The Arkansas Razorbacks won the Rodney Dangerfield Award this week at the 2018 SEC Football Media Days in Atlanta.
The Hogs got no respect whatsoever in the SEC Networks’ coverage of Arkansas on Tuesday. Around noon, former Georgia and LSU defensive linemen David Pollack and Marcus Spears, who now serve as college football analysts for ESPN and the SEC Network respectively, did their best verbal imitation of an old-school Road Warriors’ stomp down on the Razorbacks an hour or so before Arkansas head coach Chad Morris made his first appearance in front of the league media.
All they needed were some spiked up shoulder pads, war paint, and Mohawk hair dos, and it would have been a near perfect recreation of the old-time wrestling tag team’s schtick of bushwhacking an opponent on camera.
Spears actually said he was scared for the future of Arkansas’ program, a sentiment that Paul Finebaum later echoed. Finebaum did say that he could see Arkansas winning six games this year because the Razorbacks had the easiest schedule in the SEC, but that he wondered about years 2 and 3 of Morris’ program.
Their key concerns were talent on hand and the fact Morris was making a near 180 degree turn in philosophy on the offensive side of the football from Bret Bielema’s style of play. Pollack was particularly concerned about how the defense would work under its third defensive coordinator in as many years with John Chavis taking over. His point was that up-tempo offenses tend to make it very tough on their defenses if they aren’t getting first downs and touchdowns.
Another concern was how poorly the defense actually played last year, giving up 42 points a game in SEC play. They really didn’t get into the fact that the Razorbacks have a big question mark at quarterback going into preseason workouts. Afternoon analysts Jordan Rodgers and Greg McElroy, former SEC quarterbacks at Vanderbilt and Alabama, tackled that, doubting that Cole Kelley had the “suddenness” needed for Morris’ offense, and wondering how Morris will adapt his system to match the talent on hand.
I’d like to offer a rebuttal to their analysis, but frankly I can’t.
All their facts about how the Razorbacks played last year were absolutely on the money. While I think Spears, Pollack, and Finebaum’s projections for the future of the program based on those facts might be a bit dramatic, at this point and time, it’s difficult to see positive answers to their criticisms.
Clear answers are what reporters and analysts look for when making judgements about teams in the preseason. It’s why their projections are based as more on the previous year’s success and failures than speculation on how a team might improve.
Last year was a bleak season for the Razorbacks. One of the worst ever in terms of statistics on the defensive side of the football. It was ugly, and that’s ultimately why the regime of both Bret Bielema as head coach and Jeff Long as athletics director came to an end.
It’s why Morris is getting his chance to test his system of play in the SEC, and right now, he is being doubted for the talent he has on hand and for the obstacle of recruiting better talent to Arkansas.
Bielema is/was well respected for what he accomplished at Wisconsin by the media, and there seems to be an underlying thought that if he couldn’t make it work at Arkansas, who can?
With all of that said, I loved Morris’ answer from the podium to all the negative analysis his football program has received thus far.
To paraphrase, he said not one snap has been played yet, and no one knows what is going on in the Razorbacks locker room that could lead to a better outcome this year and in the future of the program.
That’s a great answer. One that should provide hope for Razorback fans going into the season.
Morris also called for all Razorback fans and for that matter everyone in the state to unite around the program when he spoke about “One Arkansas.”
There is no doubt that losing makes every issue bigger among the fanbase, and that winning can sooth a lot of gripes.
Morris is asking Hog fans to put away all their fusses for the time being and to unite in support of this team, this season. He’s asking Razorback fans to create a winning attitude around the football program in order to give the team a better shot at actually producing wins on the field.
Winning is an attitude, and Morris not only wants his Razorbacks to carry that attitude on the field but also for the fans to carry it into the stadium.
In these cynical times, it might be difficult to get some to buy in before there are results on the field, but it is a worthy effort for the Head Hog to cultivate in the preseason.
The quicker Arkansas’ fanbase can put aside their various differences, the more fun they will have supporting the Razorbacks, and if the SEC Network analysts are right, the Hogs are going to need as much support as they can get this season.