What’s new on the college football front?
Well, Lane Kiffin is out at USC and our ol’ buddy Crazy Cajun Ed Orgeron is in (at least for now).
Wonder if I will get to hear “Col. Rebel Is Crying” on the radio again? That always makes me laugh.
Up in Fayetteville last Saturday, there were at least a few silver linings in all of those clouds. Alex Collins, for instance, topped 100 yards for the fourth time in five games. Johnny Manziel didn’t pass for as many yards as a lot of Razorback fans had feared he would, going 23 of 30 through the air for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
What was discouraging from an Arkansas standpoint was the fact that the Aggies rushed for 262 yards, averaging six yards per carry.
A&M topped 40 points for the eighth consecutive game, the longest such streak among the FBS schools.
An Aggie team was playing a football game at Fayetteville for the first time since the old Southwest Conference days in 1990. Arkansas leads the all-time series against A&M, 41-26-3. The Hogs are now 0-5 against reigning Heisman Trophy winners, having lost to Doak Walker and SMU in 1949, Matt Leinart and USC in 2005, Tim Tebow and Florida in 2008, Mark Ingram and Alabama in 2010 and Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in 2013.
My longtime friend Kane Webb is now the editor of Louisville magazine. From his post in Kentucky, this native Arkansan still keeps a close eye on the Razorbacks and the rest of the Southeastern Conference. I wanted to share some of his thoughts:
“Having now watched five games of the Bielema era, the phrase that keeps coming to mind is, ‘They’ll be fine.’ This season could slide anywhere from 4-8 to 7-5 depending on breaks, and I imagine some Hog fans will see red at another losing record and rebuilding project. The frustration is understandable. This is the third time since Houston Nutt left that the program effectively has had to start over. That’s a lot of one step forward, two steps back. I’m not sure another fan base has had to endure this kind of nonstop rebuilding. But, like the first year of the Petrino blip, you can see improvement game to game. And that’s what should sate the fans this year.
“It’s remarkable that Arkansas keeps getting burned by ex-coaches who leave the cupboard bare. Nutt. Petrino. Only Danny Ford left his successor something to win with. Clearly, Bielema left some material behind at Wisconsin. Alas, he didn’t inherit a whole lot at Arkansas. While the talent level doesn’t seem as low as when Petrino took over — and maybe part of that was because Petrino’s system demanded a different kind of talent — Bielema is short on depth and skill position players. The two running backs are impressive, though neither has the speed of Darren McFadden or Felix Jones and, because of that, they’ve left some long runs out there.
“The quarterback? I don’t know if he will ever get to that top level. But he’s just a sophomore and now under another coach. So allow him the benefit of the doubt. Even if he doesn’t have all-conference skill, he will develop and improve, especially in a system that’s the same from year to year. Even with a B- quarterback, Arkansas can win — as long as it’s strong everywhere else and the B- quarterback doesn’t make stupid mistakes. Again, though, let’s give the benefit of the doubt. People forget that Bielema had a run of successful quarterbacks at Wisconsin. He has more quarterbacks in the NFL than Petrino. The Hogs need receivers. They need linebackers. They need beef.
“Where Bielema and his staff have really impressed is with basic instruction — that is, their players seem to know where they are supposed to be. They know where to line up and where to go. This is especially evident on defense, and an easy-to-see contrast with years past. The Hogs may give up points and chunks of yards but — this is new — they don’t cave because somebody blew an assignment. Time was, at least once or twice a game, the other team’s star receiver would have a nice 20- to 25-yard cushion to make an easy catch. Not so much anymore. That’s something.”
Last week’s record was 8-0, making the record for the season 33-6.
Let’s get to the predictions for Week 6:
Florida 24, Arkansas 21 — Florida’s defense is far better than Texas A&M’s defense. Yet the Gators have problems on offense. That likely will add up to a lower-scoring game than we saw in Fayetteville last Saturday and a final margin that’s a bit closer. Florida improved to 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the SEC with a 24-7 victory over a woeful Kentucky team last weekend. The Gators outgained the Wildcats, 402-173. With a break here or there in The Swamp, Arkansas might hang around long enough to have a chance.
McNeese State 30, UCA 27 — Which McNeese State team shows up in Conway on Saturday afternoon? The one that stunned South Florida in the season opener by a score of 53-21 or the one that barely beat a Division II school — West Alabama — by a score of 44-42 two weeks later? The Cowboys started the season 4-0 (throw in wins of 58-14 over UAPB and 43-6 over Weber State) before losing last week by 35 points to Northern Iowa. In this early Southland Conference showdown, McNeese must do battle with a 2-2 Bear team that has had trouble stringing together four quarters of football. UCA beat outmanned Incarnate Word, lost at Colorado after leading in the third quarter, lost at Tennessee-Martin and then edged Missouri State. The Bears have had two weeks to prepare for what should be one of the better games in the FCS this week.
Jackson State 19, UAPB 14 — The Golden Lions needed that open date on the final Saturday of September. UAPB, the defending SWAC champion, has started the season 0-4 with losses to Arkansas State, McNeese State, Alabama State and Alcorn State. Now, UAPB must travel to Mississippi to take on a Jackson State team that is 2-0 at home. Jackson State is 3-2 overall with wins of 30-23 over Alabama State, 35-7 over Texas Southern and 19-14 over Southern University. The losses have been by scores of 34-7 to Tulane in New Orleans and 26-16 to Tennessee State in the Southern Heritage Classic at Memphis.
Southern Arkansas 37, Harding 35 — NCAA Division II football in Arkansas gets a showcase on national television Thursday evening when the CBS Sports Network comes to Magnolia. The network picked a good game to televise since these are quality teams. Harding was 9-1 in the regular season a year ago, losing only to 10-0 Henderson. SAU was 8-2 in the regular season, losing only to Henderson and Harding. SAU is off to a 3-1 start. Harding is 2-1. Both teams were upset on the road in the first week of the season — Southern Arkansas lost at Southeastern Oklahoma, and Harding lost at Southwestern Oklahoma. Since then, SAU has come back to defeat East Central Oklahoma, Southwestern Oklahoma and Northwestern Oklahoma. Harding has defeated Northwestern Oklahoma and Southern Nazarene. In Harding’s 63-21 victory over winless Southern Nazarene, the Bisons had 650 yards of offense with 505 of that coming on the ground. Meanwhile, Mulerider senior running back Mark Johnson set school records for most career points and most career touchdowns in SAU’s 47-14 victory over winless Northwestern Oklahoma. It’s doubtful that anyone will knock off Henderson during the regular season. One thing is certain. The loser of Thursday’s game is out of the running for a share of the Great American Conference crown since the Reddies definitely won’t lose twice. In that sense, it’s a must-win game for both Harding and SAU.
Arkansas Tech 28, UAM 20 — This is a Saturday afternoon battle in Monticello between a pair of 2-2 teams that have improved since last season. Tech, under new head coach Raymond Monica, is coming off a 44-34 loss to Nicholls State of the Southland Conference. UAM lost a conference game last Saturday at Southwestern Oklahoma, 35-17. We’ll know after Saturday which of these two programs has improved the most.
Henderson 72, Northwestern Oklahoma 22 — The Reddies remain ranked No. 8 nationally following a 63-31 victory in Arkadelphia last Saturday against East Central Oklahoma. Henderson trailed 17-14 before scoring 42 consecutive points. The 4-0 Reddies finished with 609 yards of offense. Junior quarterback Kevin Rodgers set a school passing yardage record with 595 yards through the air. He completed 42 of his 50 passes. Northwestern has yet to win a game. This one will be as ugly as Henderson head coach Scott Maxfield chooses to make it.
Ouachita 30, Southwestern Oklahoma 29 — This should be the best of the Saturday games in the GAC. Ouachita is off to a 3-0 start for a third consecutive season after a 45-7 win in Arkadelphia on Saturday over Southeastern Oklahoma. Ouachita’s defense, which returned 10 starters from last year, came up with seven turnovers. Southwestern is 3-1. This game goes to the team whose quarterback — Dustin Stenta at Southwestern and Benson Jordan at Ouachita — has the hottest hand. Southwestern is naming its dressing room after the late Paul Sharp of Little Rock, who died suddenly last fall. Sharp won an NAIA national championship as head coach at the school He had played at Ouachita for the legendary Buddy Benson and later served as an assistant under Benson. Younger brother David Sharp is the longtime Ouachita athletic director.