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College football: Week 7 (laughing at Auburn)

Paul Finebaum rolled into town Monday from Alabama to address the Little Rock Touchdown Club.

I’m not quoting him exactly, but here’s basically how he began his talk:

“I prepared this speech on Friday. I’ve come here to talk about a tradition-rich team that has fallen on hard times.

“I’ve come here to talk about a once-great college football program that was in a BCS game just two years ago.

“I’ve come here to talk about a program in a free fall, one that’s now a national laughingstock with a clown as the head coach.

“Yes, I’ve come here to talk about Gene Chizik and the Auburn Tigers.”

Rim shot, please.

Remember last week when we were talking about a weekend when all of the state’s Division I teams had lost?

This time around, everyone is coming off a win — Arkansas won, Arkansas State won, UCA won, UAPB won. Throw in Division II wins by Ouachita and Arkansas Tech against teams from Oklahoma, and Arkansas teams were 6-0 last week against out-of-state opponents.

Here’s what our trusty out-of-state correspondent has to say: “What struck me most about the Arkansas-Auburn game wasn’t the final score — I’d seen enough of Auburn to know that the Tigers were capable of losing big, and ugly, to anybody — but the step-back perspective of the sudden plight of these two teams in 2012.

“Consider the game two years ago on the Plains. Auburn and Arkansas both were highly ranked. Cam Newton vs. Ryan Mallett. Two programs on an upward arc. Auburn would go on to win the national championship that year. Arkansas would play in the Sugar Bowl. Even with the departures of Newton and Mallett, it was hard to imagine either program falling far. After all, we could see what Bobby Petrino was building at Arkansas. And didn’t Gene Chizik attract top recruiting classes year after year? He might lose a once-a-decade player like Newton, but he was clearly stockpiling talent.

“Fast forward to the Hogs’ return to Auburn last Saturday. We may have seen the two worst teams in the Southeastern Conference. In one offseason, Arkansas had lost its head coach and its way. Auburn had lost both of its coordinators, its star running back and its mojo. The coach who won a national title just 22 months ago is now on the hot seat, rumored to be run out of town at season’s end for the likes of, say, a Bobby Petrino.

“And all of this isn’t the least bit unusual. In the modern era, teams flip from good to bad regularly. The Alabamas and LSUs (sort of) and Oregons are the exceptions to the rule. Alabama stays on top because it has the best coach in college football, who has parlayed his NFL-ready defensive style and the Bama tradition into top recruiting classes and national championships. That cycle in Tuscaloosa can’t be broken until Nick Saban retires or dies.”

So what does that mean for Arkansas?

Our correspondent writes: “The point is that any and all hand wringing about the long-term negative implications the Petrino ousting and the blessedly brief John L. tenure will have on The Program is silly. A football program situated like Arkansas — that is, in the SEC with a solid tradition and track record, facilities that are good and getting better and a diehard fan base — can turn around quickly. All that’s needed are a great coach (preferably with an eye-catching offensive scheme), a very good quarterback, one or two exceptional recruiting classes that pan out (like Petrino’s first-year class) and some luck.

“In another two years, the Hogs may visit the Plains for a Top 10 battle. That is if Jeff Long makes the right hire — and Auburn finally manages to successfully woo Bobby Petrino.”

Finebaum made much the same point.

With the right hire, there’s no reason Arkansas cannot be back among the top tier of college football powers.

The wrong hire, on the heels of the current debacle, could set the program back years, Finebaum said.

No pressure there, Mr. Long.

We were 6-2 on the picks last week, making the record 42-9 for the season.

Let’s get to the picks for Week 7:

Arkansas 32, Kentucky 24 — Yes, we’ll pick Arkansas to win. But, yes, we think that point spread is a bit much. This is still a very fragile Razorback team. Kentucky, though, is just plain bad. The Joker will be out as coach at the end of this season. Who’s next? The Riddler? The only win of the season has been against Kent State. The five Kentucky losses have been by scores of 32-14 to Louisville, 32-31 to Western Kentucky, 38-0 to Florida, 38-17 to South Carolina and 27-14 to Mississippi State. Kentucky fans don’t care. That’s because basketball practice starts this week.

Arkansas State 40, South Alabama 25 — The Red Wolves went to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the Sun Belt Conference with a 34-20 Thursday night victory at 1-5 Florida International. The Red Wolves had 421 yards of offense in that game. The Thursday game means that ASU has had nine days to get ready for a Saturday night contest in Jonesboro against the relatively new South Alabama program. The Jaguars are 1-4. The lone win was over a Nicholls State team that lost to UCA in Conway last Saturday. The losses have been by scores of 33-31 to Texas-San Antonio, 31-7 to North Carolina State, 30-10 to Mississippi State and 31-10 to Troy.

McNeese State 30, UCA 21 — Lake Charles isn’t an easy place to visit, but UCA must do just that this weekend for what’s known as the Red Beans & Rice Bowl. The Bears are 4-2 overall and 2-1 in the Southland Conference after their win over Nicholls State. UCA trailed by a point, 14-13, at halftime but shut out the Colonels in the second half. Wynrick Smothers was 31 of 43 passing for 289 yards. Senior wide receiver Jesse Grandy tied a school record with 13 catches for 111 yards. As usual, McNeese State has talent to spare. The Cowboys are 4-1. The only loss came by just a point to Southeastern Louisiana. The wins have come by scores of 27-21 over Middle Tennessee, 69-7 over McMurry, 35-21 over Weber State (they must miss John L. at Weber) and 30-22 over Northwestern State. We’ll go with the home team, which has had two weeks to prepare for this game.

Henderson 39, Harding 31 — It’s the season’s biggest game to date in the Great American Conference. Henderson is 6-0 and ranked No. 12 in NCAA Division II. Harding is 5-0 and ranked No. 23 in Division II. The game will be played before a packed house in Searcy, and the Reddies will be held to fewer than 50 points for the first time this season. Henderson beat 1-5 UAM by a score of 71-0 last Saturday, putting up 655 yards of offense. Kevin Rodgers passed for 326 yards and five touchdowns. In the Boomtown Classic at El Dorado, Harding’s John Gay hit a 44-yard field goal on the game’s final play to drop Southern Arkansas to 4-1. The Muleriders had tied the game with a touchdown with 1:17 left. Southern Arkansas, which had won its first four games for the first time since 1990, had led 13-0 at one point in the game.

Ouachita 37, UAM 20 — Ouachita is 5-0 and ranked No. 11 nationally despite starting its third-string quarterback the past two games. Sophomore Ty Towers, who started the season as a wide receiver, continues to turn in strong performances at quarterback. Ouachita outscored Southwestern Oklahoma 21-0 in the second half last Saturday to go to 3-0 in the GAC with a 33-12 win. Towers was 15 of 18 passing for 154 yards. Chris Rycraw added 151 yards on the ground. It’s UAM’s homecoming.

Southern Arkansas 19, East Central Oklahoma 17 — It will be interesting to see how the Muleriders respond to their first loss of the season. East Central was picked by many people in the preseason to finish near the top of the conference but has been a bit of a disappointment with records of 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the GAC. The game is in Ada, but we’ll give the Muleriders the edge due to quarterback Tyler Sykora.

Arkansas Tech 41, Southwestern Oklahoma 38 — The Wonder Boys are slowly improving. They’re 3-3 overall and 1-2 in the GAC following a 45-38 victory in Russellville last Saturday night over 1-4 Southeastern Oklahoma. Tanner Marsh was 16 of 31 passing for 213 yards and two touchdowns. With its loss to Ouachita, Southwestern Oklahoma fell to 1-4 overall and 1-3 in the GAC.

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