Fox Sports personality Colin Cowherd made some waves this summer by stating SEC teams like Alabama and Arkansas pad their football schedules.
In doing so, he pointed out that the Razorbacks scheduled some softies between games with TCU and Texas A&M and Alabama. Obviously one of those games falls Saturday at 6:30 p.m. when the Hogs play host to Texas State at 6:30 p.m. in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
I won’t try to convince you that Cowherd is wrong. In a sense, he’s not, but scheduling isn’t exactly the easiest task that an athletic director and head football coach faces. Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema admitted as much on his weekly radio show Thursday night.
Of course, he was speaking about the effort to find a replacement for the Michigan series the Wolverines backed out of last summer in order to play Notre Dame. With the series falling through just a little over a year from when it was to be played, it pushed Arkansas against the wall to replace the game.
Michigan did buy themselves out of the series, but the money the Wolverines paid has likely already been spent in buying opponents to play the Hogs the next two seasons.
So, yes, scheduling is difficult, but you’d be foolish if you didn’t think there was a method at play in scheduling a Sun Belt Conference school between playing the Horned Frogs and the Aggies. The Hogs are expecting to get their money’s worth out of the ballgame.
The Razorbacks expect to win Saturday, and no doubt fans expect it to be by a considerable margin, unlike the season opener against Louisiana Tech. The Hogs needed a fourth-quarter drive to snatch a 21-20 victory in that game.
Las Vegas is also betting on the Hogs, pushing the line to 31 points to get even money to bet on the game.
That said the Bobcats aren’t a bad football team. They are 1-0 after outscoring Ohio, 56-54, on the opening weekend of the season. While Texas Southern enjoyed an open date last week, Ohio went to Lawrence, Kan. and downed the Jayhawks, 37-21.
The Razorbacks should steamroll the Bobcats’ defense, but that’s what some expected against Louisiana Tech, too. We’ll have to see.
Arkansas’ defense draws the more difficult assignment, though. The Bobcats play at a break-neck speed that TCU might even envy. That pace is their one advantage in the football game.
Texas State is talented at the skill positions, though. The Bobcats quarterback Tyler Jones is a senior, who lit up Ohio for 418 yards and four touchdowns, and is no doubt looking forward to a chance of slicing some pork on Saturday.
Jones has thrown for 6,712 yards in his career, and he would like to go over 7,000 career yards with a big day against the Razorbacks on Saturday.
Jones has two talented targets in Eric Luna and Elijah King, who combined for 17 catches for 195 yards against Ohio.
The pace at which TCU snapped the ball last week challenged the Hogs to get set. The heat and humidity combined with that pace drained the Razorbacks, with starters Brooks Ellis and Ryan Pulley having to leave the game to take IVs to stave off dehydration.
The conditions should be a bit more favorable for the Hogs in Fayetteville than in Fort Worth last week, but there won’t be a fall chill in the air.
The Razorbacks have the superior talent and depth, but Arkansas’ challenge this week will be on the mental side. Will the Razorbacks approach the Bobcats with the same intensity they would an SEC opponent?
If they do, the Razorbacks should take the game in hand early. There should be an ample opportunity for younger Hogs to gain some experience and the starters to gain extra rest for Arkansas’ SEC opener against Texas A&M next Saturday at Arlington, Texas.
If that happens, it would be evidence that Arkansas is a maturing football team, and that Bielema’s program continues to advance forward. It would also point to the method behind Arkansas’ scheduling practices.
From a fans’ point of view, it would be the perfect outcome to whet the Razorbacks Nations’ appetite for what should be an excellent early season showdown with the Aggies next Saturday.
Pick: Arkansas 38, Texas State 17
Keys to Watch
Right Tackle: My biggest question going into the game is who starts at right tackle? Redshirt Freshman Colton Jackson (6-6, 300) has struggled in his first two starts for the Razorbacks. Bielema indicated that other players could get a chance at that position this week in practice.
Redshirt freshman Jalen Merrick (6-4, 327) was working as a starter at tackle before suffering a concussion in preseason camp. Could he be pushing Jackson?
How about Brian Wallace? The 6-6, 335-pound sophomore was expected to step into a starting role on the offensive line going into spring. He was slowed by an injury. Is he ready to push his way to the front now?
How will Jackson respond to being pushed? Maybe the competition will help him to pull things together.
Running Back: Through two games, Rawleigh Williams the III has proven to be a solid lead back for the Razorbacks. He rushed for 96 yards in the opener and 137 against TCU for a total of 233 yards on 52 carries. He’s ranked third in the SEC in rushing behind Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb (308 yards) and Georgia’s Nick Chubb (303 yards).
Despite his great start, Williams needs help. He will wear down without sharing the load over the long SEC season. First-year running back coach Reggie Mitchell has been hesitant to substitute for Williams. Maybe that will change Saturday. The Redshirt is off freshman running back Devwah Whaley, but he’s had only four carries for 6 yards this season. Senior Kody Walker has played more, with 13 carries for 44 yards.
Maybe if the game is not on the line, Mitchell will loosen up and give the other backs including freshman T.J. Hammonds an opportunity to gain some experience before Williams’ legs get run into the ground.