The countdown to kickoff for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 2023 season is almost over, and while anticipation is always high for the start of football season, there’s not an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm for the Hogs’ noon game with Western Carolina in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.
The game can be streamed on ESPN+ or SEC+.
Only around 40,000 tickets for the game had been sold as of Thursday for what will be the Razorbacks’ lone appearance in the stadium that is celebrating its 75th year in operation.
As a nearly life-long Hog follower, that expected attendance number is a bit deflating.
From the time that I was a child through my college years, War Memorial Stadium was the place to be in the state when the Hogs visited the Capital city.
Maybe I was a bit delusional as a Razorback fanatic, but growing up, there was no place more special for me to be than War Memorial Stadium for tailgating and a Razorback game on a sun-drenched or rain-soaked Saturday. It did not matter what the weather was like or who the opponent was either. It was always a treat to attend a Razorback game in Little Rock.
Family, friends, and colleagues made the occasion special as well as the fact that the Hogs were playing. Literally some of the best days of my life were spent at War Memorial Stadium before and after Razorback games. I felt like I was in Hog Heaven.
While everyone’s experiences are different, thousands in our fair state look back fondly on the days when a Razorback game in Little Rock was a huge event.
Of course times have changed since the 1970s and ’80s. There is so much more to do today and to occupy our time.
Plus over the last 20 years or so, Razorback Stadium has unequivocally become the better venue for Razorback games thanks to a series of renovations and expansions as well as the growth of Northwest Arkansas in almost every way.
No doubt, the biggest change in college football since my childhood is the proliferation of college football on television. In the 1970s, there was one nationally televised college football game a week. Just one. As the decade drew to a close, sometimes a regional game might be added to ABC’s roster. No other network had the rights to televise college football.
That landscape began to shift greatly in the early 1980s when Georgia and Oklahoma won a lawsuit against the NCAA that allowed universities and conferences to gain more control of the product that was college football.
Ever since, more and more games became available on television to the point that in the last 10 years all Power Five conference games have been available to view at home through one network, service or the other.
Many today find that they enjoy following the Razorbacks from their home preferable to actually attending the games for any number of reasons, ranging from economics and comfort to familial responsibilities and time constraints.
There are so many more reasons today to enjoy a game at home rather than make the special effort and pay the additional cost to attend the game in person than there ever has been.
So, I doff my Hog Hat to every Razorback fan who attends Saturday’s game at War Memorial Stadium, and hope that their time spent there supporting the Razorbacks produces a host of special memories with family and friends that will last a lifetime. They are the backbone of the Razorback program, and without their support, Razorback football and Razorback athletics would be a lot less special.
There has been a lot of talk among fans and some media this week about the Hogs’ game with Western Carolina on Saturday and the game with Kent State on Sept. 9 as being like NFL exhibition games.
You know, just a warm-up for when the season kicks off for real when BYU visits Razorback Stadium on Sept. 16, and the Hogs begin their midseason death march through the heart of the SEC West with games at LSU, in Arlington, Texas against Texas A&M, at Ole Miss, and at Alabama the following four weeks.
I may have been guilty of suggesting that myself.
Of course, it’s fine for fans and media to look ahead, but one has to hope the Razorbacks are focused on playing their best football the next two weeks. I hope the Hogs have taken Western Carolina more seriously than their followers have.
Mature football programs play to their own standard each week, and that standard has nothing to do with the opponent.
Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman indicated that the Razorbacks allowed who they were playing last season to have an effect on how they played too often.
Pittman and his coaching staff want to erase that tendency, starting with Saturday’s opener. The outcome of the game might not tell us a lot about this season, but we should get an idea if the Hogs took the lesson that Pittman has stressed to them since January seriously from the outcome of this game.
RAZORBACKS TO WATCH
Certainly all eyes will be on Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson and tailback Raheim “Rocket” Sanders on Saturday.
If this Razorback team is to be all that Hog fans hope it to be, they have to play well this season. I’m almost taking it for granted that they will as long as they remain healthy.
Jefferson could rewrite many of Arkansas’ quarterbacking records with a season comparable to either of his last two. He also could become the only Razorback quarterback to lead Arkansas to three bowl wins in his career.
With 1,400 yards rushing last season, Sanders had one of the great rushing seasons in Razorback history. If he has another similar season, All-American honors could be coming his way.
But, I already know how good those guys are. Here are a few other Hogs I’m going to be watching attentively during Saturday’s game to get a feel for their games.
Landon Jackson (6-7, 281) and Trajan Jeffcoat (6-4, 281) — This set of defensive ends are long, tall, and athletic, and I’m looking forward to seeing them work in the more aggressive four-man front that first-year defensive coordinator Travis Williams has installed. I want to see how they hunt the football.
Isaiah Sategna — The Fayetteville native is listed as an either-or starter at wide receiver with Jadeon Wilson, but he is also going to return kick-offs and punts for the Hogs. Sategna has blazing speed. I hope to see him add some explosion to the Razorbacks’ return game this season.
Luke Hasz — The 6-3, 242-pound true freshman tight end has earned a starting role at a spot that could be key in the Razorbacks’ offense with Dan Enos calling plays as the Hogs’ offensive coordinator. He might not be a dominant blocker yet, but evidently his ball skills are special.
Jordan Crook (6-0, 220), Jaheim Thomas (6-4, 240), and Brad Spence (6-2, 237) — Chris “Pooh” Paul has a knee injury that could limit him in the opener, but Crook, Thomas, and Spence are fellow linebackers who appear set to play a lot of ball this season. Thomas is an experienced transfer from Cincinnati, but Crook, a sophomore, started in the Liberty Bowl last season when Drew Sanders elected to prepare for the NFL Draft instead of playing. Spence is a true freshman who has not practiced like one in preseason. Pittman credited him for make plays sideline to sideline in preseason practice. Arkansas has had solid linebacker play in Pittman’s three seasons at Arkansas, but this might be deepest group, yet.
Andrew Armstrong (6-4, 201), Isaac TeSlaa (6-4, 216), and Tyrone Broden (6-7, 195) — This is a trio of tall targets for Jefferson to play catch with. All three have good hands, solid speed, and a measure of physicality Arkansas has rarely deployed in such numbers. All starred for their teams at a lower level of college football. Saturday won’t tell the tale, but it will be interesting to see how they perform against SEC talent.
Patrick Kutas (6-5, 313), Andrew Chamblee (6-6, 304), and Devon Manuel (6-9, 319) — With the loss of both starting tackles to graduation, the Hogs are young but talented at the position. Kutas nailed down the right tackle spot in the spring and has been immovable there. Manuel was the starter at left tackle coming out of spring, but missed a considerable amount of practice time in camp, reportedly with a concussion. Chamblee filled in while Manuel was out and will probably start Saturday, but the guess is that the one who plays the most effectively Saturday will start Sept. 9 against Kent State. Pittman said he believes the Hogs have eight offensive linemen ready to perform at the SEC level.
Ty’Kieast Crawford (6-5, 226) — Crawford could get the start at left guard if third-year starter and team captain Brady Latham (6-5, 312) can’t play Saturday. Whether Latham is ready to go or not Crawford will play a lot. Pittman has said he wants to play more offensive lineman than they have been able to in the past to help keep players fresh and healthy. Amaury Wiggins (6-3, 310) should see some playing time behind starting center Beaux Limmer (6-5, 307), who like Latham is a three-year starter, as well as at guard.