The Arkansas Razorbacks are like a college student who has fallen behind in his studies and discovers at midterm that he’s going to have to redouble his commitment and effort if there is any hope of redeeming this semester.
The analogy works if you let it. O.K., I’ll admit the first half of the Razorbacks’ football season hasn’t been nearly as fun as wasting one’s time at frat parties or playing video games.
The lingering feeling after the first seven weeks of the season might be reminiscent of the aftermath of an epic party with the mess, the pounding headache, and queasy stomach, but still there has been very little fun this season for the Razorbacks.
The Hogs are 2-4 and 0-3 in SEC play after No. 1 Alabama administered the expected pummeling of the Razorbacks, 41-9. Beating the Razorbacks has become an annual tradition for Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide, dating back 11 seasons and four Arkansas coaches, but more than enough has already been written and said about that game.
It’s time for the Hogs to move forward or “press on,” as Frank Broyles used to say as the Hogs’ head coach. I can’t write the line that Jimmy Johnson added to the Broyles’ motto in 1975 when he was coordinating one of the nation’s stingiest defenses right here in Fayetteville, but it rhymed and was descriptive of the potency of his swarming defense.
It’s becoming difficult to imagine the term “stingy defense” being applied to a Razorbacks team. It seems the Hogs have to give up a touchdown or two each week before they wake up. The Hogs’ surrendered a 75-yard touchdown run to the Crimson Tide on the first play of the game. Arkansas did play a bit better on defense as the game progressed, but it was already too late. The 17 points Alabama scored in the first quarter was enough to secure the victory.
The Razorbacks actually moved the football a bit better than I had expected through the air, and first-time freshman starter Cole Kelley looked comfortable running the Hogs’ two-minute offense, but it’s nearly impossible to win any game much less a SEC game with just 27 yards of rushing.
But, here I am dwelling on the past when I should be looking forward, pressing on.
So, how should the Hogs fix their problems in the second half of the season?
I have no clue. If I did, apparently, I could be making $4 million or more a year coaching collegiate football.
That’s the going rate for a mid-range SEC head football coach, and it’s the reason why about half the league’s coaches find themselves in a similar situation as Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema. Bielema’s on one of a number of “hot seats” in the SEC right now.
Some feel that it’s a forgone that Bielema will be fired or moved along at the end of the season, particularly in light of the “Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s” deep dive into his contract that showed Bielema would be owed considerably less than $15 if Arkansas were to buy out his contract.
Some also believe that Elvis never died.
Everyone’s willing to spend the money of well-heeled Razorbacks donors, but persons who have the ability to write million-dollar checks don’t dispense them willy nilly. They wouldn’t remain millionaires very long if they did.
Bielema might be bought out or allowed to leave for another job, but if he and his Razorbacks can turn this season around, that won’t have to happen.
No Hog fan is going to be happy with a 6-6 regular season, but if the Razorbacks can rally and flip the script on this season, go 4-2 in their last six games, earn a fourth consecutive bowl bid, and look improved doing it, Bielema should get another year.
That’s not what some want to hear, but it would definitely be in the best interest of the program if Bielema can pull off a winning season this year.
Hiring a new coach would be totally starting over. The Razorbacks would take two steps back before being able to move forward.
Some will say it would be worth it.
However, I don’t think this is the season to be looking for a head coach, not with universities like Tennessee, Notre Dame, UCLA, Missouri, Baylor, Nebraska, Illinois, Arizona, and Texas A&M also possibly in the hunt for a head coach.
All of those jobs are either on par with Arkansas’ job or are more attractive for various reasons. Arkansas doesn’t want to be a part of the mud fight that’s going to take place in the collegiate football coach hiring pool this December.
So, just like it would be better for a student to pull himself out of academic distress than to just up and transfer to another school, it would be better for Bielema’s Razorbacks to earn a bowl trip, even if it is by the hair of the chinny chin chin.
That won’t be easy. No. 21 Auburn (5-2, 3-1) visits Razorback Stadium Saturday for a 6:30 p.m. contest on ESPN. The Hogs then travel to Ole Miss (3-3, 1-2) on Oct. 28, host Coastal Carolina (1-5, 0-3) on Nov. 4, travel to No. 24 LSU on Nov. 11, before hosting Mississippi State (4-2, 1-2) on Nov. 18 and Missouri (1-5, 0-4) on Nov. 25.
If the Hogs can win four of those six games, they would garner a bowl bid, and while the season wouldn’t be a success in anyone’s mind, the improvement would set the stage for a better year next season.
From my viewpoint, I’d rather see the Razorbacks build from a foundation that is already in place than to just blow it all up and start over which is what a coaching change would mean at this point.
However, I feel Bielema needs to show he hasn’t lost the confidence of his players and that progress can be made in the back half of the season. Finishing out 4-2 would be proof enough for me.
But just like I don’t have coaching suggestions for how he should turn it around, I’m not Bielema’s boss. Arkansas athletics director Jeff long, UA chancellor Joseph Steinmetz, and the UA Board of Trustees will make that call.
Red-White Basketball Game
While football season is just half over, fans can get their first look at the 2017-18 Razorbacks basketball team Friday in the Red-White game at 7 p.m. in Walton Arena.
The Hogs will also play exhibition games on Oct. 27 against Central Oklahoma at 7 p.m. and Nov. 3 against Missouri Western at 7 p.m. before officially opening the season against Samford on Nov. 10 at 7 p.m., all at Walton Arena.
Season tickets can be purchased by calling the Razorback Ticket Center at 1-800-982-4647.