Another college football season begins in earnest this week.
Normally, a kickoff time of 3 p.m. on an August afternoon in Fayetteville would be brutal. But it looks as if the weather is going to give University of Arkansas fans a break with temperatures and humidity levels falling late in the week.
The attitude of Razorback fans coming into the 2019 season can best be described with this word: Cautious.
Not “cautious optimism,” mind you. I sense going into this season that fans are being careful not to get too high or too low following that 2-10 debacle in the first year of the Chad Morris regime. They’re pragmatic for a change, telling themselves: “This is a team that plays in the SEC West, and there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
Mark this down, however: The Razorbacks need to get to at least five or six victories this year or there will be serious questions being asked about Morris’ ability to get it done.
The Razorback fan base has been beat down. Consider that:
— Arkansas has had just one winning season since Bobby Petrino left following the 2011 season.
— The Razorbacks have the worst SEC record of any of the 14 conference teams since then — 13-43. The next worst in the SEC West is Ole Miss at 23-33. The next worst in the conference as a whole are Tennessee and Kentucky at 17-39.
The facts speak for themselves. With an overall record of 35-52 the past seven years and home losses to teams such as Louisiana-Monroe and Toledo, it’s evident that Arkansas has the worst football program in the SEC.
That doesn’t mean Arkansas — with its facilities and tradition — will stay there. The road back to respectability can begin Saturday against Portland State.
Let’s get to the picks:
Arkansas 49, Portland State 20 — Even given the current state of the program, this should be a relatively easy Hog victory over an FCS squad. Portland State was 4-7 overall and 3-5 in Big Sky Conference play a year ago. The Vikings were 0-11 the previous season. We now know that Ben Hicks will start at quarterback for the Razorbacks, though you can expect Nick Starkel to get plenty of work. The goals in this game are to iron out the first-game kinks, build a big enough lead early to allow lots of substitutions and avoid major injuries in advance of the Sept. 7 Ole Miss game in Oxford. The Rebels will have their hands full Saturday against a good Memphis team. That contest will be telecast at 11 a.m. on ABC.
Arkansas State 31, SMU 30 — It promises to be an emotional night in Jonesboro as the Red Wolves play for the first time since the death of Wendy Anderson, the wife of head coach Blake Anderson. ASU was 8-5 overall and 5-3 in Sun Belt Conference play last year, which didn’t meet the high expectations of Red Wolf fans these days. ASU won back-to-back Sun Belt championships in 2015-16. Anderson, who now has a 39-25 record at the school, cleaned house on his coaching staff following last season. With 13 returning starters, the Red Wolves should be better. SMU brings in a team that was 5-7 last year but had a quality win over Houston.
Western Kentucky 29, UCA 27 — The FCS Bears open the season on the road against against an FBS team, but it’s a winnable game on Thursday night. Western Kentucky was just 3-9 in 2019 and finished the season 2-6 in Conference USA play. In their first year under Nathan Brown, the Bears struggled to a 6-5 record. The previous two seasons under head coach Steve Campbell (now at South Alabama) had seen UCA post back-to-back 10-win seasons. Two of UCA’s losses in 2018 were by a combined five points. Brown, who is just 33, has eight starters back on offense. UCA is picked to finish second in the Southland Conference.
TCU 59, UAPB 12 — The Golden Lions go to Fort Worth to collect a check in a game that’s sure to get ugly early. TCU was 7-6 last year, which was not up to the high standards of recent seasons. The Horned Frogs won their final three games, beating Baylor and Oklahoma State in Big 12 play and then defeating California in overtime in bowl play. UAPB was 2-9 in its first season under head coach Cedric Thomas. UAPB had a combined record of 21-46 the six seasons prior to that. The school hasn’t had a winning season since 2012.