It’s possible some fans looking for a little solace moseyed over to Forrest City, Ark., where the David J. Cohn Rumble on the Ridge, one of the nation’s top 8-team high school basketball tournaments, was held over Thanksgiving weekend.
There, in Forrest City High School’s gym, downcast fans could have glimpsed visions of Razorbacks glory in its past and future forms. Near the entrance is a plaque dedicated to Forrest City Mustangs who went on to play for the ‘64 Razorbacks, the only national championship team in Arkansas’ football history: Jim Lindsey, Jim Finch, Richard Trail and Jim Williams. On the court below, they could have seen 6-feet-8 junior Bobby Portis, a Razorback commit, man the middle for his Little Rock Hall squad. Or see how a few highly touted Razorback recruits stacked up against other elite talent.
One of the most interesting prospects was sophomore Trey Thompson, a native of Madison, a Forrest City satellite town also producing former Razorback guard Marcus Britt. Indeed, the 6-feet-8, 240-pound Thompson grew up playing ball at the city park with Britt, said his father Felix Thompson. And a couple years ago, Thompson said he played for Corliss Williamson, then a summer league team head coach, as a member of the U14 Arkansas Hawks.
Nowadays, ESPN ranks Thompson as the nation’s 25th best player in his class and he backed up that ranking by averaging 12.3 points, eight rebounds and 4.7 blocks in three games. Catch some of those shot atlterations here:
Four years ago, Bobby Petrino arrived in Fayetteville and started proving himself from the start. Arkansas’ new coach promised to unite a fan base that had been fractured in the months preceding Houston Nutt’s ignominious departure, and started fulfilling that with a 5-7 season throughout which the team markedly improved. Ryan Mallett came aboard the next season and began smashing every passing record in sight on the way to an 8-5 finish and a Liberty Bowl win. In 2010, Arkansas rose yet another level with 10 wins while losing to defending national champion Alabama and eventual national champion Auburn in fairly tight games. Yes, the Hogs lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but reaching a BCS bowl was another sign things were pointing up. Anything seemed possible for Petrino, who’d done the near-miraculous in three years.
Now, this season.
10-2 should be a great record. It should represent consistent excellence. Yet something doesn’t sit well.
Some updated notes [on 11/30] from the last day of the Rumble on the Ridge basketball tournament, a 3-day affair in Forrest City, Ark:
Pel sighting! He’s no longer stalking the sidelines as Arkansas’ head basketball coach, but that doesn’t mean John Pelphrey can’t keep visiting gyms around the state as a Florida assistant. As long as there is elite talent around to scout in high schools across the South, you had better believe Big Red will be there. Billy Donovan wouldn’t expect any less.
Below is a photo of Pel sitting in the same vicinity as the Sylvan Hills basketball team. Something tells me he wasn’t going to so much as sneak a peak in their direction, though.
Goodwin was a headliner in the tournament, although his team lost 60-89 to the Southwind Jaguars in the final. He was little hampered by the injury toward the end of the below clip, but came back just a few minutes later.
Archie has already signed with Kentucky, and was rocking a UK hat postgame. He said the injury was a “little painful, but nothing too bad to where I couldn’t play.” Asked if he had any message for UK fans, he said: “Tell them I love them … I’m gonna come up there and cause havoc.”
Goodwin’s signed, but Southwind’s junior Johnathan Williams III is still very much on the radar of many big programs. Here’s a clip of what he can do:
Johnathan Williams III (6-7, 208, ESPN’s 17th best player in ℅ 2013)
Turns out a rivalry game trophy involving a very heavy boot representation isn’t the sole domain of Arkansas and LSU, who have clashed for the above-pictured piece of hardware since 1996. Border rivals Wyoming and Colorado State have been battling for a bronze boot all their own since 1968.
That, of course, was at the height of the Vietnam war and unsurprisingly this Bronze Boot has martial origins:
In 1968, the ROTC detachments of the respective schools initiated the Bronze Boot, a traveling trophy awarded to the winner of the “Border War” each year. The boot was worn in the Vietnam War by Cpt. Dan J. Romero, an Adams State College graduate and Army ROTC instructor at CSU between 1967 and 1969. Each year leading up to the Wyoming–Colorado State game, the game ball is carried in a running shuttle relay by the ROTC detachment of the visiting team down US 287 to the Wyoming-Colorado state border, where the home team’s ROTC detachment receives it and runs the game ball to the stadium hosting the game. The trophy is guarded by the ROTC unit of the past year’s winning school during the game.
I have to admit, if what wikipedia is telling me is true, this ritual sounds pretty sweet.
Still, my guess is very few people outside of Wyoming and a slice of Colorado ever get short of breath talking about this rivalry. A far cry from the national implications of today’s No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 1 LSU game.
It seems every time one of these games comes around, visions of Thanksgiving Day, 1971 are conjured.
In this particular rendition, Oklahoma played the irresistible force, Nebraska the immovable object.
No. 1 Nebraska entered the heavily hyped fray with a defense – filled with with seven first-team All-Big Eight selections and four players who would earn consensus All-America honors – that to this day many still consider the best in college football history.
The No. 2 Sooners countered on their home field with the nation’s most productive offense, a Wishbone attack averaging 45 points and 563 total yards per game (481 on the ground).
When the dust cleared in Norman, Okla., that superlative defense was left standing. Nebraska won 35-31.
Fourteen years later, the programs switched roles entering another late November showdown in Oklahoma.
This time around, No. 2 Nebraska boasted the nation’s highest scoring offense, with a ground attack racking up 395 yards a game. No. 5 Oklahoma countered with a highly potent running game all its own. But the Sooners’ defense, led by nose guard Tony Casillas, linebacker Brian Bosworth and defensive end Kevin Murphy, was even more impressive.
Oklahoma won 27-7 after holding Nebraska to 161 yards.
It is yet to be seen if No. 1 LSU’s defense will enter the pantheon of the game’s great defenses, as Nebraska ’71 and Oklahoma ’85 have. But in leading LSU through an undefeated first 11 games, a gauntlet including Oregon, West Virginia and Alabama, it so far certainly seems likely. As the Tigers look down the scope at their Nov. 25 game with No. 3 Arkansas, a team to which they have lost three of the last four seasons, they take solace in a defense superior to any of its predecessors.
The legacy of Arkansas’ recently vaunted offense, which has routed its last three SEC opponents, is harder to divine. It suffered mid-season hiccups in lackluster wins against Ole Miss and Vanderbilt, on the heels of failing a test against Alabama, the only team with a defense comparable to LSU’s.
Let’s get this out of the way first: as far as similarities between Houston and Arkansas go, the majority of the programs’ fans care most about one thing these days – the possibility that either elite college football team could make a BCS bowl in the immediate future.
But those following the programs’ basketball teams so far this early season will find plenty of other similarities – young, athletic, guard-oriented teams intent on running the other side off the court. And, as I dove into the programs’ histories for a Sync magazine piece previewing Friday’s UA-Houston basketball game, I was somewhat surprised by the number of parallels between the Hogs and Cougars. The teams shared 16 years battling each other in the old Southwest Conference, and much more …
UA: 1 (1994)
Final Four Appearances
UA: 6 (1941, 1945, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1995)
Houston: 5 (1967, 1868, 1982, 1983, 1984)
*Houston started its athletic programs in 1946.
NCAA Tournament appearances
Houston: 19 [one (2010) since 1992]
Consensus or First Team All-American Selections since 1946
UA: 8 [Martin Terry (1973), Sidney Moncrief (1978, 1979), Ron Brewer (1978), Todd Day (1991, 1992), Corliss Williamson (1994, 1995)]
*Arkansas’ Sidney Moncrief is a possible future inductee, as is Joe Johnson with a couple more All-Star level seasons.
* Houston, along with North Carolina and LSU, are the only three programs to have three players voted to the NBA’s Top 50 Players of All Time List in 1996.
All numbers taken from media guides
Nowadays, Arkansas plays in a superior conference with superior facilities. Still, Houston’s glorious 1960s-1980s’ run still allows it to be considered one of the nation’s top programs in terms of prestige. Bleacher Report ranked the Cougars as the 22nd best program of all-time, while pegging Arkansas at No. 17.
But, as Top 25 rankings go, this season’s is the one mattering most to the coaches of these two undefeated teams. Whichever side wins tonight gets a head start in cracking it early on.
In December 2009, a Virgina sports radio talk show host reminded his state’s governor of a popular in-state basketball competition from decades ago. Basketball fans in Virginia had told the host they wanted to see that tournament return, and he passed their message on to Governor Bob McDonnell.
The message, evidentally, was well received.
In August 2011, the governor announced the creation of a December doubleheader between four in-state Division I basketball programs. Not only will the event, scheduled for two years, benefit sports fans in that state, but it will help a good cause. Proceeds go to Virginia’s Food Banks, which are especially in need around Christmas.
Virginians saw an opportunity to capitalize on the recent NCAA Tournament successes of some of their D1 programs, and help the hungry while at it, and they struck.
So should Arkansans.
Never before has Arkansas had a better opportunity to form an event between four Division I basketball programs. For many years, Arkansas’ only four D1 programs included its flagship university – UA-Fayetteville. Forget the Razorbacks scheduling in-state competition, however. That policy’s origins, and arguments for and against, have already gotten plenty of cyber-ink. No reason to spill more here, as this post focuses on the other programs]
But when the University of Central Arkansas became a full-fledged Division 1 member in 2010, UA-Fayetteville was no longer a necessary participant in a theoretical competition between the state’s top programs. And it’s UCA’s athletic director, Brad Teague, who strongly advocates scheduling such a competition: “I think it’s something certainly all the [local] basketball coaches talk about and think would be good for the state to do.”
It was late in the third quarter of the ASU-Louisiana Lafayette game that I seriously wondered if Tampa, Fla. native Ryan Aplin had surfed through one too many wipe-outs in his younger years. The Red Wolves’ junior quarterback, the fifth-most prolific passer in Sun Belt history, was driving his team deep into ULL territory while trailing 21-20.
No less than a grip on the Sun Belt title was at stake.
And there was the 6-1, 200-pound Aplin, continually pulling the ball out on zone reads and scrambling through seams in the defense, sometimes sliding to the ground, but more often than not simply plowing into any Rajun Cajun trying to stop him.
At one point, I even saw the most instrumental player in ASU coach Hugh Freeze’s go-go gadget offense tuck the ball, dart through a crease, get low and ram his head into a wall of thick Cajun.
No injury occurred and a few plays later, it was all good – Aplin trotted in for a 4-yard TD to help clinch what became a 30-21 win in Jonesboro.
The win makes Arkansas State (8-2, 6-0) a veritable lock to win at least a share of the the Sun Belt title with two games left, and it gives the Red Wolves a stronger shot at playing in a non-sucky bowl.
It also confirmed Aplin’s emergence as a serious running threat in the latter part of the season.
In this week’s Sync magazine, I explored the question of the state’s all-time best running and throwing prep quarterback. It’s an appropriate time, considering the 4A has been dominated by two such leaders the last couple seasons – Shiloh Christian’s Kiehl Frazier and Pulaski Academy’s Fredi Knighten.
To pull this off, I asked some of the most knowledgeable football heads in the state while culling stats from various sources.
In the end, my final five candidates were Frazier, Knighten, Nashville’s A.J. Whitmore, Matt Jones (Van Buren and Northside) and Eric Mitchel of Pine Bluff.
You can find analysis and stats for all these players in Sync, but since that article published I have received additional statistics about Jones’ career from Leland Barclay, a Fort Smith writer who has covered high school sports since 1983:
As a sophomore, Jones completed two of five passes for 14 yards while running five times for 77 yards. (He caught 11 passes for 213 yards and six touchdowns)
As a junior, Jones completed 19 of 66 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown. He ran 92 times for 460 yards and four touchdowns.
Jones only played QB for an entire season during his senior year, when he completed 61 of 137 passes for 815 yards and seven touchdowns.
He also rushed 101 times for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns.
For his career, Jones completed 82 of 208 passes for 1,084 yards and eight touchdowns. He ran 198 times for 1,480 yards and 17 touchdowns, according to statistics provided by Barclay in an e-mail.
These numbers pale in comparison to the more recent quarterbacks. That difference, along with Jones’ lack of titles, are the main reasons Barclay considers Whitmore and Frazier to be in “a class by themselves as far as dual threat quarterbacks. Their stats back that up as well. Then factor in the most important stat for quarterbacks, which is winning, and they again are in a class by themselves. Frazier was MVP of the state championship game three times, which is unprecedented.”
I also called Bernie Cox and Sam Goodwin, two longtime Arkansas high school coaches who won plenty of games at Little Rock Central and Little Rock Parkview among other places. Cox said that Mitchel was among the most athletic quarterbacks he had ever seen, but also mentioned Will Robinson, who played at Central in the early 1970s, as another great athlete who played multiple positions (including quarterback before his senior year).
“Robinson would run 120 yards to gain 20 yards,” Cox said. “He was so good at making people miss.”
Goodwin left the state in 1983 to coach in Louisiana but the best option quarterbacks at that time were from Pine Bluff – prominent among them Rodney Forte and Danny Bradley (who later was an all-conference player at Oklahoma).
Bradley found great success in college, but it was his younger cousin, Eric Mitchel, who became the bigger name in high school.
Speaking of relatives, two of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the last decade are the Burns brothers from Fort Smith Northside – Kodi and Kenrick. Kodi finished his senior season at Auburn in the 2011 national championship game, and while he was a very good athletic quarterback in high school the people I spoke with don’t quite rank him among the state’s all-time best.
“Kodi was an excellent throwing quarterback, but I thought Eric was just better,” said Marion Glover, Pine Bluff High’s coach during Mitchel’s senior year.
The senior has thrown for 2,981 yards and 21 touchdowns while adding 699 rushing with 16 more touchdowns. The youngest Burns brother already has passed Kodi in passing yards, passing touchdowns and rushing touchdowns during their respective senior seasons. He needs 99 yards to pass Kodi in rushing yards as well.
Kenrick has already put up better senior-year numbers than possibly any other dual-threat quarterback in the history of the state’s largest classification. It’s certainly worth noting he is doing this in the state’s best conference.
If he can lead his team on an unlikely surge deep into the playoffs, his ranking in this discussion may skyrocket.
See the original article, photos and detailed, year-by-year stats at Sync magazine.
In Part 1, we rehashed some of the latest attacks on the University of Arkansas’ long-standing policy of not playing other in-state colleges. The main reasons for those seeking to maintain this policy haven’t changed much through the decades, but the lines of argument for changing the policy have evolved.
And Arkansas State’s football success this season adds new weight to some of these arguments.
To start with, let’s cast naivete aside: No way Arkansas plays Arkansas State simply because it would be fun for fans, or because playing in-state competition would theoretically pour more money into the state government’s coffers, which would benefit all public universities in Arkansas.
Nope, if Jeff Long’s gonna entertain even the slightest sliver of this possibility, he’d better believe the game would help the UA’s athletic program bottom line now and in the future. This fall, he unveiled plans for a shining football palace which is part of a $320 million plan. This project isn’t touted as a luxury, though. Taking a long view, Arkansas’ AD understands that keeping up with the Jones in the SEC means financing expensive stuff to attract the nation’s best coaches, trainers and players.
Could replacing Troy or North Texas with ASU on the football schedule help the UA achieve this faster?
Without developing additional streams of revenue and fundraising, Arkansas can’t afford to keep up with far bigger SEC rivals like LSU and Alabama.
Arkansas leaves money on the table every time it plays any Sun Belt team not named Arkansas State. Here’s why:
1) Arkansas paid $900,000 to play a Sun Belt team, Troy, earlier this season in a “rent-a-win”, or guarantee game. Meanwhile, in a similar David vs. Goliath type setup, Illinois paid ASU $850,000. It stands to reason that UA would have the financial upper hand in multiple ways if negotiating a contract to play ASU, including the actual guarantee game fee. It’s likely UA possible could get away with paying ASU even less than what Illinois would pay them. Either way, UA could save $50,000 to $100,000 by playing ASU.
2) No matter how good Arkansas or Arkansas State are playing, an early-season match-up between the programs would sell out the 72,000 seats of Fayetteville’s Razorback Stadium, where the game would likely be played every time. If necessary, the stadium’s seating could be expanded to nearly 80,000 and this would be needed for at least the first time the game was played. A solid Sun Belt team like Troy usually brings around 70,000 people but another 10,000 helps the bottom line, especially if each of the tickets are sold for more than usual. Which, for this game, would make sense.
General admission tickets could be sold at an elevated price ($100, as suggested on a local sports talk show) and if UA fans hesitated to pay that amount, ASU fans would certainly make up the difference.
3) At least for the first couple of times the programs played, there would be a veritable trough-ful of licensing and merchandising opportunities for UA athletics to wallow in. Just conjure up a nice “Natural State Showdown” logo involving the helmets or mascots of both programs, then milk that sucker for all its worth through T-shirts, cakes, commemorative videos, calendars, key-chains – whatever you can stamp. There’s no doubt this stuff would fly off the racks for at least the first couple games.