It’s been an eerily quiet week for Arkansas football.
Players’ and coaches’ talk was standard, maybe even a little less enlightening than usual, and the team’s Twitter handle, run by the sports information staffers, was almost silent. This time last week it was non-stop “Be Louder” and encouragement to pack Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Nothing wrong with that, of course. To me, it means this week is lockdown. Not just from the marketing standpoint, either. Feels like Arkansas is a team on the brink. And that makes a little bit of sense, even if the team is 4-2. An 0-3 start in SEC play would be terribly damaging for a team that had eyes on a nine- or 10-win season.
Jason Kersey, Trent Shadid and I talked about it in our daily podcast for Friday morning. Things have been light all the way around the Fred W. Smith Football Center. To me, it signals a pair of things.
First, Arkansas is focused. While that’s something of a lame phrase, it’s true this week. As much as coaches and players say, “We take it one game at a time,” that’s only occasionally the case. Seems true this week as Arkansas stares at the abyss of the SEC West.
Secondly, the football staff and players realize this is a make-or-break type of game. Struggles in their first two SEC games, along with serious issues at certain positions (looking at you, offensive line) have left some doubt as to how Arkansas will finish its back-half of the season. A win over a good team could spark a second-half return to form, something Bret Bielema teams have done the last two years. A loss could send the Razorbacks into a downward spiral.
Even with Mississippi State and Missouri left on the schedule, two teams Arkansas is superior to when it comes to talent, those games are on the road.
One game doesn’t make a season and it’s possible, likely even, Arkansas finishes the final six with similar performances to its first six. But this one feels different and has all week.
The Quarterback Showdown
Austin Allen vs. Chad Kelly. The best two quarterbacks in the SEC will face off Saturday inside DWRRS. Despite both programs’ ups and downs the last 12 years, almost never has a time come when one or the other didn’t have a truly great quarterback.
Saturday marks, though, the first time the consensus best and second-best quarterbacks have gone to head-to-head as Rebels and Razorbacks. Even then, it’s tough to distinguish which of the two, Allen or Kelly, has been better this year.
In the spirit of quarterbacking, here is my list of the five best each has had over the past decade-and-a-half:
10. Bo Wallace, Ole Miss
Good Bo. Bad Bo. When Bo Wallace was on his game, few were better. When he was off, no one was worse.
9. Austin Allen, Arkansas
It’s definitely early, but Allen has already put up numbers to show he’s one of the best in recent memory.
8. Jevan Snead, Ole Miss
Underrated or overrated? Depends who you ask. I thought Snead was excellent, if misused, during his stint with the Rebels.
7. Tyler Wilson, Arkansas
In retrospect, Wilson was a product of Bobby Petrino’s offense. Still, he would have been a decent quarterback under a Houston Nutt or Bret Bielema.
6. Romaro Miller, Ole Miss
The most forgotten by those outside Mississippi, Miller set tons of records … immediately before another quarterback came through and broke most of them.
5. Brandon Allen, Arkansas
A calendar year ago, Allen doesn’t make this list. My how things changed last year.
4. Matt Jones, Arkansas
Imagine if he could throw.
3. Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
The numbers speak for themselves. Throw in a defeat of Alabama and an almost constant stay in the AP Top 25 and Kelly will go down as a great (on the field).
2. Ryan Mallett, Arkansas
He was the harbinger of Arkansas’ return to glory. Mallett was a gunslinger in the truest sensee and has had the best pro career of any quarterback Arkansas has had since Joe Ferguson.
1. Eli Manning, Ole Miss
Maybe no school has a clearer No. 1 in the past 20 years. Manning was, and is, an all-time great.
Our Trent Shadid took a good, hard look at Ole Miss’ defensive line-versus-Arkansas’ offensive line. It is, undoubtedly, the most important matchup to watch Saturday.
A side-by-side, statistical look at Austin Allen and Chad Kelly, the two best quarterbacks in the league, by Jimmy Carter at WholeHogSports.com.
The Ole Miss SB Nation page is preparing for Austin Allen to throw another six touchdowns. A detailed look of how Brandon Allen did exactly that last year right here.
Speaking of the aforementioned noise levels from last week, the staffers in the sports department at Arkansas came up with a clever little comparison on how loud it was inside the stadium last weekend versus everyday sorts of instances. The loudest? The entrance on to the field, which measured similar to listening to a jet taking off from 32 feet away.
- Mike Anderson’s basketball Razorbacks will hold their first open practice on Saturday inside Bud Walton Arena from noon to 2 p.m. Fans can enter the south doors off Leroy Pond Drive. I picked Arkansas to finish second in the SEC this year as part of the official SEC Media Poll.
- Natsuho Arakawa led Arkansas’ women’s tennis team to a perfect singles run Thursday at the USTA/ITA Central Regional Championships in Minnesota. Arakawa, a freshman, beat fifth-seeded Giulia Guidetti of Wichita State in straight sets. The team continues play with four singles matches and two doubles matches Friday.
- The No. 14 team in women’s college golf returns to action this weekend in North Carolina. Arkansas plays in the Tar Heel Invitational on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Chapel Hill. Of the 18 teams in the tournament, only three are ranked ahead of Arkansas.
- Arkansas’ swimming and diving team opens its season Friday afternoon in Fayetteville against neighbors to the north, Drury. Arkansas went 7-1 last season and returns three who qualified for NCAA Championships in Natalie Burnett, Chelsea Tatlow and Nicole Gillis.
- The men’s cross country team, ranked No. 5 in the nation, races its final meet ahead of Nationals this weekend in Terre Haute, Ind. Arkansas will be joined there by eight other top-25 teams, including No. 4 Oregon. The women’s cross-country team, ranked No. 12, will also race there with seven other top-25 teams in their field.
Yee-Haw! Today in Arkansas
This one is being left without comment.
Arkansas is among a handful states which can vote in November for the use medical marijuana. Arkansas’ Supreme Court allowed the measure to put on the ballot Thursday.
That’s it. Nothing more. Nope. Not gonna do it.