was young. I decided that I would finish my duties in Arkadelphia and drive through the night to Birmingham.

The Badgers were upset by Alma (the team they had defeated in the state championship game two years earlier). I wrapped up the broadcast, wrote the newspaper story and headed toward Lake Village after midnight.

I crossed the Mississippi River and then drove east on U.S. 82 through Greenville, Greenwood, Winona, Starkville and Columbus. The sun was coming up as I crossed into Alabama.

Auburn, in its first season with Pat Dye as head coach, played well. Alabama had to come from behind in the second half to win, 28-17.

Realizing that I was witnessing history, I got as close as possible to Bryant as he walked off the field. I attended his postgame news conference and went back to the press box to call in a story to the Arkansas Democrat. I would finish college in the next couple of weeks and had already agreed to go to work for Wally Hall at the Democrat in December.

I took so long that I missed the chartered bus that was taking writers back downtown. As I left the press box, it was getting dark. I wasn’t sure what to do, but then a car pulled up beside me.

The driver, who also had a press pass dangling from his belt, could see that I was a sports writer in need of a ride.

“You want a ride downtown?” he asked.

“I sure do,” I said.

He then stuck out his hand and said, “Clyde Bolton.”

I smiled and immediately replied, “I have several of your books!”

Clyde Bolton of The Birmingham News was among the South’s most famous sports writers in those days. He retired a decade ago from the newspaper business but is still writing books.

He dropped me back at my car, and I decided to head west until I got tired. Not having slept since Thursday night, I made it only as far as Tuscaloosa. I found a motel room, bought myself a big steak to celebrate what had been a memorable day and went to bed by 9 p.m.

I still have the Sunday newspapers I bought the next morning.

Those memories came flooding back as David Sharp, the Ouachita athletic director, and I drove to Birmingham last week. Ouachita was playing in Tuscaloosa the next afternoon against Stillman College. Since the Crimson Tide was also at home, the closest hotel room we could find was in Birmingham.

I’m in my 30th year of doing Ouachita’s radio play-by-play. I actually started 34 years ago but lived in Washington, D.C., for a few years in the late 1980s and didn’t see Ouachita games. I adopted the Naval Academy as my team and attended all the home games at Annapolis.

Years ago, I would have predicted that I would have given up my strange fall hobby of going to college football games every Saturday by now. Yet the older I get, the more important these trips become to me.

Good food, of course, is a big part of any college football road trip. David and I left Friday morning in time to have ribs for lunch at Central Barbecue near the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. And we drove over to Bessemer, Ala., on Friday night for the Greek snapper at the famous Bright Star, which has been in downtown Bessemer for more than a century.

When I think of college football road trips, I think of all the things I’ve seen. The small college circuit can really give you some interesting experiences — seeing the World’s Largest Peanut in Durant, Okla., and the World’s Largest Pecan in Seguin, Texas, for instance. First-time visitors are always disappointed to discover that these big nuts are made out of concrete and plastic.

I think of friends who are no longer with us, especially the great Mac Sisson, the longtime Ouachita sports information director with whom I spent hundreds of hours and covered thousands of miles on football Saturdays.

I miss him.

And I think of my current friends — people such as the aforementioned David Sharp, my friend of more than 30 years; Jeff Root, with whom I grew up in the Ouachita Hills neighborhood of Arkadelphia. He has been my partner on the broadcasts for more than a quarter of a century.

On Friday nights, as mentioned in a Southern Fried post earlier this week, I co-host a high school scoreboard show from 10 p.m. until midnight. That will mean some short nights in the weeks ahead. In two weeks, for instance, I will get home about 12:30 a.m. following the scoreboard and get up at 5 a.m. in order to meet Jeff in Arkadelphia. We’ll leave at 6:30 a.m., have breakfast at the Pitt Grill in New Boston, Texas, and drive to Durant to broadcast Ouachita’s afternoon game against Southeastern Oklahoma.

Creatures of habit, we’ll probably drive downtown after the game to see the big peanut and then have dinner at the Branding Iron in Durant. We’ll likely get back to Arkadelphia shortly before midnight, and I’ll get home to Little Rock about 1 a.m.

Why do I continue to do this at age 53?

I do it because I love it. September, October and November mean football road trips.

It’s who I am.

It’s what I do.

Post to Twitter

College football: Week 3 (Alabama week)

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

My oh my.

What a difference a week makes.

A week ago, you were looking forward to that Alabama-Arkansas game, weren’t you?

ESPN College GameDay was going to be in Fayetteville, giving the Razorbacks the “national respect” that Hog fans always whine is lacking.

A huge audience was going to tune into CBS for the network’s first SEC telecast of the season, one pitting a pair of Top 10 teams.

Razorback rooters dreamed of a stunning victory with the students tearing down the goal posts and depositing them in the middle of Dickson Street, just as they did following the 1999 victory over Tennessee (has it really been 13 years?).

That all changed Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium.

Admit it.

Now you’re dreading Saturday’s game, aren’t you? You’ll still be there. Or at least you’ll watch on TV. But you fear there’s a beatdown coming, right?

Perhaps we should have seen this coming.

Perhaps we should have realized that we were in a holding pattern, that this was a season to survive, not one to savor.

Perhaps we should have understood that, despite the returning talent, everything changed when that Harley crashed back in the spring.

A good friend, who has followed the Razorbacks his entire life and now lives in another state, put it much better than I could in an email to me earlier this week.

Here’s what he wrote: “If I were a public defender assigned to mount a defense for John L. Smith two games into this season — an assignment no one would volunteer for — I’d say this: He was put, or put himself, into an impossible spot. Short of inheriting a team in midseason, no head coach is forced to retain each and every assistant from a previous regime.

“Because he didn’t hire these folks, but inherited them, and was effectively told not to mess with them or screw things up, he has no sway over the staff and probably very little input.

“Paul Haynes has defense. Paul Petrino has offense.

“John L. wears a headset and watches from the sidelines. He’s the coaching equivalent of a third-string quarterback with a clipboard. So not only are the players not his, but the coaches aren’t, either. And everybody knows that John L. has a 10-month contract. He has no authority. None. The players know this, the other coaches know this, so they’re out for themselves, understanding that in less than a year John L. will be gone, and many of them will, too.

“That said, I still think Jeff Long made the best long-term decision for the program when he didn’t try to replace Petrino immediately with a permanent coach. I don’t remember who was on the market at the time, but I don’t remember much.

“There’s no way out of this mess immediately, but there is a way through it. And that’s to get past this season and make a major hire ASAP when the LSU game is over.”

Amen, brother.

So we learned on Thursday of last week that Arkansas had gone from having a head coach who was morally bankrupt to one who was literally bankrupt.

And then the week got worse from there for Razorback fans.

We were 8-2 on the picks, making us 16-2 on the year.

Let’s get to the selections for Week 3:

Alabama 32, Arkansas 17 — Urged on by more than 70,000 fanatics in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Arkansas will play much better than it played last week. Of course, the Hogs couldn’t play much worse, could they? It’s going to be a loss, but it’s not going to be as bad as you think. There’s relief down the line — Arkansas will be playing Auburn soon.

Nebraska 41, Arkansas State 20 — The Red Wolves were not as impressive as many Arkansans had hoped in either their loss to Oregon or their close win over a truly woeful Memphis team. Coach Gus Malzahn has said he wants to play only one “money game” each year. Unfortunately, he is stuck with two this season. Nebraska is angry following its 36-30 loss to UCLA on Fox (the Huskers had opened the season with a 49-20 win over Southern Mississippi). An ASU defense that returned only three starters from last year will experience plenty of headaches in Lincoln on Saturday morning (it’s an early start on ESPN2). With the game kicking off at 11 a.m., you should be able to watch both Arkansas State and Arkansas lose on national TV Saturday without missing a play of either contest. Things will improve quickly for the Red Wolves since Alcorn State comes to Jonesboro a week later.

UCA 50, Bacone 11 — Pass the Bacone and eggs, please. I’m not sure what the Bears are doing playing this tiny NAIA school out of Oklahoma, but it should be nothing more than a scrimmage in Conway for a talented UCA squad. UCA evened its record at 1-1 last Saturday with a 42-20 win over Murray State on the road. Junior quarterback Wynrick Smothers (I told you he’s the real deal after watching him play in the opener at Ole Miss) threw five touchdown passes to five receivers. He was 31 of 41 passing for 358 yards. Senior Jesse Grandy caught caught six passes for 73 yards and returned a punt 72 yards for a touchdown.

UAPB 14, Alcorn State 12 — I find games in the SWAC, where the quality of play has deteriorated steadily for years, almost impossible to pick. Teams are up one week and down the next. No one in the conference is consistent. I guess, in a way, that makes it exciting. And the bands are great. UAPB fell to 1-1 last weekend with a 14-10 loss to Alabama A&M in Pine Bluff. The Golden Lions’ final five trips into the red zone resulted in just three points. Alcorn State started the season with a 22-21 conference victory over Grambling in Shreveport but was destroyed last weekend in Harrisonburg, Va., by James Madison University, 42-3. Don’t mess with those dead presidents.

Henderson 37, Arkansas Tech 27 — Henderson-Tech is one of this state’s oldest rivalries, and I plan to be in Russellville on Saturday night to see it (C.J.’s or Whatta-Burger before the game?). The Reddies have been impressive in their first two games. Playing last Saturday in southern Illinois against outmatched McKendree, Henderson went to 2-0 with a 47-24 win. Quarterback Kevin Rodgers threw for a school-record 442 yards and seven touchdowns. Henderson had 520 yards of offense in that game. Two days earlier, Tech had fallen to 1-1 with a 27-19 loss to Missouri S&T in Russellville. These Wonder Boys are better than the 2-8 squad of a year ago, but I’m not sure they can hang with the Reddies. Henderson head coach Scott Maxfield might just be on the way to restoring the Sporty Carpenter glory days.

Harding 30, UAM 24 — Harding started the season a week later than most college teams, but what a start it was. The Bisons shocked traditional NCAA Division II powerhouse North Alabama, 31-10, in Florence. It was North Alabama’s first regular-season nonconference loss since the 2002 season opener at Samford. The Bisons outgained UNA 430-192 with 282 of those yards coming on the ground. The 1-1 Boll Weevils gave FCS Northwestern State of Louisiana all it wanted in Natchitoches before falling by seven points, 31-24. In their second year under head coach Hud Jackson, the Boll Weevils are much improved. They’ll give the Bisons a battle in what should be a fun game to watch in Monticello.

Southeastern Oklahoma 29, Southern Arkansas 28 — The Muleriders also are improved this season, but it’s hard to tell just how much given the quality of competition in their first game. Playing at a high school stadium in Tyler, the Muledriders beat Texas College (a joke of a college football program), 56-0. Tyler Sykora passed for 337 yards and four touchdowns for SAU. Southeastern opened its season with an impressive 31-6 victory at Texas A&M-Commerce, snapping a losing streak that covered the final eight games of the 2011 season. The Savage Storm has had two weeks to prepare for the Muleriders. It will be a close game. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

Post to Twitter

Rex’s Rankings (high school football, that is)

Tuesday, September 11th, 2012

I love high school football.

Always have.

As much as I enjoy running my mouth (insert your snide comments here), I’m probably getting too old to be live on the radio until midnight. I get sleepy.

But, the good Lord willing, I’ll be in the KARN-FM studios in west Little Rock each of the next 10 Friday nights (through the first two weeks of the playoffs) doing a scoreboard show with Grant Merrill and Nate Olson.

The program can be heard on more than 50 stations statewide each Friday from 10 p.m. until midnight.

We have fun, and if you like high school football as much as I do, I think you’ll have fun listening.

One of the things I do in the second hour each week is release my rankings for the Top 10 overall and the Top 5 in each of the six classifications.

It’s the first ranking in the state since it comes out on Friday nights immediately after the games are played.

I’m going to include what we call Rex’s Rankings on the Southern Fried blog each week for those of you who would like to check it out.

Here are the rankings following two weeks of the high school football season:

Overall

1. Bentonville

2. West Memphis

3. Pine Bluff

4. Greenwood

5. Camden Fairview

6. North Little Rock

7. Pulaski Academy

8. Jonesboro

9. Cabot

10. Rogers Heritage

Class 7A

1. Bentonville

2. West Memphis

3. North Little Rock

4. Cabot

5. Rogers Heritage

Class 6A

1. Pine Bluff

2. Greenwood

3. Jonesboro

4. Lake Hamilton

5. Russellville

Class 5A

1. Camden Fairview

2. Pulaski Academy

3. Batesville

4. Shiloh Christian

5. Watson Chapel

Class 4A

1. Nashville

2. Malvern

3. Stuttgart

4. Pine Bluff Dollarway

5. Arkadelphia

Class 3A

1. Glen Rose

2. McGehee

3. Smackover

4. Prescott

5. Fordyce

Class 2A

1. Carlisle

2. Gurdon

3. East Poinsett County

4. Junction City

5. Bearden

Post to Twitter

College football: Week 2

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

The college football season is off and running.

The John L. Smith era at the University of Arkansas began with fans grumbling about the defense, but what a difference two decades makes.

Consider this: Twenty years ago, Arkansas lost its opener in Fayetteville on Labor Day weekend to The Citadel, and Jack Crowe was fired the next day as head coach.

The attendance at the game was 35,868.

Now, Arkansas is 1-0 and in the Top 10. Attendance on Saturday against Crowe’s Jacksonville State team was 71,062.

So attendance for a first game on Labor Day weekend has doubled in two decades. It shows how college football has grown as a business since the early 1990s.

With that growth, however, comes donor expectations and increased pressure on head coaches. Smith is no rookie. He understands that his team is expected to show improvement on defense and win easily Saturday night in Little Rock against Louisiana-Monroe.

Arkansas had 564 yards of offense and 25 first downs in its 49-24 victory over Jacksonville State. But the Gamecocks also had some offensive success with 322 yards of offense and 20 first downs. Tyler Wilson was as good as expected at quarterback for Arkansas, going 19 of 27 through the air for 367 yards and three touchdowns. He set the school record for passing yards in a season opener.

It’s interesting to note that the last Razorback head coach to lose his opener was the man who fired Crowe, Frank Broyles, in 1958. Broyles’ Razorbacks fell to Baylor, 12-0.

On the West Coast, meanwhile, it was baptism by fire for Arkansas State University’s Gus Malzahn in his first game as a college head coach. Oregon had a 50-3 lead before the Red Wolves knew what hit.

ASU gave up 424 yards of offense in the first half.

The Red Wolves narrowed the final margin to 23 points at 57-34 after Oregon put in the subs. ASU’s defense returns just three starters from last season, and it showed.

Things should get much easier this week for the home opener in Jonesboro against a Memphis team that’s FBS in name only. The Tigers are really, really bad.

I was in Oxford last Saturday night and saw UCA play well for three quarters against Ole Miss before being overwhelmed at the end. It was quiet in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at halftime as the Bears led by six points, 20-14.

Wynrick Smothers is the real deal at quarterback for UCA. He was 25 of 32 passing for 247 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears finished the night with 347 yards of offense.

UCA’s opponent this week, Murray State, was taking a much worse beating at Florida State last Saturday.

We were 8-0 on picks in Week 1.

Let’s get to Week 2:

Arkansas 44, Louisiana Monroe 17 — The recipe is the same as it was going into the first game of the season — record a solid victory, rest the starters in the second half, don’t get anybody hurt, get ready for Alabama. The players should try to have some fun Saturday night at War Memorial Stadium. Based on Alabama’s opening-game performance against Michigan, the afternoon of Sept. 15 in Fayetteville might not be much fun at all.

Arkansas State 37, Memphis 19 — An FBS team such as Memphis has no business losing at home to Tennessee-Martin. Should they not just drop football at Memphis and concentrate on basketball, something they know a little something about? John Thompson’s young Red Wolf defense will give up points. But the ASU offense — which finished with 540 yards against Oregon — should score plenty of points of its own in front of what’s expected to be a big crowd in Jonesboro.

UCA 24, Murray State 22 — The Racers opened their 88th season of football last Saturday with a 69-3 loss to Florida State in Tallahassee. Murray State does have a quarterback, Casey Brockman, who’s one of the 20 players on the Walter Payton Award watch list. He threw for 3,276 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Coach Chris Hatcher has produced winning records in each of his first two years at Murray State. After seeing the Bears last weekend, we’ll go with UCA in a close road victory.

Missouri S&T 17, Arkansas Tech 15 – In the lone Thursday night game involving an Arkansas team, the Wonder Boys host a squad out of Rolla, Mo., that rolled up a 55-14 win over Oklahoma Panhandle State in Week 1. Tech won its opener, 16-14, against Bacone College, an NAIA school out of Oklahoma. The Wonder Boys should be much improved from the team that went 2-8 a year ago. Missouri S&T is picked to finish third in the Great Lakes Valley Conference. The Miners were 6-5 in 2011 and have 21 seniors on the roster.

Alabama A&M 27, UAPB 20 — As we noted last week, on paper this looks to be Monte Coleman’s most talented team at UAPB. But the FCS Golden Lions struggled to beat an NAIA team, Langston, last Saturday in the Delta Classic at War Memorial Stadium. At least they didn’t lose to Langston like last year. UAPB recovered a fumble late, and junior college transfer Tyler Strickland kicked a 27-yard field goal as time expired to give the Golden Lions a 17-14 victory. It was UAPB’s first win in a season opener since 2004. Alabama A&M went 8-4 a year ago, losing by a point to Grambling in the SWAC championship game at Legion Field in Birmingham. A&M was back at Legion Field for the 2012 opener, defeating in-state rival Tuskegee, 7-6.

Henderson 47, McKendree 18 – The Reddies are loaded. They opened the season with a 63-21 win over Southern Nazarene. Sophomore quarterback Kevin Rodgers was 22 of 30 passing for 360 yards as Henderson scored on five of its first six drives. The Reddies finished the game with 564 yards of offense. McKendree, which is in Illinois, lost its opener, 23-13, to Tiffin University of Ohio. Making the transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II, McKendree was 2-8 last season. The Bearcats are picked to finish sixth out of nine teams in the Great Lakes Valley Conference.

Ouachita 39, Stillman 28 —  Ouachita was as impressive in Week 1 as its crosstown rival, posting a 55-3 win over Northwestern Oklahoma, a future Great American Conference opponent. The Tigers lost 2011 GAC Offensive Player of the Year Casey Cooper to a knee injury on the first drive, but redshirt sophomore quarterback Benson Jordan from Lake Hamilton (grandson of the late Hall of Famer Buddy Benson) came in to complete 11 of his 15 passes for 186 yards. Ouachita outgained the Rangers 454-114. Stillman, an HBCU in Tuscaloosa, came from behind to defeat Central State of Ohio in its opener. Yes, Ouachita finds itself playing in Tuscaloosa on the same day as a Crimson Tide home game. Expect traffic jams.

Southern Arkansas 40, Texas College 10 — The Muleriders start the season a week later than most college teams. They’ll play on a high school field in Tyler, Texas, against the always-awful Steers of Texas College. It will be the third game of the season for Texas College, which already has lost 46-10 to the University of Saint Francis from Indiana and 19-12 to the University of the Incarnate Word from San Antonio.

North Alabama 30, Harding 21 — The Bisons also start the season a week late. Unfortunately, they don’t get to start against Texas College. Instead, Harding must go on the road to play former Gulf South Conference opponent North Alabama. Coach Terry Bowden — known locally around Alabama as Tater Tot — has departed North Alabama to coach the Akron Zips. Bobby Wallace, who led North Alabama to three consecutive national titles in the 1990s before going to Temple, has come out of retirement to coach the Lions. Wallace’s teams went 41-1 at the Florence school from 1993-95, making him the first college coach to win 40 games or more in three seasons. The Lions struggled last week in a 31-30 road win in Birmingham against Miles College, but North Alabama hasn’t lost a regular-season game to a non-GSC school since Aug. 29, 2002. The last time the Lions lost a regular-season home game to a non-GSC school was 1999.

Northwestern State 36, UAM 14 — What a difference a week makes. Last weekend, Northwestern was playing Tommy Tuberville’s Texas Tech Red Raiders, losing 44-6 in Lubbock. The Demons host UAM on Saturday. Last week, UAM was playing what was basically an intramural team, a largely online school from Memphis called College of Faith. It happens to field a football team. The Weevils won, 78-0. It’s hard to believe they’re allowed to count it as a varsity game, but so be it. UAM is 1-0, Northwestern is 0-1. Expect both teams to be 1-1 after this week.

Post to Twitter