Anticipation for Razorback football mounts during summer doldrums

The sun hasn’t even set on the month of June, and like many others, I am already jonesing for football.

Sure, the College World Series is still in progress — at least for another evening, maybe two — and the All-Star break for Major League Baseball is still a few weeks away. The NBA playoffs are coming to a head.

There’s golf to sleep through on lazy Saturday and Sunday afternoons, and Wimbledon is about to push tennis to the forefront of the sporting world as it does every year around the Fourth of July.

At the end of July, we have the the Summer Olympics, which unfortunately will likely be politicized more than ever, to divert our attention for a few weeks.

However, even with all of that a remote click away, I can’t help my mind from drifting toward football and the upcoming Razorback football season.

Yes, Razorback pitcher Kevin Kopps is still winning awards for his truly outstanding season on the bump for Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks. D1 Baseball named him its Player of the Year, and there is a good chance he’ll be honored with the Golden Spikes Award.

Kopps was already named the 2021 SEC Pitcher of the Year after leading the nation with a stellar 0.75 ERA during the regular season. His ERA was 0.90 after the postseason.

In 89.2 regular season innings of relief, Kopps collected a 12-1 record and 131 strikeouts to go with his amazing ERA, while opponents hit just .162 against him. A consensus All-America honoree, the righty also finished the 2021 campaign with Arkansas’ single-season ERA record.

Kopps is just the third Razorback to be named a Golden Spikes Award finalist, joining and Andrew Benintendi, who won the award in 2015, and Phil Stidham, who earned finalist honors in 1991.

Kopps’ winning the Golden Spikes Award would be some consolation for the Hogs bowing out earlier than expected in their Super Regional, but honestly it has been hard watching the College World Series after the Hogs’ earlier than expected exit.

The fact that Vanderbilt and Mississippi are battling for the national title, just rubs salt in the wound. As all good Hog fans know, the Razorbacks were a combined 4-0 against the Bulldogs and Commodores this year on their way to winning the SEC regular-season and tournament titles.

The Razorbacks’ exiting prior to the CWS has just made the summer seem a bit longer, and my anticipation for Razorback football to grow even stronger.

While time marches quicker than ever for me as I lurch toward the precipice of my mid-50s, it’s not hard for me to think back to the summers when I was in junior high and high school and how I avidly look forward to the arrival of Dave Campbell’s Arkansas Football and Athlon’s Southwest and Southeastern conference football annuals.

While the information in them was no different that what I had already gleaned from reading the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat, the flashy package, full of great color photos made it enjoyable to look through over and over throughout the summer at least until the Razorback press guide arrived.

With the Razorbacks being covered from top to bottom by a variety of outlets daily, such publications are more out of date than ever by the time they hit the stands, but I am looking forward to purchasing a copy of Hooten’s Arkansas Football like I have every year since the 1990s.

The Razorback coverage is top-notch, but what I appreciate most is reading the high school previews. While the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette continues to cover high school sports well, the contraction of the newspaper industry in Northwest Arkansas into one entity has slowly reduced the amount of high-school coverage available, particularly of the smaller schools.

Hooten’s Arkansas Football, which will be on sale in July, admirably gives its readers a snapshot of what high school football fans can expect from their home-town programs each fall, and the opportunity for hundreds of kids to see their names published and their hard work and dedication publicly recognized, maybe for the only time in their lives.

Last July we weren’t even certain that we would have a football season with a Covid-19 vaccine still months away. So SEC Football Media Days went on hiatus for a year.

While the drama with North Carolina State being forced to concede in the College World Series because of Covid-19 regulations proved that the virus still isn’t in our rearview mirror, SEC Media Days is scheduled for July 19-22 in Birmingham.

Though Sam Pittman has more than a year under his belt as the Hogs’ head coach, this will be his first appearance among the circus of media that will gather for the for what is traditionally though of as the kickoff of the SEC season.

Pittman is scheduled to be the first speaker on the final day along with Auburn’s Bryan Harsin and Missouri’s Eliah Drinkwitz, who are also making their first SEC Media Day appearances as head coaches.

Though born in Norman, Okla., Drinkwitz grew up in Alma, played for the Airedales and graduated from Arkansas Tech before beginning his coaching career. Harsin, of course, was head coach at Arkansas State in 2013, so there is an Arkansas connection to all three coaches.

Though an Oklahoma native, Pittman grew up liking the Razorbacks and even attended one of Arkansas’ football camps when Lou Holtz was head coach in the late 1970s.

I’m looking forward to Pittman’s first time at the SEC podium, and the fresh air that his personality and humor might bring to the event.

The Hogs’ 3-7 record during last year’s coronavirus-infected season doesn’t really tell the tale of the progress Arkansas made in his first season against what most acknowledge as one of the most if not the most challenging schedules ever faced by a college football team.

It’s going to be interesting to see how much Pittman’s Razorbacks improve this season, and whether or not that improvement will manifest into enough victories to put Arkansas back in a bowl game.

Yeah, it’s way early to be thinking about bowl games, particularly for a program like Arkansas’, which may have more questions than answers at moment, but during the doldrums of summer, it’s difficult not daydream about fall and football, just a little bit.