Challenging schedule awaits Razorbacks this fall

Austin Allen /

If you are an older fella like me, you remember the days when there was only one sports talk radio show on the airwaves in Northwest Arkansas, and it only came on once a week.

On Mondays Rick Schaeffer, then Arkansas’ sports information director, and Grant Hall, then the sports editor of the Northwest Arkansas Times, would talk sports for a couple of hours. I don’t know if it was appointment listening to everyone, but it was for me.

Growing up in eastern Arkansas, I heard more about Ole Miss, Tennessee and Alabama on the radio and TV stations headquartered in Memphis. The Razorbacks received a bit better coverage in The Commercial Appeal, Memphis’ morning paper, but the TV and radio stations rarely had time for the Hogs. So, listening to Rick and Grant talk about the Razorbacks each Monday evening was a great treat to me when I started college in the mid 1980s.

2016 Arkansas Football Schedule

Sept. 3 – Louisiana Tech in Fayetteville
Sept. 10 – at TCU
Sept. 17 – Texas State in Fayetteville
Sept. 24 – Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 1 – Alcorn State in Little Rock
Oct. 8 – Alabama in Fayetteville
Oct. 15 – Ole Miss in Fayetteville
Oct. 22 – at Auburn
Nov. 5 – Florida in Fayetteville
Nov. 12 – LSU in Fayetteville
Nov. 19 – at Mississippi State
Nov 27 – at Missouri

Today, of course, sports talk radio is ubiquitous. You can hear it 24 hours a day on multiple stations and that’s not even considering the panoply of choices provided online or even on cable television.

One of the regular topics Rick and Grant fielded back in the day was how seemingly mediocre Arkansas’ schedule was. At the time, college teams played 11-game schedules. With nine members in the Southwest Conference, eight of those 11 games were signed, sealed and delivered every year.

Two of the other three games were generally against Tulsa and Ole Miss. The Hogs and Rebels began playing a home-and home series in 1981 that transitioned into a SEC game when the Hogs began playing football in the SEC in 1992. The other game was usually a directional opponent, although the Razorbacks did play Miami in 1987 and 1988.

At the time, the SWC usually had three to four Top 20-type teams each season, and the Razorbacks were usually one of them. Texas, SMU, Houston and Texas A&M had some highs in the 1980s as did Baylor and TCU. However, there was never a year when all of them were strong. The conference’s round-robin schedule and rampant NCAA probations due to cheating ensured that.

Hog fans yearned for a better schedule, and we certainly got it when The Razorbacks jumped to the SEC. Former Razorback coach Houston Nutt was absolutely on the money when he said competing in the SEC was just like playing Texas five times a year. While he didn’t say it, Nutt could have added that playing environments in the SEC were like playing at Texas A&M or worse every week.

Taking nothing away from the other Power 5 conferences, there really is no league like the SEC. Hog fans know that all too well after competing in the conference for almost a quarter of a century and still not winning a SEC football championship.

A team can be loaded with talent, but finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC just because of their balance of home and road games in a given season or by which team follows which on the schedule. LSU appeared to be rolling toward a SEC title last year until they ran into two of the leagues most physical programs — Alabama and Arkansas — on back-to-back weekends before they headed to Ole Miss, where the Tigers absorbed their third-consecutive loss.

Depending on how you look at it, Arkansas has one of the best schedules in the school’s history or one of the worst. The schedule is a dream for fans with home games against Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida and LSU, but on the other hand, it’s a coach’s nightmare.

The Razorbacks also open the season with a very capable Louisiana Tech squad on Sept. 3, a team expected to vie for the Conference USA title this fall. Skip Holtz’ squad will likely be better than Toledo was last year.

Complicating matters are two trips into the Lone Star State in September to play TCU in Fort Worth, Texas, on Sept. 10 and to play Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sept. 24. Hard to say which of those games will be tougher.

As daunting as all of that is, the Razorbacks close out the regular season with back-to-back road games at Mississippi State and Missouri. No coach would be happy with that.

The entire schedule is challenging save for the Sept. 17 game with Texas State at Fayetteville and the Alcorn State game at Little Rock on Oct. 1. However, the five-game stretch starting the second week of October when the Crimson Tide rolls into Fayetteville through the Nov. 12 game with LSU at Razorback Stadium could be the toughest stretch of ballgames in school history.

Following Alabama, Ole Miss visits Razorback Stadium on Oct. 15, before the Razorbacks go to Auburn on Oct. 22. The Hogs do have an open date on Oct. 29, but then host Florida on Nov. 5 and the Tigers on Nov. 12.

Arkansas’ schedule would be challenging for any team in the nation, much less one that will be breaking in a new starting quarterback in Austin Allen, and a rebuilt offensive line and backfield. The Hogs return an experienced defense, but the Razorbacks had a difficult time stopping anyone last season.

I would like to predict the Razorbacks would improve on last season’s win total of eight, but that may be too optimistic even for me.

I’m sure by the time the season kicks off, I will have convinced myself the Razorbacks could win nine, maybe even 10 games, but at the moment, I’m having a hard time counting that high.