Arkansas football: 5 reasons it's not nearly as bad as it seems
Remember when John L. Smith implored Arkansas football reporters to “smile” and to get their collective chins up? Well, that was 2012 and the Razorbacks football program was swiftly sinking into the abyss.
Here we are again, 7 years later, scratching our heads and wondering how it is that we find ourselves back in football purgatory, teetering on the edge after an embarrassing loss — at home no less — to a San Jose State team that had won all of 3 football games over the previous 2 seasons, against 22 losses.
Arkansas fans woke up Monday morning and found no light at the end of the tunnel. I know it’s easy for me to say, but take heart Razorbacks, all is not lost. Here are 5 reasons why.
1. The Bieber shirt is torn in half
Nick Starkel has promised that the distractions are over. His beloved Justin Bieber T-shirt reportedly shredded, Starkel is now ready to take seriously his responsibility as Arkansas’ everyday starter. No more 5-pick games. No more distractions, just the solid quarterback that we saw play so well against Colorado State (305 yards passing, 3 TDs, 0 interceptions).
And you can bet the farm that Starkel will be all business this week in preparation for Texas A&M. He definitely has something to prove to an Aggies program that he once was the starting quarterback for and then was supplanted by Kellen Mond after an injury sidelined him. Remember, it was Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher who chose Mond over Starkel, who had won the starting job under former coach Kevin Sumlin.
No more Bieber T-shirts. No more Club Dub. No more distractions.
2. Cupcakes out of the way
Arkansas plays to the level of its competition. Of the first 4 cupcakes on the schedule, which is the best team the Hogs have faced? Probably Ole Miss, a team the Razorbacks played with into the 4th quarter. That was a 17-10 game with 13 minutes and some change left. The next best team is Colorado State. Arkanasas won that game with an explosive 21-point 4th quarter.
So if the Razorbacks play to their competition, then the best is yet to come beginning on Saturday with Texas A&M. There are 8 games left and outside of an early November date with Western Kentucky, there are no more cupcakes.
Let’s hope Arkansas can play to the level of most of its competition the rest of the way.
3. Rakeem Boyd
Arkansas ranks 10th in the SEC in rushing, but behind a patchwork offensive line, this dynamic junior running back is still able to find some success.
Boyd ranks 3rd in the conference with 394 rushing yards. That’s averaging right at 100 yards per game. Only Auburn’s “Boobie” Whitlow (408) and Mississippi State’s Kylin Hill (551) have more rushing yards.
If Starkel gets his act together, he and Boyd could become the perfect complement to each other and maybe, just maybe develop into one of the better run/pass duos in the league.
4. Facilities and recruiting
Not to entirely close the book on 2019, but recruiting is always important. Arkansas has the facilities to attract the top athletes and administration has proven to be committed financially to maintain and keep up with the Joneses in the SEC football arms race.
Arkansas facilities were recently ranked No. 22 in the nation. Granted that also translated to only 9th-best in the SEC, but it is a clear indicator that Arkansas has intentions of competing with the best the nation has to offer. And that’s a huge positive in a day when programs across the country are racing to be the best.
5. If not Morris …
Things can change in a hurry. Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Ken Hatfield, Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino, just some of the names of coaches who have come in and resurrected an Arkansas program that had begun to slide into mediocrity. If Chad Morris isn’t the guy — and there still isn’t enough of a sample size to know if he is or isn’t — then someone else could be.
But let’s try and be patient with Morris. Let’s see how this season plays out. If there’s no improvement by the end of the year, then a change could very well be necessary.
But keep in mind where the program was, and how different the system was.
Morris inherited a team that finished 4-8. Bret Bielema also inherited an 8-loss team from the aforementioned Smith and needed 3 seasons to win 8 games. Before that, no coach had the task of taking over an Arkansas program with 8 losses since 1953, when Bowden Wyatt took over a 2-8 team. In 2 seasons he turned an 8-loss team into an 8-win team.
So Morris needs time, and granted his time is quickly running out, but if he turns out not to be the guy, history shows there have been and currently are others who can do the job at Arkansas.