Halloween is over, but we still don’t know if Arkansas’ football season is going to end up being a trick or a treat.
Now, I know some Razorbacks fans, perhaps even most Razorbacks fans, feel like the season has definitely been a trick, and no matter what the Hogs accomplish in their final four games, nothing is going to change that.
I get that argument. The Razorbacks are 3-5 overall and 1-4 in SEC play. There’s not enough leftover Halloween candy in the world to sugar-coat that. The Razorbacks have been terrible this season.
Even in pulling off the biggest Razorback comeback in anyone’s recollection last week to top Ole Miss, 38-37, the Hogs left a lot to be desired. Some said they didn’t deserve to win, while others called the victory luck.
It’s hard to argue with either assessment. Ole Miss certainly did their part in giving the game away with turnovers, and it can be considered luck when everything falls into place for a victory once a team has fallen behind, 31-7.
However, what did happen last week that had not happened up to that point is the Razorbacks not only took advantage of their opportunities, but they also created some of them by continuing to play hard and not just rolling over.
For the first time this season, the Hogs showed some of the fight a team needs to win football games. That was good to see.
Now the question is whether there will be any carryover from the victory?
Will the win give the Hogs a boost of confidence, and will that confidence mean anything as the rest of the 2017 season plays out?
Confidence is something the 2017 Razorbacks either never had or lost early in the season. The Razorbacks competed in a 28-7 loss to TCU, which was a closer game than the final scored indicated. They battled Texas A&M into overtime before falling, 50-43.
For the next three games against South Carolina, Alabama, and Auburn and the first 20 minutes of the Ole Miss game, the Razorbacks played without much confidence. It looked like they knew they were going to lose going into the game, and that they had very little desire to work to change that.
The Razorbacks’ desire switch seemed to flip when safety Santos Ramirez ripped the ball loose and recovered a fumble in the second quarter against Ole Miss. The Hogs’ responded offensively, driving for a touchdown to chip away at Ole Miss’ lead, 31-14.
It took the Hogs until the final four seconds of the game to pull back ahead on Connor Limpert’s 34-yard field goal, but as a Hog fan, it was gratifying to watch the Razorbacks’ rise up to defeat the Rebels on their home field.
I’m not prepared to claim that the victory is going to be a catalyst for anything the rest of this season, but a team has to believe it can win before it will actually do it on the field. With a little confidence in their engine, the Hogs might actually have the fuel to improve. That appeared to be lacking after the losses to TCU and A&M.
The Razorbacks had just one penalty in the Ole Miss game on a holding call for 10 yards. The Hogs had hurt their efforts in their three previous losses with too many mental mistakes. It was good to see that cleared up, if only for that game.
The Hogs should have little trouble with Coastal Carolina (1-7) when they face the Chanticleers at 3 p.m. Saturday for homecoming at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, in a game that will be televised on the SEC Network’s alternate channel.
The most interesting aspect of the game appears to be whether senior quarterback Austin Allen will be healthy enough to make an appearance. A shoulder injury has kept Allen sidelined since the Oct. 7 loss to South Carolina.
Some would say there is no reason to risk playing Allen against Coastal Carolina, while others point out it would be good for him to knock off the rust before the Razorbacks head south to Baton Rouge, La., to play LSU at Death Valley. I’m not sure which is the more compelling argument.
If he’s healthy, it would be nice to see him win the Cripp Hall Award, that goes to the most outstanding senior player on homecoming.
Considering the way the Razorbacks have played this season, it’s difficult to imagine them in the bowl picture, but there is a chance. If the Razorbacks win three of the last four games — however unlikely that may seem — they will be bowl eligible with a 6-6 record. There is even a chance the Razorbacks could make a bowl with a 5-7 record, if too few teams record 6-6 marks to fill up all the spots in the bowls.
During prouder days, the Razorbacks actually turned down invitations with an 8-2 team in 1966 and 9-2 team in 1970. Both of those teams had higher aspirations, and when they learned they would be out of the picture for a New Year’s Day Bowl, “the seniors voted” not to accept a bid if offered, although I’m sure their coach Frank Broyles made his wishes known.
That may sound odd to fans of today’s game where the postseason has become of primary importance, but it wasn’t at that time. Bowls were glorified exhibition games and viewed as rewards for teams with great seasons rather than a postseason obligation. After beating Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl, Notre Dame shunned bowl invitations until accepting a Cotton Bowl bid for the 1970 classic, which the Fighting Irish lost, 21-17. It was a different day.
The Razorbacks probably should have turned down the invitation to play in the 2008 Cotton Bowl. The program was in flux with the transition from Houston Nutt to Bobby Petrino as coach, and the Hogs lost to Missouri, 38-7, in embarrassing fashion.
I bring this up only because there is a possibility of Arkansas going 5-7, receiving a bowl bid, but also being in the middle of a coaching change. Boy, wouldn’t that be a mess.
In that situation, it’s doubtful the SEC would force a team to accept a bowl bid because the P.R. would be embarrassing for the league and detrimental for the program.
Speaking of where the Razorbacks are in terms of their record. This is the second time in Bielema’s five-year tenure that the Hogs have entered November with a 3-5 mark. The first was his initial season when the Razorbacks went 0-4 in November to finish 3-8.
In 2014 and 2015, the Razorbacks were 4-4 going into November. They went 2-2 in November of 2014 and finished 7-6 with a victory over Texas in the Houston Bowl. In November of 2015, Arkansas went 3-1 and finished 8-5 with a victory over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl. Last year the Hogs were 5-3 going into November and went 2-2 to finish 7-6 on the season after losing to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl.
The way LSU and Mississippi State are playing, it’s hard for me to imagine the Razorbacks winning either game without drastic improvement. Missouri is also problematic for the Hogs because the Tigers can score points despite being 3-5 overall and 0-5 in the SEC.
November is going to be an interesting month for the Razorbacks, and December likely will be, too, whether the Hogs make a bowl or not.
Hoop Hogs on Exhibit
The Razorbacks basketball team plays its second exhibition game at 7 p.m. (Friday) at Bud Walton Arena against Missouri Western. Tickets remain on sale. There is no television or radio broadcast of the game.