Razorback fans are feeling good again.
At least the program matters, something you couldn’t say the past two years.
In fact, it matters enough that the main CBS broadcast — Verne, Gary and the 2:30 p.m. kickoff — is slated for Arkansas vs. Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.
Yes, the Razorbacks have a fighting chance as they show continued improvement in Year 2 of the Bret Bielema era.
Last week in Fayetteville, you could tell that Northern Illinois’ 17-game road winning streak was over just as soon as Korliss Marshall returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Arkansas has now won three games in a row by 21 or more points for the first time since 2010. The Huskies are 1-10 through the years against Southeastern Conference foes, but this was a fairly talented Northern Illinois team that Arkansas dismantled by a final score of 52-14.
Unlike the win over Nicholls State, this was a quality victory.
Arkansas’ offense showed that it could pass the football in addition to running it. Brandon Allen had 199 passing yards. Keon Hatcher, with 107 receiving yards, became the first Razorback receiver this year to top 100 yards in a game. Arkansas actually passed for more yards than it ran for, 215 to 212.
As for the Aggies, they’re 4-0 for the first time since 2006. Texas A&M toyed with 0-3 SMU in Dallas last Saturday, winning by a final score of 58-6. It could have been worse. Quarterback Kenny Hill played for only a half at quarterback but still accounted for 322 yards of offense. He was 16 of 22 passing for 265 yards and two touchdowns.
I went 8-1 on the picks for a second consecutive week, missing only on UAM’s 34-28 loss at Northwestern Oklahoma. The 0-3 Boll Weevils have now lost three consecutive games in the final minutes.
The season record is 29-2.
On to the picks for Week 5:
Texas A&M 49, Arkansas 36 — The Aggies have been impressive in victories of 52-28 over South Carolina, 73-3 over Lamar, 38-10 over Rice and 58-6 over SMU. This is a far superior Arkansas team to the one that took the field last year, losing nine consecutive games to end the season. Texas Tech did not look as bad as advertised in its 45-35 loss Thursday night to No. 24 Oklahoma State. So the Arkansas wins over Texas Tech and Northern Illinois both could be described as quality wins. Now comes the death march known as the SEC West. Texas A&M should win. Arkansas might.
UCA 50, Nicholls State 22 — Poor ol’ Nicholls. The Colonels have now lost by scores of 44-16 to Air Force, 73-7 to Arkansas, 27-10 to Henderson and 77-3 to North Texas. Nicholls will have the distinction of having lost to an FBS, an FCS and a Division II school from Arkansas, all in the month of September. The Bears are off to a 1-3 start in the first year under head coach Steve Campbell. It was a heartbreaker in Conway last Saturday night as Missouri State hit a 53-yard field goal as time expired to win, 33-31. Willie Matthews scored for UCA with 59 seconds left. The extra point gave the home team a 31-30 lead. That drive included a fourth-and-11 completion by Ryan Howard, but it wasn’t enough. The task will be much easier this Saturday in Conway.
Jackson State 20, UAPB 14 — This doesn’t appear to be a good UAPB football team. In a nationally televised game on Thursday night of last week, UAPB fell to 1-2 with a 42-7 loss at Alabama State. The Golden Lions have now lost eight of their past 10 SWAC games. UAPB is 1-2, having lost its two road games by a combined score of 107-7. The only win was 31-0 at home over Concordia College of Alabama, which has only 565 students and fields the equivalent of an intramural team. Jackson State is 2-2, having started the season with wins of 22-17 over Florida A&M and 59-0 over Virginia University of Lynchburg (which is about like Concordia when it comes to football). That was followed by losses of 35-7 to Tennessee State in the Southern Heritage Classic at Memphis and 40-35 to Grambling State.
McNeese State 47, Arkansas Tech 27 — For a second consecutive year, the Wonder Boys step up in classification to play an FCS opponent. And it’s a traditional FCS power, McNeese State. Tech will take its check in Lake Charles and come home with a loss. The Cowboys are ranked No. 4 nationally in the FCS coaches’ poll. McNeese has played just two games, giving Nebraska all it could handle before losing 31-24 in Lincoln and then defeating Prairie View A&M, 48-16. Cowboy Stadium in Lake Charles is never an easy place for an opponent to visit on a Saturday night. Arkansas Tech is 2-1, having posted a 34-14 win over 0-3 Southern Nazarene in Russellville last week. Southern Nazarene earlier had lost 72-7 to Henderson and 28-7 to Ouachita.
Ouachita 31, Southeastern Oklahoma 21 — Ouachita went to 2-0 last Saturday with a 41-20 win at Cliff Harris Stadium in Arkadelphia over an East Central Oklahoma squad that had rolled in with a 2-0 record. Senior running back Steven Kehner out of Glen Rose gained 160 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns for the Tigers. Senior quarterback Kiehl Frazier out of Shiloh Christian gained another 105 yards on the ground and passed for 165 yards. Meanwhile, the Ouachita defense came up with five interceptions. Southeastern is 1-2 with losses to Southern Arkansas and Henderson sandwiched around a 52-49 victory over UAM.
Henderson 45, East Central Oklahoma 25 — The Reddies were on national television (CBS Sports Network) on Thursday night of last week and rolled past Southeastern Oklahoma, 60-17. Henderson scored 28 points in the final 9:28 of that game to move to 3-0 on the season. Henderson has now won 26 consecutive regular-season games, and that streak shouldn’t come to an end Saturday in Ada against the 2-1 Tigers. Reddie senior quarterback Kevin Rodgers passed for 382 yards last week to become the state’s all-time leading passer with 11,035 yards, breaking Ryan Aplin’s record of 10,758 yards set from 2009-12 at Arkansas State. Look for Rodgers to have another big day tomorrow.
Harding 51, Southern Nazarene 18 — Southern Nazarene is bad. Harding is good. Really good. And the Bisons have had two weeks to prepare for this game due to an open date. Harding boasts one of the top rushing attacks in NCAA Division II. In two prior meetings, Harding has outscored Southern Nazarene, 105-34, and outrushed the Crimson Storm, 946-161. Harding rushed for 505 yards last year against Southern Nazarene, the eighth-highest total in all of Division II in 2013. Harding now ranks No. 8 in Division II with an average of 317.5 rushing yards per game. The Bisons opened the season with wins of 42-6 over Southwestern Oklahoma and 45-7 over Northwestern Oklahoma.
Southwestern Oklahoma 32, UAM 26 — The Boll Weevils have lost three games by a total of 13 points — 38-34 to East Central Oklahoma, 52-49 to Southeastern Oklahoma and 34-28 to Northwestern Oklahoma. Since that season-opening loss to Harding, Southwestern has bounced back with victories of 27-23 over Arkansas Tech and 27-24 over Southern Arkansas. The Bulldogs rallied from double-digit deficits to win those two games. Expect this one to be decided in the fourth quarter. The Bolls Weevils went ahead of Northwestern last week, 28-27, following a touchdown with 1:56 left. But Northwestern came back to score with only 32 seconds on the clock.
Southern Arkansas 37, Northwestern Oklahoma 28 — The Muleriders, who won their season opener with a touchdown on the final play of the game, have since dropped two consecutive games. SAU fell to 1-2 with a 27-24 loss at Southwestern Oklahoma. The Muleriders led 24-13 early in the fourth quarter. They lost despite having a 392-252 advantage in total offense. Playing back home in Magnolia, SAU should have the upper hand in this one.