Finally, college football season has arrived.
And it won’t be the usual boring nonconference opponent for the Razorbacks. No, ESPN will telecast a battle of two ranked teams in Fayetteville on Saturday afternoon. It could prove to be quite a test for the Hogs.
On Thursday night, meanwhile, former Hog head man Bobby Petrino brings his Missouri State Bears to Conway to take on the University of Central Arkansas Bears.
Arkansas State and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff are both home on Saturday. ASU hosts Grambling in Jonesboro, and UAPB hosts tiny Lane College in Pine Bluff.
All of the Great American Conference schools start the season Thursday night. The six Arkansas schools play the six Oklahoma schools. Remember, all games are conference games, and there are no bye weeks, just a grueling 11 consecutive weeks of conference play.
Four of the six Arkansas GAC schools are on the road. The two schools that are home are Henderson State University and Southern Arkansas University.
Let’s get to the picks:
Arkansas 31, Cincinnati 27 — Hopes are high on the hill as Arkansas comes off a 9-4 season. The No. 19 Razorbacks will have their hands full against No. 23 Cincinnati. There’s a deeper receiving corps this year for quarterback KJ Jefferson. That could make the difference if the Razorbacks get in a shootout Saturday afternoon. At the start of the season last year, offensive coordinator Kendal Briles was still trying to figure out how to best use Jefferson’s talents. Now, he knows.
Arkansas State 40, Grambling 24 — The 2021 season was a nightmare in Jonesboro as the Red Wolves went 2-10. Coach Butch Jones has shown he can recruit, though, so there should be improvement in 2022. Just how much improvement is anyone’s guess. Last year was the worst record in Jones’ career as a head coach. He was 85-54 as head coach at Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee. The only Red Wolf victories in 2021 were over UCA and Louisiana-Monroe. Remember, this is an ASU program that played in a bowl game every year from 2011-19.
Missouri State 30, UCA 22 — UCA teams qualified for the playoffs in three of the past six seasons. Last year wasn’t one of them as the Bears slumped to a 5-6 record. Four of the six losses were by 10 points or less. The roster has been revamped. There are a ton of question marks as UCA begins play in the ASUN Conference. Quarterback Breylin Smith is among those who are gone. Petrino obviously would love to start the season with a victory in the state he once called home.
UAPB 32, Lane College 14 — The Golden Lions began a less-than-stellar 2021 season with a 34-16 victory over Lane. You should expect a similar margin this year. The Lions finished the 2021 season with a 2-9 record as the team was beset by injuries. The only other victory came against Grambling. UAPB returns six offensive and five defensive starters.
Harding 29, East Central Oklahoma 15 — Last season saw Harding win its second GAC title with an 11-2 record. The Bisons reached the second round of the NCAA Division II playoffs and are picked by the GAC coaches to repeat as champions. Harding’s flexbone offense averaged 390.1 rushing yards per game last year, the highest average in Division II since 2014. But Harding must replace the conference’s all-time leading rusher, Cole Chancey.
Ouachita 33, Oklahoma Baptist 23 — Ouachita came into last season having won three consecutive GAC titles and five of the previous nine conference crowns. The Tigers return 10 offensive starters and six defensive starters off a 9-2 team. Ouachita has a combined regular-season record of 40-4 the previous four seasons. The coaches picked the Tigers second and Oklahoma Baptist fifth in the preseason poll. Ouachita will have a new quarterback in Riley Harms, a transfer from Kearney State in Nebraska.
UAM 43, Southern Nazarene 39 — The Boll Weevils went 5-6 in 2021. They return seven offensive and four defensive starters for head coach Hud Jackson, who is 39-71 in 10 seasons at the school. The preseason poll has the Boll Weevils seventh and Southern Nazarene last. UAM defeated Southern Nazarene by a final score of 30-23 in the opener a year ago. The key to the first game and the season will be the play of UAM quarterback Demilon Brown.
Southeastern Oklahoma 36, Arkansas Tech 19 — Southeastern was the only GAC team to defeat Harding last year and one of the two teams (along with Harding) to defeat Ouachita. Southeastern is picked third in the preseason poll; Tech is ninth. The Wonder Boys finished 4-7 last year after starting 0-4. Tech has an experienced team, however, with seven offensive and eight defensive starters returning. After being picked 11th in the 2021 poll, the Savage Storm went 9-3 and won the Live United Bowl against Emporia State.
Henderson 37, Southwestern Oklahoma 28 — The Reddies finished 9-2 last year and would have shared the conference title with Harding had they defeated Ouachita in the Battle of the Ravine. Ouachita kicked a 53-yard field goal late for a 31-28 victory. Henderson returns six offensive and nine defensive starters. Quarterback Adam Morse and All-American wide receiver L’liot Curry are gone. Henderson is picked fourth and Southwestern is picked 11th in the preseason poll.
Southern Arkansas 25, Northwestern Oklahoma 16 — Brad Smiley will be SAU’s third head coach in three seasons. The Muleriders were 4-7 a year ago and lost starting quarterback Hayden Mallory. SAU still has Jariq Sales, the 2021 GAC Freshman of the Year, who rushed for 1,475 yards and nine touchdowns. SAU was eighth and Northwestern was 10th in the preseason poll.