Ailing Hogs hope to escape an ugly October with victory over Pine Bluff

As glorious as September was for the Arkansas Razorbacks, October has been just as ugly.

The Razorbacks rose to as high as No. 8 in the Associated Press rankings on the back of upsets of old-time rivals Texas and Texas A&M, but now have tumbled out of the national rankings after successively falling 37-0 at No. 1 Georgia, 52-51 at No. 12 Ole Miss, and 38-23 to No. 21 Auburn last Saturday in Fayetteville.

As high as Hog fans were riding in September, they are feeling low at the moment. Some are ready to forget football season and move on to what looks like a promising basketball season.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. UAPB
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 23
Where: War Memorial Stadium, Little Rock
TV: SEC Network

Remaining schedule

Nov. 6 — Mississippi State
Nov. 13 — at LSU
Nov. 20 — at Alabama
Nov. 26 — Missouri

Eric Musselman’s Hoop Hogs were ranked No. 16 in the first AP poll of the season. It’s the first time the Razorbacks have opened the season in the Top 25 since 2007-08.

However, Hog fans need to hold on to that rope as former Razorback football coach Houston Nutt used to say and not throw in the towel just yet.

There is more than a third of the football season left to play, and while the Razorbacks are beat up from playing what has to be the most demanding four-week stretch of football any team will face this season, the Hogs do have a chance to rebound on the gridiron.

It all starts this Saturday at 11 a.m. in venerable War Memorial Stadium against the Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions (1-5, 0-4 SWAC) in what is a somewhat historic game. The contest will be broadcast by the SEC Network.

It’s the first time Arkansas has played an in-state opponent since 1944 when the Hogs defeated UA-Monticello, 41-0, in Fayetteville.

Arkansas athletics director John Barnhill began the policy of not scheduling in-state schools after that, which Frank Broyles retained when the legendary football coach also took on duties as athletics director. Jeff Long continued the policy during his tenure.

There are merits to that policy that served Arkansas’ program well over the decades, but times do change. With current UA athletics director Hunter Yurachek’s decision to begin scheduling in-state teams, the points of the old debate are moot.

So, the Golden Lions get a fat check, and the Razorbacks get what should amount to a scrimmage. All the money stays in the state. It’s a good deal for all involved, except maybe the ticket holders who would like a sexier matchup for the price of their ticket and donation.

It’s going to be interesting to see what the turnout for the game is on Saturday. I hope War Memorial Stadium is full. Like many Hog fans, I cherish memories of watching the Hogs play there with family and friends in years gone by.

This Razorback team does need a break from the rigors of SEC play. Facing Pine Bluff is a comfortable way to transition into next week’s open date when the concentration for the Hogs will be catching their wind for a pivotal stretch run as well as player development for the Razorbacks who aren’t getting as much playing time.

While the Hogs had three defensive starters and one on offense sit out the Auburn game with injuries, even the Razorbacks who played are nursing bumps and bruises. Unfortunately preseason All-American safety Jalen Catalon is out for the season after shoulder surgery Monday. Most other injured Hogs are projected to back for the Mississippi State game on Nov. 6, as far as we know.

One hopes the next two weeks will help the injured Razorbacks to get their feet back under them for a strong November run that will yield a bowl trip in December.

It won’t be easy, but if the Razorbacks can squeeze two or three victories out of their November schedule this will be a solid rebound season for the program in Sam Pittman’s second year as head coach.

No matter the circumstances, the Razorbacks should come out of Saturday’s game 5-3, one victory away from bowl eligibility.

Win one game in November and the Hogs would go bowling. That would be significant. Despite how expectations changed for the program with the wins over Texas and Texas A&M in September, few expected this team to win more than six games when the season started.

There are not guarantees in SEC play as we saw last week when the Hogs were favored against Auburn, but the Tigers whipped the Razorbacks’ butts and went home with a two-touchdown victory.

With home games against Mississippi State on Nov. 6 and Missouri on Nov. 26, the Razorbacks have a solid shot at going bowling this season. Both games will be challenges, but my guess is the Hogs will be favored in both.

As for the two-game road stretch at LSU on Nov. 13 and at Alabama on Nov. 20, calling it tough is an understatement. Both teams are more talented and boast more depth than the Hogs.

Who knows about LSU?

They have enough talent to beat anyone on a given night, but with head coach Ed Ogeron’s contract being bought out earlier this week, and him still coaching for the remainder of the year, nobody can anyone predict how the Tigers’ players will respond?

My hope is the Hogs can get hot, slip into Death Valley, and steal a victory there.

As for Alabama, Arkansas hasn’t beaten the Crimson Tide since Nick Saban took over their program in 2007, and unfortunately that’s not likely to change this year.

Then comes Missouri at Razorback Stadium on the day after Thanksgiving. The Tigers aren’t playing well at this juncture, but this game is more than a month away.

I’m wondering how well Razorback fans will turn out for this one?

There is a big difference in making a trip to centrally located Little Rock a day after a national holiday and to Northwest Arkansas for two-thirds of the state.

Will the students go home for Thanksgiving and then drive back up for a 2:30 p.m. Friday kickoff, or just watch on CBS?

I also wonder about the physical condition of the Razorbacks after back-to-back road trips to Baton Rouge and Tuscaloosa against two very physical football teams coupled with a short week to prepare?

We’ve seen the toll a physical September took on the Hogs the last three weeks. The history of the Missouri series says the Tigers could very easily get the better of the Razorbacks no matter the circumstances.

There is still a ton of football to play this season, and for the Hogs it starts with Saturday’s game against Pine Bluff. The challenge for the players is to treat this game like any other. If they do, the Hogs will be one victory away from bowl eligibility with four games to play.

As disappointing as the last three weeks of football has been for Hog fans, a win Saturday still marks significant improvement for Pittman’s burgeoning program. Arkansas Razorbacks (4-3, 1-3 SEC)