Hogs’ improvement needs to show up in win column to turn season around

Photo: Walt Beazley / ArkansasRazorbacks.com

It’s been a wild week off the field in college football. From firings and flops to resignations and suspensions, I can’t remember off hand a more eventful week in college football, but now that the weekend is near, hopefully, we can turn our attention to the drama between the lines rather than outside them.

This is a good time for an open date for the Razorbacks, but one just has to hope the Hogs keep their snouts clean with the free time at their disposal this weekend. This is not the weekend for a Razorback to make headlines.

The Razorbacks (2-4, 1-2 SEC) need all hands on deck if they are going to right their season after a woeful start that has most everyone questioning the program to one degree or the other. Not everyone bought into the rosy Razorback forecast that enamored so many of us in the preseason, but I don’t know of anyone who predicted the Hogs would lose to Toledo and Texas Tech. While those games weren’t gimmes, they were definitely contests the Hogs were “supposed” to win.

Based on the Razorbacks’ performances in a 24-20 victory over Tennessee and a 26-14 loss to Alabama, I think Bret Bielema and his staff have the Razorbacks back on positive setting. Yes, the Crimson Tide stymied Arkansas’ offense, but Alabama’s going to do that to most of the teams it plays this season. If Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin can keep from being too cute and keeps his quarterback out of unnecessarily dangerous situations, the Crimson Tide should be back in the SEC title game. The defense is that good.

While I do feel better about the Razorbacks’ chances of compiling more wins down the backstretch of the season, I’m not prepared to predict a second bowl trip for the Bielema era. I’m not there yet. I do think it’s a possibility, but the Razorbacks have been far too inconsistent this year for me to fully trust them at this juncture.

From this point on, every game becomes a must-win situation in my mind because based on what has transpired, the Razorbacks are playing just well enough to look good losing. I could see this team upsetting No. 6 LSU at Baton Rouge, La., but falling short against other opponents. Inconsistency remains a Razorback constant.

Bielema said it best after the Alabama game when he said the Hogs have to turn some of their “respect” into victories. Playing respectably against top-10 teams isn’t enough. Working hard and improving only goes so far when a “W” isn’t the end result. That’s why those early unexpected losses to Toledo and Texas Tech are so frustrating to Hog fans.

The Razorbacks still have the chance to make something respectable out of this season, but the inconsistency and complacency has to be a thing of the past.

The bulk of Bielema’s staff members are out recruiting this weekend and the biggest incentive they have to offer top prospects is playing time. Hopefully, when the December recruiting push begins, the Hogs can tout going to a second bowl in a row, as well. Steve Spurrier’s comment that “Bret is going to have to recruit his way out of this situation” remains as true today as it was on Oct. 12, 2013, when Spurrier’s South Carolina squad administered a 52-7 whipping to the Hogs. Bielema has improved the talent level within the program, but if the Razorbacks are truly going to compete at the top of the SEC, more talent is needed all over the field.

What Might Have Been

Steve Spurrier / Photo: Flickr, CC 2.0

Speaking of Spurrier, it’s going to be interesting to see what he has to say on ESPN GameDay on Saturday following his resignation as the Gamecocks head coach. Unlike most coaches, Spurrier didn’t mind sparring with the media and with other programs or coaches. With no team or conference affiliation, Spurrier can be as candid as he wants to be.

Spurrier’s resignation reminds me of the day Houston Nutt announced he would remain at Arkansas after the 2003 season and not take the head coaching position at Nebraska. The Razorbacks basketball team had a game that day so the press conference was held at Walton Arena. After Nutt had left the building, Frank Broyles, the UA athletics director at the time, stopped into the media room to grab a Coke before tipoff. While visiting with several people, Broyles reiterated that he was happy Nutt remained, but added that his first call would have been to Spurrier, had Nutt departed.

Spurrier had just recently been fired by the Washington Redskins. My first thought was to wonder if Spurrier would be interested. At the time, I didn’t think so. However, after sitting out of coaching in 2003 and 2004, Spurrier took the South Carolina job in 2005, which I consider inferior to the Arkansas job.

Maybe Broyles, who shares Spurrier’s love of golf, could have enticed the Head Ball Coach to have also been the Head Hog. What could have been?

It would have been interesting to see what Spurrier would have done with Matt Jones, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis as well as Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson.

If Spurrier had been the Hogs’ head coach would players like Damian Williams and Mitch Mustain have been so reticent to sign with the Hogs that it took hiring their high school head coach Gus Malzahn to entice them to be Razorbacks?

Would Malzahn have accepted a coaching spot on the Hogs staff if he weren’t going to be offensive coordinator? He wouldn’t have under Nutt, which was the crux of their issues, and it’s doubtful that Spurrier would have hired Malzahn to call plays since Spurrier was a master of that himself. And, Spurrier likely would have walked before having something like that forced down his throat.

Would Spurrier have been as successful at Arkansas as he was at South Carolina? Possibly, but then again maybe not. Spurrier’s three consecutive 11-win seasons at South Carolina had as much to do with the SEC East being down as it did South Carolina being really good. Three of the six losses the Gamecocks suffered in that three-year span were to Western Division opponents, including a 44-28 loss to Arkansas in 2011. The Gamecocks also lost games to Auburn and LSU during that period, but did not face Alabama.

Obviously, we’ll never know how Spurrier would have fared as the Hogs’ head coach or even if he would have accepted the job, but on a bye week, it’s fun to consider.