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College football: Week 8 (eyes on Arkadelphia)

It’s an open date for the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

My suggestion for college football fans in Arkansas is this: Head to Arkadelphia on Saturday for a unique college football experience.

No. 10 Ouachita plays No. 25 Harding at 1 p.m. at A.U. Williams Field.

On the other side of U.S. Highway 67, No. 11 Henderson takes on East Central Oklahoma at 3 p.m.

You can attend the Ouachita-Harding game and then cross the street for the second half of the Henderson game.

Or you can attend the first half of the Ouachita-Harding game and see all of the Henderson game.

Either way, you will see three ranked college football teams in one afternoon. You can have dinner in Arkadelphia and still be on your way home by 7 p.m. The forecast looks perfect: Clear skies with temperatures in the 70s.

Parking won’t be a problem. Ticket prices are reasonable. The quality of football is good, the bands are first class, the cheerleaders are pretty and the atmosphere is fun.

Give it a try.

My friend Kane Webb, the former Arkansas newspaperman and magazine editor, shares my love of college football and thoroughbred racing. His love of racing is so great that he was pulled to Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby, where he’s now the editor of Louisville magazine.

Before we get to the picks for Week 8, I must share the analogy he sent me after watching the first seven Razorback games of the 2012 season:

“Consider the highly touted young racehorse, precocious at 2, who may have been sold or, for whatever reason, experienced a trainer change during the winter. Either way, he finds himself in a new barn heading into his much-anticipated 3-year-old season. Despite the offseason shakeup, big things are expected. After all, we had all seen that impressive campaign the previous year. But perhaps he hasn’t developed the way many predicted he would; perhaps, like some flashy juveniles, he simply wasn’t as good as we thought.

“He wins an easy prep but then is upset when challenged late in a tough outing. His next race, against the stiffest of opposition in a stakes-caliber field, is a disaster. Unable to get the lead or compete early, he spits the bit and finishes far back. Another tough stakes race follows — and so does his demise. Not quite up to the caliber of competition and absent any lasting confidence, he eases when unable to stay with the leaders, again finishing well back.

“At long last, the once-promising star is dropped in class, placed in, say, an allowance race for non-winners of two. A decent enough field but not championship caliber. Against easier competition, he trounces the field. He faces similar talent in his next race and now, full of himself and finding his stride, he speeds to the lead and never looks back, winning with such ease that new trainer and old fans suddenly think he has realized his potential.

“Maybe. A step back up in class is inevitable, and here is where horse racing provides another valuable lesson. Horses, like all athletes, hold their best form for only a short amount of time. Lou Holtz had a saying that applies to any sport: You either get better or you get worse, but you don’t stay the same. The questions for our still-young runner and for this year’s Hogs are these: Have they now reached their peak form or are they continuing to improve? Were their embarrassing early-season defeats a case of too much, too soon or that of an average athlete up against superior competition and paying for it?

“Of course, there’s also the case of the horse that isn’t really as good as his competition but being so sharp and in such top form that he beats them anyway. It happens. That’s why they call them upsets.

“The Razorbacks went into a kind of paralytic shock when they lost so suddenly to Louisiana-Monroe. The devastation was so thorough and unexpected that all seemed lost. No surprise then that the shock lasted awhile, magnified by the six-quarter absence of the concussed Tyler Wilson. Not even his rusty return could shake the team from its collective fog. And the trainer/coach was no help. What Arkansas needed desperately was what it got: Lesser competition.

“Confidence now at least semi-restored — and that includes the confidence of the coaching staff as well as the players — Arkansas steps back up in class, a little, when it faces Ole Miss after a week’s break.

“The thinking here is that the Hogs will remain in good form — indeed, they may improve some thanks to the emergence of younger players like Jonathan Williams and a defense that seems to be less confused and thus much more aggressive. But their confidence remains fragile and a bad break here or there could restart the tailspin.

“They may be in the hands of a veteran trainer — to put it generously, the colorful old-schooler — but they’re used to the subtle manipulations of a contemporary master. Without that, this team is largely on its own, playing at the moment on raw talent, muscle memory and a sudden wave of renewed spirit. Typically, that’s not a formula for long-term success. But it’s fun for now and beats the hell out of the alternative we witnessed earlier in the season.”

Well said, Mr. Webb.

We were 6-1 on the picks last week, making the record 48-10 for the season.

On to the picks for Week 8. We’ll start with the two Arkadelphia games since that’s where you’re road tripping on Saturday, right?

Ouachita 24, Harding 23 — This should be a great football game. Ouachita has made its way into the Top 10 for the first time since the school moved from the NAIA to NCAA Division II. Harding dropped two spots to No. 25 after its 38-10 loss to the offensive juggernaut that is Henderson. Ouachita went to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the Great American Conference with a 58-7 win over 1-6 UAM in Monticello last Saturday afternoon. Junior tailback Chris Rycraw from Bryant had 242 yards rushing on 22 carries in just three quarters of action for the Tigers. Overall, Ouachita had 396 rushing yards, two interceptions returned for touchdowns and a punt returned for a touchdown. Harding is 5-1 and still a force to be reckoned with in the GAC. These are the only two church-related schools in the conference, so I call this the Battle for the Old Wooden Collection Plate. Last year’s game in Searcy was memorable with Ouachita winning 31-27 en route to the first GAC championship.

Henderson 41, East Central Oklahoma 19 — The 7-0 Reddies went on the road to Searcy and held Harding to 269 yards of offense. That was 142 yards below the Bisons’ season average. Harding had been averaging 35.8 points per game before being held to just 10 points against Henderson. The Reddies’ sensational sophomore quarterback, Kevin Rodgers, was 30 of 44 passing for 466 yards and five touchdowns. Rodgers, after just seven games, has already broken the school record for touchdown passes in a season. He has 33. He will add more Saturday against an East Central team that was expected to compete for a conference crown but has been a disappointment so far with records of 3-4 overall and 1-3 in the GAC.

Arkansas Tech 35, UAM 20 — After a slow start, Tech is getting better by the week. The Wonder Boys went to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in the GAC with a 45-37 win at 1-5 Southwestern Oklahoma. Tech overcame a 17-point deficit as Tanner Marsh was 25 of 37 passing for 424 yards and four touchdowns. The senior added 30 yards rushing and even caught the go-ahead touchdown pass with less than four minutes remaining in the game.

Southern Arkansas 34, Southern Nazarene 0 — The Muleriders will have no problem at home against a Southern Nazarene team that is 1-6. Southern Arkansas improved to 5-1 overall and 4-1 in the GAC last Saturday with a 19-0 victory at East Central Oklahoma. East Central was limited to 123 yards of offense in that game. For the Muleriders, Mark Johnson had 132 yards rushing on 30 carries, and Tyler Sykora was 21 of 26 passing for 253 yards and a touchdown. Southern Arkansas, Harding, Henderson and Ouachita are all quality teams. Henderson and Ouachita still must play the Muleriders. The stretch run in the GAC should be fun to behold this season.

UCA 29, Lamar 12 — It was a victory to remember last Saturday for UCA in Lake Charles, La. McNeese State, which had never lost to the Bears in Lake Charles, led 26-17 with time running out. The Bears drove 72 yards, and Wynrick Smothers threw a 19-yard touchdown pass with 1:10 remaining. UCA then recovered a perfectly executed onside kick. Sophomore Eddie Camara booted a 47-yard field goal with 27 seconds left in the game, and the Bears escaped the Bayou State with a 27-26 victory. They are 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the Southland Conference. Smothers was 26 of 41 passing for 254 yards and three touchdowns. A 3-4 Lamar team comes to Conway this Saturday. The victories have come by scores of 31-0 over Prairie View A&M, 31-0 over Langston and 52-21 over McMurry. The losses have been by scores of 40-0 to Louisiana-Lafayette, 54-2 to Hawaii, 31-21 to Southeastern Louisiana and 30-23 to Northwestern State.

Southern University 21, UAPB 17 — The Golden Lions are 4-2 overall, 3-1 in conference play and leading their division of the SWAC. This week they must visit Baton Rouge to take on a Jaguar team that is 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the SWAC. Southern’s wins have come by scores of 28-21 over Jackson State, 21-14 over Florida A&M and 34-7 over Texas Southern. The losses have been by scores of 66-21 to New Mexico, 6-0 to Mississippi Valley State and 20-17 to Alcorn State. We’ll give a slight edge to the home team.

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