It’s time to call those Hogs once again

Has it really been just a little over two months since Hog calls echoed in Baum Stadium after the Diamond Hogs bowed out of the Fayetteville Super Regional earlier than expected, denying the top-ranked Razorbacks the chance to play for the College World Series title?

I don’t know, but it seems longer than that since Arkansas fans gathered to root for the home team as the kickoff to the 2021 football season inches ever closer.

Like a lot of you, I am eagerly awaiting the 1 p.m. Saturday kickoff not just to the Rice game at Razorback Stadium, but also the entire season.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Rice Owls
When: 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 4
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network + streaming

Remaining schedule:
Sept. 11 — Texas
Sept. 18 — Georgia Southern
Sept. 25 — Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 2 — at Georgia
Oct. 9 — at Ole Miss
Oct. 16 – Auburn
Oct. 23 — UAPB, at Little Rock
Nov. 6 — Mississippi State
Nov. 13 — at LSU
Nov. 20 — at Alabama
Nov. 26 — Missouri

To this old Hog follower, there really isn’t any sound much sweeter than 76,000 Arkansas fans revving up their Razorbacks with a hearty Wooo Pig Sooie war chant. Just thinking about it has the hair on the back of my neck and forearms standing at attention.

Like many of you, I’m just conditioned that way. Have been since I was a boy.

I’ll fess up to being a homer. I don’t mind admitting it. I want the Razorbacks to win every game, just like most of you do. It would be disingenuous for me to indicate anything else.

The Razorbacks winning just makes life that much sweeter in Northwest Arkansas, and it’s pretty sweet here anyway, despite the struggles we’ve all faced because of coronavirus pandemic for the better part of two years now. As an aside, I doff my ball cap in respect to all those health-care workers who have been on the frontlines of this pandemic. Much love and respect for all you’ve done and continue to do.

Take my opinions with a grain of salt, if you must. I often do view the Hogs and college athletics in general through Razorback red-colored glasses.

I hope others find some enjoyment from these columns, but I do write them from a fan’s point of view for others who enjoy, support, and, yes, even love the Razorbacks.

I understand the ups and downs of being a Hog fan, and while I do try to find some enjoyment out of the all the games, even when Arkansas isn’t as successful as I would like them to be, I’m by no means indifferent. I want the Razorbacks to romp and stomp through what most consider the nation’s most challenging schedule, just like a lot of you do.

I totally understand your exhilaration when the Razorbacks win, and as Bill Clinton (and Jimmy Carter before him) famously said about the economy, “I feel your pain” when the Razorbacks lose.

The football Hogs have dealt Razorback fans no small amount of pain over the last decade to use a bit of hyperbole. Some of the seasons of late have been positively stomach-churning. The less said and thought about John L. Smith and Chad Morris the better. I do feel sorry for the young men that suffered under their watches as the Razorback head coach.

What’s good is that it seems Sam Pittman and his coaching staff have done a ton of heavy lifting in attempting to turn the Razorback program around. His first season as the Razorbacks’ head coach, as bad as it was at 3-7, was a step in the right direction in terms of attitude and desire.

The Razorbacks played their butts off for him and his staff last year.

While the win total wasn’t anything to shout about, it was a positive step forward for the Razorback program and a launching pad for what I hope and think will be a much better season this fall.

Obviously, hopes can run high among fans before the first game. Expectations can get out of control, but I think it’s reasonable for fans to expect this Hog squad to win six games this season and maybe more.

While the Razorbacks do run another gauntlet this season, the only three opponents I’d deem the Razorbacks of having little to no chance to win against this season are No. 1 Alabama, No. 5 Georgia, and No. 6 Texas A&M.

While the Hogs probably will not be favored in most of their other SEC games or against No. 21 Texas, to me, going into the season, I rate those games tossups.

Write that off to early season exuberance, day drinking, or foolishness, but it’s the way I see it without having seen much. Obviously, once we see teams actually play, I may have to adjust my thoughts.

At the moment, we really don’t know what the Hogs have under wraps going into the Rice game, but based on how hard the Hogs played for Pittman and his staff last year, I think we’re going to see the best Hog team since Bobby Petrino’s final team that won the Cotton Bowl in 2011.

Now, that says a lot about my belief in this squad, but it also says a good bit how far Arkansas’ program had fallen before Pittman was hired as head coach when others like Lane Kiffin and Eliah Drinkwitz to name two ran away from the job.

Now, understand when I say best team since 2011, I don’t necessarily mean that this Arkansas squad will win eight or nine games. All schedules aren’t built equally, and the SEC stands to be as every bit as competitive this fall if not more so than at any point over the past decade.

What impresses me most about this team is the leadership that Pittman and his staff have not only cultivated, but also the leadership created in the way the Hogs have responded to them.

This squad is packed with covid-19 seniors who were granted an additional year of eligibility from the NCAA because of the pandemic, but as last weekend’s vote for team captains pointed out, there is leadership among the underclassmen, too.

All-American safety candidate Jalen Catalon is just a sophomore, but he earned his teammates respect and is a captain. Third-year sophomore quarterback K.J. Jefferson was also voted a captain. Their leadership has shined throughout fall camp. Super seniors linebacker Grant Morgan, offensive tackle Myron Cunningham, and senior safety Joe Foucha were also voted captains by the team.

While much of the preseason talk and speculation among fans has shifted to backup quarterback Malik Hornsby, I’m looking forward to seeing Jefferson do his thing, as well as see if the Hogs’ running game is improved over its mediocre performance last year.

Defensively everything hinges on the improvement of the defensive line, which will operate more out of a four-man front than than last season for defensive coordinator Barry Odom.

Unfortunately nose guard/tackle John Ridgeway had an appendectomy according to an Arkansas-Democrat Gazette report, and Pittman confirmed Monday that he would not play this week. All-SEC receiver candidate Treylon Burks could be missing Saturday, too, if he is unable to practice this week with an undisclosed injury that has had him sidelined for two weeks already.

One hopes both will be ready for the Sept. 11 Texas game at 6 p.m. in Razorback Stadium as the Longhorns visit for the first time since nipping the Hogs, 22-20, in 2004. A Razorback victory would be a great way to welcome the Steers into the SEC.

As I keep reminding myself, though, the Hogs need to clean Rice off their plate before trying to carve up the Longhorns.