College sports season winding down; talking season to wind up

Arkansas wide receiver Tyrone Broden, left, celebrates with teammates after he made a touchdown catch to defeat Florida in overtime in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

In terms of college sports, it is nearly the dead of summer.

Other than the College World Series over in Omaha, Neb., the 2023-24 major collegiate sports season is in the books.

On Monday, Florida defeated North Carolina State 5-4 in an elimination game, and Texas A&M topped Kentucky, 5-1, to advance in the winner’s bracket.

Today, Florida State and North Carolina meet at 1 p.m., while Kentucky and Florida play at 8 p.m. in elimination games that will be televised by ESPN. Tennessee and Texas A&M await the winners of those games on Wednesday.

Depending on the outcomes of Wednesday’s games there might or might not be an elimination game or two on Thursday.

The College World Series Finals begin at 6 p.m. Saturday on ESPN. It’s a best two-out-of-three series. Sunday’s game is at 1 p.m. and will be televised by ABC. If a third game is necessary, it will be played Monday at 6 p.m. and be televised by ESPN.

I don’t know how you feel, but at this point, I have no rooting interest in the CWS. I have a hard time rooting against the SEC, particularly in favor of ACC squads Florida State and North Carolina, but I have an even more difficult time pulling for the Gators, Aggies, Wildcats, or Vols.

So, I’ll watch and fuss no matter who wins.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2024 football schedule

Countdown to Kickoff: 71 Days

Aug. 29 – Arkansas-Pine Bluff at Little Rock
Sept. 7 – at Oklahoma State
Sept. 14 – Alabama-Birmingham
Sept. 21 – at Auburn
Sept. 28 – Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 5 – Tennessee
Oct. 12 – Open Date
Oct. 19 – LSU
Oct. 26 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 2 – Ole Miss
Nov. 9 – Open Date
Nov. 16 – Texas
Nov. 23 – Louisiana Tech
Nov. 30 – at Missouri

Monday night I started out watching the Aggies and Wildcats, but drifted over to the NBA Finals until Boston built such a commanding lead on Dallas that the game became unwatchable for me. The Celtics won their 18th NBA title pushing them one crown ahead of the the Los Angeles Lakers in what seems like their eternal struggle for hardwood hegemony.

Although I suspected and expected the Celtics to win, I learned of Boston’s victory while I was channel surfing from Magic Johnson’s lament on X that Boston had won.

I imagine I’ll be doing quite a bit of channel surfing for the rest of the summer, while I await the 2024-2025 college football season.

We do have the Summer Olympics in August, but by then, the Razorbacks will be practicing football for the forthcoming season. That will be at the forefront of my and every other Razorback fan’s mind come August.

Based on the summer football preview magazines, Arkansas fans don’t have a ton to look forward to this fall.

The Hogs are being pegged as one of the worst teams in the SEC. Vanderbilt is on the bottom, but the Razorbacks and Mississippi State fill the 15th and 16th spots by most of those who predict.

Remember there are no longer divisions in the SEC, and of course Texas and Oklahoma join the league officially on July 1.

Such summertime predictions are based mostly on how a team finished the previous year, and what they have returning.

Today making those predictions has become tougher than ever by the turnover or “churn” of athletes via the transfer portal. Magazines have deadlines. It takes time to layout, print, and distribute these very large magazines. At some point, the flow of information has to stop.

This automatically makes aspects of the annual publications out-of-date on arrival. Honestly that can be said about any news report. Now, that doesn’t make any of them any less fun to read, but take the predictions with a grain of salt.

So much can happen between now and the kickoff of the college football season that cannot be anticipated. There will be injuries. Some teams are better fit to absorb them than others. Some athletes will quit. The Transfer Portal makes it even easier for a player to give up and more difficult for coaches to push athletes to be their best.

As previously mentioned, not much is expected of this Razorback football team this year. Again most of that is based on last season’s 4-7 collapse. It also has something to do with the rise of Ole Miss and Missouri last season. Both are picked to be Top-10 teams by some due to their success last season and how well they recruited in the Transfer Portal.

Auburn punt returner Keionte Scott (0) slips past Arkansas defenders Jaheim Thomas (28) and Malik Chavis (4) as he returns a punt for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

Ole Miss has become somewhat of a college all-star team with the success Rebel coach Lane Kiffin has had in attracting talent away from other programs via the portal. Eliah Drinkwitz, whom some felt was on the hot seat this time a year ago, turned perception around with an outstanding 11-2 season in 2023.

Both are programs Arkansas has measured itself against in the recent past. Interestingly enough, Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek had talks with both coaches before hiring Sam Pittman, who is entering his fifth year as the Hogs’ coach with a 23-25 record.

As uncomfortable as it is to say, this is a make-or-break season for Pittman in the meat grinder that is the SEC. Yurachek and key Arkansas boosters showed great faith in Pittman last year by sticking with him and evidently providing more NIL support for recruiting efforts.

Many Hog fans were thrilled when Pittman announced Bobby Petrino as his offensive coordinator. Petrino’s tenure as head coach from 2008-2011 are the best seasons many Hog fans can remember.

Others question if the Hogs have the talent to excel in Petrino’s offense against SEC defenses, while some even wonder if the game has passed the 63-year-old offensive coordinator by.

What I saw in the Red-White game was a well-organized offense that looked certain and sharp in their execution. Part of that was Petrino’s coaching and part of that was the infusion of talent from the transfer portal with quarterback Taylen Green, running back Ja’Quidon Jackson, and offensive linemen Keyshawn Blackstop Jr., Fernando Carmona, and Addison Nichols, who are all expected to start.

The defense looked quick. I liked the pass rush from the outside, but Arkansas’ linebackers are inexperienced. In the secondary, it’s good news that a solid player like Snaxx Johnson was beat out. It speaks to an improved talent pool in the secondary. It’s bad news that Johnson couldn’t be convinced to stay with the team and fight to get his job back.

You never know, sometimes coaches demote a player to push them to improve, and sometimes it’s just to push him away if he won’t conform.

It’s better for an upset player to move on than be a cancer in the locker room, but no matter how you look at it, it’s still a hit to team depth.

Depth has always been a key factor in the SEC. It’s often what separates teams in the standings. Depth on teams like Georgia and Alabama are players waiting their turn. Too often at Arkansas, “depth” includes guys that are perennial practice players.

Arkansas’ schedule may not be ranked as the toughest in the nation this year, but it is by no means a cakewalk.

Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman responds to questions in a press conference after an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Vasha Hunt)

Some are pointing to Arkansas’ game with Oklahoma State, which is expected to be ranked top-15 or better, on Sept. 7 as a make-or-break game for Pittman. I hope that is just preseason bluster.

If the idea of making a coaching change before the end of the season was even a thought, why was he retained as head coach last November? It would make no sense.

If this is a make-or-break year for Pittman’s program, he needs to be given the entire season to make his case. Outside of two rent-a-wins against Pine Bluff and Alabama-Birmingham, the Hogs’ schedule is daunting no matter the rankings.

But, three of the Hogs’ final four games in November are at home. Ole Miss comes to town on Nov. 4. Then the Hogs close out the regular season with a trip to Missouri on Nov. 30.

I’d like to see the outcome of both of those games, before Yurachek or boosters begin to make decisions on Pittman’s future.