Full disclosure: The following doesn’t technically mean anything. The past doesn’t predict the future, especially in college sports when personnel turnover maximizes every four or so years. Never mind the intervening seasons.
When Arkansas plays in the Belk Bowl on Dec. 29 in Charlotte, N.C., the game will mark the 12th bowl the Razorbacks have played in since 2000. And while some are less than thrilled with Arkansas’ 2016 season, there is some solace to be taken as it relates to next year.
Eight times after a bowl appearance, Arkansas managed a winning record. Eight times in 11 tries. Not a bad mark. Coach Bret Bielema has done it twice now in Fayetteville. One of those three times the Razorbacks didn’t reach the .500 mark the following year was the John L. Smith disaster of 2012. Even I’ll grant extenuating circumstances for that one.
It isn’t even that winning a bowl game carries momentum (whatever that is, anyway). Heck, going to a bowl game doesn’t mean a lot for the next year. More, it’s that teams that were good the year before tend to be good the next year. Simple as that.
Arkansas should be OK next year, too. Austin Allen is among the league’s top quarterbacks. Rawleigh Williams III and Devwah Whaley make an excellent running back duo. Three starters are back at cornerback. Dre Greenlaw should be healthy at linebacker. If you’re seeking optimism, it isn’t hard to find.
If you’re the pessimist type, there’s something for you there, too. Bielema said Monday he’s experimenting with a change to a 3-4 defense in 2017. Arkansas loses most of its best defensive linemen and the Razorbacks were thin at linebacker in 2016, especially once Greenlaw went down with a broken foot. And in the SEC, the schedule is always daunting.
What’s it all mean? Not a thing. Sort of how this season was impossible to figure out game to game, next year could go 1,000 different ways. Arkansas could compete for an SEC West title if things fall into place. The Hogs could win four games if they don’t.
Welcome to Razorbacks football.
One last go ’round
Dan Skipper and his fellow seniors will finally be leaving Arkansas after the Belk Bowl. Hard to imagine Arkansas football without them.
A good chunk of the exiting players are Bielema recruits. They toughed out a miserable first year in the regime and ended up making three straight bowls. They could end up winning three straight bowls, which would be the first time Arkansas has ever achieved that.
Even in the era of a watered-down bowl system, that’s not a small feat, and fuel for the Bielema hallmark that things are trending upward for the Razorbacks.
A handful of the guys will have an opportunity to play in the NFL. The 6-foot-10 Skipper might have the best chance. Deatrich Wise Jr. may have seen his stock fall a bit, but the upside remains. Jeremiah Ledbetter may get a shot. Drew Morgan and Keon Hatcher are potential pros at wide receiver. Jeremy Sprinkle is nearly a lock to be drafted. Maybe even punter Toby Baker gets a look.
Don’t be shocked if it’s one of the old heads who make a game-changing plan come late December in the Belk Bowl.
“Those seniors, the finality of what it is is here,” Bielema said. “It sets in gradually, but when you know this is your last time of putting on a Hog helmet, it means a lot.”
Time to make some headway
We all know it. The SEC is not a basketball conference. Outside Kentucky, not a team in the league puts fear into the heart of opponents.
It doesn’t mean the SEC is a bad league. It just means, compared to the other power conferences, it’s a step behind. Arkansas can stake its claim as one of the teams right behind the Wildcats, though.
Look at the rest of the conference, a league that tends to cannibalize itself during conference play.
South Carolina fell to Seton Hall on Monday. Texas A&M has lost to UCLA and USC. Auburn was beaten by Boston College, predicted to finish last in the ACC. Georgia has losses to Clemson, Marquette and Kansas. Granted, none of those are embarrassing, but it doesn’t change the overall point: the league badly needs an out-of-conference win.
Arkansas can get one Saturday against Texas. No, the Longhorns aren’t among the elite of college basketball right now, sitting at 4-3. But they’re also not half-bad in a consistently difficult Big 12. They were projected to be an NCAA Tournament team, picked third in their league this season.
The Razorbacks could use the ‘W.’ Only two “sexy” games remain in the nonconference schedule for Arkansas to build its resume: Texas and Oklahoma State after the new year. Both are away from Bud Walton Arena. Wins in those games could be, in this eat-itself-alive league, what separates the Razorbacks from the rest of the pack.
On top of that, fans really *really* want to see a road win for an Arkansas team it seems like hasn’t won outside the state in 20 years, if you ask them.
- We touched on it Tuesday in Breakfast, but our Trent Shadid took a deeper look at what exactly a 3-4 scheme might look like for Arkansas next year.
- Jason Kersey went to visit Hogs offensive line commit Dalton Wagner in Illinois, where he found the comparisons to Dan Skipper were justified.
- Former Arkansas Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden is back in the fold with the Dallas Cowboys after an offseason injury.
- The Arkansas men’s basketball team doesn’t play until Saturday against Texas, but it isn’t taking a light week, writes Bob Holt at Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
Well, one elected official may not make it to inauguration day. Don’t worry, Arkansas, I’m not talking about the one you think.
A bag of meth was found in a hotel room registered to Fort Smith District Judge-elect Jim O’Hern, according to this story in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. O’Hern wasn’t in the room when the drugs were found and the person found with them drugs says O’Hern had nothing to do with them.