As an old-timer, I have to say I’m looking forward to the Rice-and-Beef special at the top of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ football menu this fall.
Sam Pittman’s Hogs open the season by hosting Rice at 1 p.m. on Sept. 4 at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in what no doubt will be blistering heat.
The folks sitting on the east side will probably be hot enough to actually boil rice before the game ends during the heat of the day around 4 or 4:30 p.m.
The game is not scheduled to be televised, but rather streamed on ESPN3, which begs the question that Arkansas Democrat-Gazette sports editor Wally Hall first asked, why kick this game off at 1 p.m. instead of a more reasonable 6 or 7 p.m.?
Even an 11 a.m. kickoff would be better. Since it’s being streamed rather than televised, the game is not occupying a television time slot. There shouldn’t be a problem staging it at a more reasonable time of the day.
While Arkansas will be allowed to have full attendance after a year of Covid-19 crowd restrictions, it might not be until the second playing date that Hog fans fill up Razorback Stadium.
If — like the little old lady in the ancient Wendy’s commercials of the 1980s — you’re wondering “Where’s the Beef,” that comes on Sept. 11 at a much more reasonable 6 p.m. when the dreaded Texas Longhorns visit Razorback Stadium for an ESPN-televised game.
Few under the age of 45 really get the significance of playing Texas takes on for those of us who lived the rivalry 365 days of the year when the Hogs and Horns were Southwest Conference members.
Rice Owls Blue Gray Game / Photo: RiceOwls.com
While there were other good teams in the SWC, from the dawn of the conference until Arkansas exited the league to join the SEC after the 1991 football season, the Razorbacks really only took a back seat to the Longhorns in terms of prestige.
Certainly it meant something to whip Houston in the late 1970s, SMU when they cheated their way into the top 10 in the early 1980s, and Texas A&M in the late 1980s, but to truly gain respect nationally, the Hogs had to beat Texas to reap the plaudits Hog fans desperately desired.
You see, Arkansas and its fans felt like the Hog-hatted stepchildren of the SWC, being the only member of the league from outside the bounds of the Lone Star State, or at least at times we felt like it.
It was us against all of them, but the biggest them was the Longhorns. Beating Texas was always the key to Arkansas gaining national respect. It was a litmus-test game. Beat Texas and you had accomplished something on no uncertain terms.
On the whole, the Razorbacks had their way with the other SWC opponents. Even though Texas A&M has won their last nine games against the Hogs in SEC play, the Razorbacks still hold a 41-33-3 advantage over the Aggies in the all-time series.
Of all the old SWC opponents, only Texas holds a series advantage over the Razorbacks, and it’s so lopsided at 56-22 that the Hogs will never catch them.
While the Longhorns have had some good years — most notably their national championship in 2005-06 — since Arkansas departed for the SEC 30 years ago, Texas isn’t the juggernaut it once was. Oklahoma carries that banner now in the Big 12, but most feel the Longhorns are a sleeping giant.
What no one knows is whether first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian can rouse the Steers from their slumber. Nick Saban gave him a lifeline at Alabama to rekindle his career as the Crimson Tide’s offensive coordinator after his alcoholism imploded his regime at USC.
D-Shawn Jamison, Texas Longhorns Orange White Game / Photo: TexasSports.com
Sarkisian masterminded one of the great offenses in the history of college football last season as the Crimson Tide practically waltzed their way to an undefeated national title.
Many think he will ignite a fire under the Longhorns quickly. The Longhorns were ranked No. 19 at the end of Tom Herman’s tenure in the final poll of 2020, and in a preseason poll published by NCAA.com, Sark’s first squad comes in at No. 18.
It might just be summertime delusions, but I’m feeling a good old-fashioned Razorback upset brewing for the Texas game.
The game is early to the Hogs’ benefit. They won’t be beat up from SEC play yet, which was the downfall to a promising start last season. Arkansas just did not have the depth last year to survive a grueling 10-game, all-SEC schedule.
Covid-19 struggles kept the Hogs from upending LSU last year, and the in-game injury to All-SEC linebacker Grant Morgan turned the tide in what became a shootout against Missouri.
Depth has always been and probably will always be an issue with the Razorbacks, but on the second playing date of the season, Arkansas ought to be able to give the Longhorns their best shot.
Texas will also still be adjusting to its new coaching staff. If there is anytime to catch the Longhorns, it’s early in the season before the players have complete buy-in to Sark’s system and coaches.
A victory in that game would be exactly what Pittman and his staff needs to build on not only with the 2021 team but also his entire program. A victory over Texas would be an attention-grabber for the Razorbacks.
Again, it might be summertime delusion, but I think Barry Odom’s second-year Hog defense will be able to frustrate the Longhorns just enough for the Razorbacks to pull off the upset.
Evidently, I’m not the only one high on the Hogs. Football publishing guru Phil Steele named three Hogs to his All-American lists earlier in the week.
Treylon Burks garnered first-team honors at wide receiver, while the aforementioned Morgan and safety Jalen Catalon garnered second-team All-American accolades.
All three of them also made Steele’s first-team All-SEC squad with linebacker Bumper Pool (second team), offensive lineman Myron Cunningham (third team), long snapper Jordan Silver (third team), running back Trelon Smith (fourth team) and offensive lineman Ricky Stromberg (fourth team) also being acknowledged.