Arkansas coach Chad Morris at SEC Media Days / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
For the college football fan, July is the longest month of all, or at least it seems that way.
The upcoming season is so close that you can sniff it, but the start of preseason practice is still more than a week away, and the Aug. 31 kickoff date looms on the horizon like an oasis that you can see but just can’t touch.
Yeah, like many other fans I’m thirsting for the start of college football with all the hope and optimism I can muster under the circumstances.
As Arkansas coach Chad Morris implored on the podium of SEC Media Days, that his Razorbacks and their fans move forward. Frankly, as fans we’ve had more than enough time to wallow in the muck and the mire of a truly dreadful 2018 season. It’s time to move forward with a new team, a new attitude, a new hope, and even a new confidence.
When I say new team, I don’t mean I’m forsaking the Razorbacks. I was born into a Hog-calling family, and I plan to root for the Hogs until my dying day.
“Root Hog or Die,” was a popular slogan back in the 1960s and ’70s. That slogan is too common and off-putting to be embraced fully by today’s “Razorback Nation,” but such a sentiment is the firmament that John Barnhill and Frank Broyles built the program on.
Even when the Razorbacks were at their best under Broyles, Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield, Houston Nutt, and even Bobby Petrino, the Hogs were still underdogs.
The Razorbacks have always had to play with that fight-you-until-you-die spirit to have any success on the gridiron. Very few times has Arkansas ever walked on the field week after week with the best players. The Razorbacks never have had the talent to just show up and wear down top-tier opponents.
I’m not saying the Razorbacks were ever devoid of talent, but the best Razorback teams won as much with their guts, heart, moxie, craftiness, and desire as they ever did with their talent.
Knowing that is good news for Razorback fans going into the season in which the Arkansas is once again picked to be at the bottom of the SEC barrel.
When media members think of the Hogs, they remember last season’s team, which was inept. It did not have that “fighting Razorback spirit” that Hatfield used to preach about during his days as the Razorbacks head coach from 1984-1989.
No, the sports journalists around the SEC just remember the Razorbacks rolling over week after week, with exceptions against Texas A&M and LSU, in which the Hogs played well enough to keep those games close. Ugly losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Missouri the last half of the season standout.
However, as Hog fans, we know it doesn’t have to be that way this season. We know the Razorbacks couldn’t have been as bad as they played last year.
Morris knows that, too.
The Razorbacks did have the worst quarterback play in the SEC last year, and that put a governor on every aspect of the team.
That should be fixed by either Ben Hicks or Nick Starkel, or a combination of the two. Both are more experienced, talented and successful than Ty Storey and Cole Kelley were going into last season. This season’s quarterback battle won’t be won be default like last season.
Better quarterback play should lead to better play on the offensive line. Playing offensive lie is often a thankless and always an arduous task in the SEC, but it’s even worse when the unit has no faith in their quarterback. Better play behind center will provoke the linemen to play more focused and probably a bit harder.
The last thing an offensive line wants to do is let down their quarterback, but they have to have a leader to rally around.
The winner of the Razorbacks quarterback battle will likely be the one who is able to get his teammates to rise to the occasion the best in practices. The one who displays that natural charisma along with his talent and skills that make other players want to work for and with him the best will likely get the starting call.
When I say charisma, I don’t mean likability. Football charisma is a toughness, an assuredness, a trustworthiness, and a grit that lets other players know if everyone pulls together that they all will make the offense productive. Its leadership.
The Razorbacks lacked leadership from among themselves last year. It’s why they were rudderless. That’s why it was good to hear Morris say last week at Media Days that the players had taken ownership of the team during the winter and spring.
With All-SEC-type players Sosa Agim on the defensive line, Scoota Harris at linebacker, and Kamren Curl in the secondary, defensive coordinator John Chavis should have the leadership to be improved in his 4-3 scheme.
The players should know and most importantly be able to execute their responsibilities better this season. Familiarity increases confidence, and confidence allows a defender to read and react rather than get beat while thinking.
It would be better for a team as inexperienced as the Razorbacks are going to be to not face an SEC test so early, but the Hogs are going to need to be in midseason form by the second week of the season for their Sept. 7 date with Ole Miss at Oxford, Miss.
Then again, maybe that urgency will push the team to come together that much more quickly.
Either way, the countdown to football season is getting shorter by the day. I’m excited about the Razorbacks getting a fresh start, and being able to see how much improvement Morris and his staff will be able to coax out of the Razorbacks in his second season.