The question as the University of Arkansas football team heads to Baton Rouge to take on the No. 1 team in the nation this week is this: Just how bad will it be?
The expectation of Arkansas fans in this first game of the post-Chad Morris era is that the team will play harder for Barry Lunney Jr. than it did for Morris. That’s really all they can hope for at this point.
My real hope is that people will show up at War Memorial Stadium on the day after Thanksgiving to support Lunney, an Arkansan through and through. On a day when many Americans take off work and watch college football, we don’t want a CBS national telecast to show thousands of empty seats. It’s time to show some Arkansas pride.
A large crowd for what I believe is a winnable game against Missouri would not only show support for the interim head coach but would also be a nice tribute to the legacy of his father, Barry Lunney Sr., who was a high school coaching legend. If the weather is decent, I believe there will be an additional 10,000 to 15,000 people at War Memorial Stadium who wouldn’t have attended had Morris still been the coach.
Lunney Sr. went 248-90-1 during 28 seasons as a high school head coach. He led Fort Smith Southside to state titles in 1991, 1992, 1997 and 2002 and then won state championships at Bentonville in 2008, 2010, 2013 and 2014. He retired from coaching following the 2014 season.
Lunney Jr. has fond memories of attending Razorback games with a grandfather who lettered at the school from 1946-49. Lunney Jr. lettered as a Razorback from 1992-95, starting 40 games at quarterback. He was a captain on the 1995 squad that played in the SEC championship game for the first time in school history.
Lunney Jr. also played baseball at Arkansas. He spent one season playing minor league baseball in the Minnesota Twins’ organization. He then decided to follow in his father’s footsteps, coaching for two seasons as a graduate assistant at Arkansas and then going to Tulsa. That was followed by two seasons at San Jose State before a return home to serve as offensive coordinator for his father at Bentonville from 2005-13. He became a Razorback assistant coach in 2014.
Playing off the fact that the day of the game against Missouri is the traditional first day of the Christmas shopping season known as Black Friday, central Arkansas civic leaders have proclaimed it Red Friday. They say the tailgating scene will be better than ever with food trucks, games and live music. Complimentary shuttles will operate between the River Market District and the stadium. They’re also promoting events that evening in the River Market District, where those ages 21 and over can now carry alcoholic beverages on the street from 5 p.m. until midnight.
In an attempt to convince fans from across the state to spend a couple of nights in Little Rock, there’s also a coordinated effort to promote Christmas shopping on Saturday, dining options throughout the city that night and brunch on Sunday.
We were a perfect 5-0 on the picks last week, making the record 71-21 for the season.
Here are the picks for Week 13 of the college football season:
LSU 49, Arkansas 19 — Let’s be honest. The Tigers can pretty much name the score in this one. It’s probably a matter of how long LSU head coach Ed Orgeron chooses to play his starting quarterback, Joe Burrow. The Heisman Trophy favorite is averaging 368.7 passing yards per game for LSU (10-0, 6-0). In last Saturday’s 58-37 win at Ole Miss (4-7, 2-5), Burrow threw for 489 yards and five touchdowns.
Arkansas State 30, Georgia Southern 28 — The Red Wolves played a sloppy game for most of the afternoon last Saturday in Jonesboro and then came alive on a late drive led by redshirt freshman quarterback Layne Hatcher to beat Coastal Carolina by a point, 28-27. With a record of 6-4 overall (4-2 in Sun Belt Conference play), the Red Wolves are bowl eligible for a ninth consecutive season. Hatcher passed 21 yards to Kirk Merritt with 32 seconds left for the winning touchdown. Hatcher was 24 of 35 passing for 305 yards and three touchdowns. Expect another close game in Jonesboro this Saturday afternoon. Georgia Southern is 6-4 with wins of 26-18 over Maine, 20-17 in two overtimes over South Alabama, 30-27 in three overtimes over Coastal Carolina, 41-7 over New Mexico State, 24-21 over a ranked Appalachian State team and 51-29 over Louisiana-Monroe. The losses have been by scores of 55-3 to LSU, 35-32 to what has turned out to be a very good Minnesota team, 37-24 to Louisiana-Lafayette and 49-28 to Troy.
UCA 34, Incarnate Word 26 — The Bears remained in a tie for the Southland Conference lead with a 30-7 victory over Stephen F. Austin last Saturday afternoon in Conway. UCA is 8-3 overall and 6-2 in conference play. The Bears are tied with Southeastern Louisiana and Nicholls State for the conference lead. In the win over Stephen F. Austin, UCA rushed for a season-high 263 yards. The Bears can earn at least a share of the conference crown with a win Friday night (that’s right, it’s a rare Friday night college game) in San Antonio against an Incarnate Word team that’s 5-6 overall and 4-4 in conference following four consecutive losses. The Incarnate Word victories have come by scores of 66-44 over Texas Southern, 31-24 over Abilene Christian, 38-36 over Houston Baptist, 27-21 over Southeastern Louisiana and 35-17 over Lamar. The losses have been by scores of 35-7 to Texas-San Antonio, 45-6 to Sam Houston State, 44-41 to Northwestern State of Louisiana, 27-23 to Nicholls State, 31-24 to Stephen F. Austin and 41-28 to New Mexico State.
UAPB 25, Texas Southern 10 — The Golden Lions have several things in their favor going into the final game of the season. They’re home, they’ve had two weeks to prepare for this game and their opponent is 0-10. A victory in Pine Bluff on Saturday afternoon would give the Golden Lions a final record of 6-5, a vast improvement over last year’s 2-9 campaign. UAPB hasn’t had a winning season since 2012 when the school finished 10-2 and beat Jackson State in overtime in the SWAC championship game. The Golden Lions went 13-53 during the next six seasons. The Texas Southern losses have been by scores of 44-23 to Prairie View A&M, 63-44 to Incarnate Word, 77-6 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 68-31 to Houston Baptist, 35-28 to Alabama A&M, 23-20 to Missouri S&T, 28-21 to Southern University, 35-14 to Mississippi Valley State, 55-20 to Grambling and 27-21 to Alabama State.
Ouachita 31, Lindenwood 23 — It was a Battle of the Ravine for the ages. Henderson came in 9-1 and ranked No. 20 in the country in NCAA Division II. Ouachita came in 10-0 and ranked No. 5. Henderson jumped out to a 14-0 lead before an overflow crowd at Cliff Harris Stadium and was driving to make it 21-0 when Ouachita senior Keandre Evans from Junction City came up with an interception that turned the tide. Ouachita was trying to run out the clock in the fourth quarter when Henderson recovered a fumble at the Ouachita 41. The Reddies covered that distance in eight plays to take a 21-17 lead with just 1:44 remaining in the game. Ouachita then drove 74 yards with the clock running out. The winning score came on a one-yard run by senior Brockton Brown from Sheridan with 33 seconds remaining and no time outs left. With the 24-21 victory, Ouachita won its third consecutive undisputed Great American Conference title. It’s the second consecutive undefeated regular season for Ouachita, which extended its conference winning streak to 27 games. The Tigers are back home at Cliff Harris Stadium on Saturday afternoon against a Lindenwood team from the St. Louis area that’s 8-3. The Lions started 1-3 before running off seven consecutive victories over McKendree, Truman State, Saginaw Valley State, Quincy, the University of Indianapolis, Missouri S&T and Southwest Baptist.
Northwest Missouri State 35, Harding 32 — The headline on the GAC preview story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Aug. 25 was “GAC opener might decide who stands tall in end.” That was the case as Ouachita beat Harding by a final score of 16-14 on Sept. 5 with a late field goal by a true freshman. Ouachita finished the regular season 11-0, and Harding finished 10-1. Harding won its 10th consecutive game last Saturday by a final score of 49-14 over 3-8 Arkansas Tech. The Bisons led 21-0 at halftime and finished with 406 yards rushing. That’s the sixth consecutive game in which the Bisons have rushed for more than 400 yards. Harding will hit the road to take on traditional powerhouse Northwest Missouri State, which has won six Division II national championships. It’s the school’s 16th consecutive playoff appearance and its 24th overall. Northwest Missouri beat Harding 35-0 in the playoffs in 2012 and 2016. Expect it to be a lot closer this time around. This is a talented Harding team. Northwest Missouri is also 10-1 with its lone loss having come by a final score of 24-17 to Nebraska-Kearney. Nine of its 10 victories have been by double-digit margins.