College football: Week 3 (Alabama week)

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.

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