We’re just a little over a week away from getting some actual football news. Not just talky talk about the upcoming season like we’ve all participated in since the spring scrimmage, but actual reports on what happened in practice.
Yes, I hear former NBA great Allen Iverson’s exasperated lament in my head nearly every time I mention the word. Iverson’s incredulous remark came after the media hassled him about missing a practice.
For a veteran pro who plays three or so games a week, a practice here or there truly isn’t that meaningful. However for a college football team, especially one that’s retooling its offense like the Arkansas Razorbacks are this preseason, practice isn’t the only thing this August, it’s everything.
The Razorbacks report for preseason training on Aug. 3 and begin workouts on Aug. 4 for what will be Bret Bielema’s fourth season with the Razorbacks. The Hogs, as always since joining the SEC, have one of the most challenging schedules in the nation. It’s just a fact of life living in the SEC West.
National sports talks show host Colin Cowherd accused Arkansas, as well as Alabama, of manipulating its schedule by frosting “cupcakes” the week before playing more challenging opponents.
While I certainly don’t consider Louisiana Tech, which finished 9-4 last season and closed out the year with a 47-28 defeat of Arkansas State in the New Orleans Bowl, a cupcake. Cowherd isn’t wrong to point out that the Hogs do play Texas State between dates with TCU and Texas A&M and Alcorn State between A&M and Alabama and that Arkansas has an open date between games with Auburn and Florida.
What Cowherd describes as manipulation, I would call wise scheduling; however, Arkansas doesn’t control the bulk of its scheduling. No SEC team does. The SEC makes out the conference schedule. It’s as simple as that. Arkansas has little to no control over when it plays any of its conference opponents.
Certainly SEC teams can express its desires about their schedules to the conference office, and those desires might or might not be taken into consideration. The SEC works with its TV partners to set the schedule in a manner that they hope provides one or more marquee matchups each week of the season.
Arkansas, like other SEC schools, does work with prospective opponents to fill in the gaps after the SEC schedule is set. No matter what Cowherd thinks, opening the season against Louisiana Tech and TCU is a competitive way for the Razorbacks to open the season. No Hog fans have to be reminded of the results from the Toledo and Texas Tech games last fall.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that Texas State and Alcorn State are challenging games, but considering the rest of Arkansas’ slate, I can’t blame Arkansas athletics director Jeff Long for renting a couple of easy outings for Bielema and his troops.
What Cowherd fails to mention in his argument is that the Razorbacks play Alabama and Ole Miss back to back, as well as Florida and LSU back to back. That’s a minefield that no coach in America would choose to negotiate. I guess he also missed that Arkansas closes out the year with back-to-back road games at Mississippi State and Missouri.
No matter the opponents — and we really have no clue how good the Bulldogs and Tigers will be in late November — no program would manipulate its schedule to finish its regular season with two road trips, even if it did have that kind of control over its scheduling.
Cowherd has always enjoyed taking shots at the SEC. It’s only become more pronounced since ESPN, who partners with the league in the SEC Network, lowballed Cowherd in his final contract negotiations with the World Wide Leader in Sports.
Even though Cowherd is a bit sour, his SEC rants do make good topics for conversation.