Bret Bielema On Jeremy Sprinkle’s Future As a Potential First-Round NFL Draft Pick

Below is the second of a two-part transcription of Bret Bielema’s 2015 season recap. You will learn about an emerging Chicago-Arkansas recruiting pipeline, injury updates on Josh Williams and Dominique Reed and Bielema’s dream of opening Ye Olde Egg Nog Shoppe  (above photo is courtesy of Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.).

On the recruiting reach of the Hogs’ new offensive line coach, a native Chicagoan: 

There’s a lot of good players in the Midwest that have been very successful. Not only in the Midwestern colleges, but also in the SEC. I think we play against Alabama and there’s a [Ross] Pierschbacher kid that I remember came out of Iowa that we all wanted. He’s a very good player for Alabama right now. There’s players up there, Frank Ragnow comes out of Minnesota.

I think about our offensive line. Someone thought they’re all southern kids. You had a tackle from Miami, a guard from California, a center from here, a guard from Minnesota and a tackle was Denver. We’ve got them all over the country and that’s just what we’ve got to continue to do.

On the appeal of playing for Arkansas to kids in Chicago

Bret Bielema: I do. I think the kids love the SEC. We wen 8-2 in bowl games. Kids realize that stuff. There’s more kids playing in the Senior Bowl from the SEC than any other conference. Those things matter and it makes a difference.

On how many new scholarship players Arkansas will likely sign:

Bret Bielema: I think we’re going to get to 24 for sure. I think I’ll probably go to 25, to be quite honest. The by-product of having 3 juniors come out is you have 3 more scholarships become available. We had a couple scholarship players graduate early like Reeve Koehler. When he leaves out that presents an opportunity. All those things I couldn’t forecast a year ago at this time.

Bret Bielema: My vision is to do 12 offense, 12 defense and 1 coach’s discretion. The last 3 coach’s discretion have been 3 kids from Arkansas that have been — Korliss [Marshall] obviously loved to indulge in some things we couldn’t — but he was a good player. The next one was Josh Liddell. I think those guys have proved their worth and what they’re capable of doing.

On his starring role in the new reality TV-style series “Being Bret Bielema”

Bret Bielema: Really, the presentation. Thad and some people had kind of gotten together. I think it started with Chris, did it not? Some people said, “Coach, there’s some things about you that don’t ever get out there.” I haven’t done anything. All I do is slip on a mic and just be me. I’m getting beaten up left and right with my college buddies. Recruits love it. The amount of hits that I’ve gotten and the responses that I’ve gotten from recruits and coaches and donors. It’s amazing to me, but it’s also been a lot of fun. I don’t know where it’s going to end. I think they’re going to pop on the road with me for a couple days. We’ll make sure to follow the … because there’s certain things that you’ve got to do.

I watched the first one a while ago. I hadn’t seen the second one until I had enough people telling me all about it, so I watched it last night. They’d cut some things. I was just having some fun with some K State people there. Just different things. They’re doing a really good job with it…. I’m a big guy in the eggnog thing. If you’d ask my wife, I just think it’s ridiculous we can only have eggnog one month out of the year. Anybody that’s been around me knows that’s one of my pet peeves in life.

I am going to open an eggnog store. I think that’s a good thing…

On Josh Williams‘ health

Bret Bielema: Unfortunately, Josh had another procedure. He’s lost a pretty significant amount of that calf muscle. It’s unfortunately one of the bad parts of our profession and part of our job. He’s really going to struggle to get back to a point of walking and doing things functionally again as a normal person. Hopefully, he’s going to be able to play football again someday, but it’s probably a long ways away from that being able to happen. We’ll address it.

He wasn’t able to go home until last week. He had been in the hospital again when we were in Memphis. He didn’t join us until Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. Unfortunately, just a lot of by-product off of that surgery.

Right now, he’s not ready for Spring ball and I don’t expect it to be for Spring. Let me tell you if he could get cleared for Fall football I’d be the biggest, happiest fan of Josh’s in the world. I just don’t know if it’s going to be possible. It’s a bridge that we’re going to have to cross together. If he can’t do, I’d be the first to hire him as a linebacker assistant and let him be involved in every way possible. He has truly been one of the greatest blessings for us. He’s a A-B student. He does everything right. He can play all 3 positions. He’s an absolute coach’s dream.

On tight end Jeremy Sprinkle’s potential:

Bret Bielema: Well, [Jeremy] Sprinkles going to be the first to tell you. He hasn’t even scratched the surface. He’s probably the most creative touchdown celebration, but that’s about all he’s got as a No. 1 spot right now. I think we can get him to 260. I think he could be 10 pounds heavier than he is. I think he’d be the first to tell you he was committed 75% of the time. I need a full 100% commitment out of him because if he can give me a year of his life like he’s never had, I’ll give him the next 30 that are pretty good.

I was talking to one NFL coach who had watched our game the day before and their head coach and him and a couple other of their VP’s were there with their GM and they said, “Can we get both those tight ends to play for us tomorrow in the NFL?” Hunter and him have got all the things that you want. I think we could probably have two of the best tight ends in back-to-back years that anybody could produce, but I need a bigger commitment out of Sprink. I mean from diet to sleep to behavior to accountability to responsibility to everything. He’ll get it. His dad and I will get it. I guarantee it.

On overall position depth:

Bret Bielema: I think linebacker depth is a concern of mine in the Fall and Spring so one would tell you that an ideal shooting number for us is 4. I’d love to get 3 high school and a JUCO. The magic number on defense for sure is kind of 3 to 4 at every position. On offense, even though we lost only 1 tight end, he’s a great one, but we signed a number of tight ends a year ago. Wide receiver, we got a fix number. Running back is intriguing because obviously losing 2 backs in the NFL draft — it’s fun to talk about but it’s really not great to live through.

But Kody, Rawleigh, I think the emergence of hopefully J-Day, I think we’ve done a nice job in recruiting. We’re in some of the most elite backs I’ve ever been involved with and they’re saying a lot of really good things. Those things are yet in front of us. It should be a fun two weeks. We’re fixing ready to hop in the last two weeks of recruiting. It’s probably one of the more enjoyable times for me as a head coach – just to get some finality to certain situations.

Continue reading Bret Bielema On Jeremy Sprinkle’s Future As a Potential First-Round NFL Draft Pick

Brandon Allen’s 4th Quarter Dropoffs in Performance Lead the Nation

By Evin Demirel

On the whole, Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen doesn’t deserve the flak he’s received from Razorback fans angry at the regular fourth-quarter letdowns which have marked his career since 2013. It’s all the more frustrating this season because the fifth-year senior has been so good early in games – he’s by far the best first-half passer in the SEC:

Name School Conference 1st Half Rating QB Rating
Seth Russell Baylor Big 12 233.46
Cody Kessler USC Pac 12 210.85
Brandon Allen Arkansas SEC 207.19
Kyle Allen Texas A&M SEC 194.46
Greyson Lambert Georgia SEC 194.43
Skyler Howard WVU Big 12 189.16
Jerrod Heard Texas Big 12 186.64
Jacoby Brissett NC State ACC 182.55
Trevone Boykin TCU Big 12 182.27

Unfortunately, Allen’s consistently hot starts keep coinciding with consistently cold finishes. Two years ago, he was nowhere near as good overall, yet still had a roughly 50 point dropoff in QB rating on average from his first-half performances to his fourth-quarter performances.

Last year, his disparity there was the nation’s most severe among high-use Power 5 quarterbacks:

B Allen

This year, after three fairly close losses in a row, Allen again leads the nation in 1st half-to-4th quarter dropoff in passer rating, according to data on cfbstats.com:

Allen Goff

These stats, of course, need context.

Allen, for instance, has had to adjust to a raft of injuries on the offensive side of the ball. Too many of his teammates are incurring too many penalties. And, under a new offensive coordinator, it has taken at least four games for the offensive line to begin playing with the same coherency and domination flashed last year.

The margin for error is so small at this level. The No. 2 player above, junior Jared Goff, led a struggling California Bears team in 2013 and 2014. Now, despite his relative fourth-quarter letdowns, he and his team has made enough plays (and avoided enough penalties) to stand at 4-0 this season. The Hogs are only a few plays away from being 3-1 on the season.

Brandon Allen believes it’s in the team’s power to still turn it around.

“There’s a mind-set of when we’re in the fourth quarter and we have a lead, there’s a don’t lose mind-set more than a let’s go win it mind-set,” he said. “I think we’ve got to have the same mind-set as we’ve had in the first three quarters when we’ve been moving the ball well and carry that into the fourth quarter.”

So, what do you think – will the Razorback offense’s fourth-quarter struggles continue through October and November?


 

Read more at BestOfArkansasSports.com.

Will Hogs Join Duke, Ohio State & Arizona State to Hit Rare “Player of the Year” Trifecta?

ADG_SPT_UA_BBC_UK1_005_r600x400One opposing SEC coach called  Andrew Benintendi the nation’s best college baseball player. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Inc.

In the early 1990s, Arkansas joined the SEC and the conference began awarding a baseball player of the year award to complement already established football and basketball MVP titles. Since then, the conference has soared to lofty heights, becoming arguably the NCAA’s most powerful organization. Much of that has to do with stretches of dominance by Alabama, LSU and Florida in football; Arkansas, Kentucky, Florida in basketball and the likes of LSU (five national titles 1993-2009) and South Carolina in baseball.

Many of these programs have produced multiple players of the years in various sports, yet no one school has yet been able to hit a POY trifecta by having a male player win the ultimate individual honor in each major team sport in one calendar year.

That may soon change.

In 2015, the Razorbacks athletic department has a chance make SEC history by sweeping these honors. The push started earlier this spring with sophomore Bobby Portis winning basketball SEC Player of the Year. Then, on Monday, sophomore Andrew Benintendi was announced as SEC baseball’s player of the year. Benintendi, of course, has helped spearhead the Hogs’ surge from a 1-5 start in SEC play to 18-7 finish including two wins so far in the SEC Tournament. The outfielder from Cincinnati, Ohio leads the nation in slugging percentage (.760) and ranks first in home runs. “He’s probably the best player in college baseball right now,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Bob Holt.

I write more about this unique record in the context of SEC sports and the Razorbacks’ upcoming football season for Sporting Life Arkansas, but here I want to look beyond the SEC.

Specifically,  how many times has a school pulled off this one-year POY trifecta among all major conferences?

Three times – sort of.

Here they are:

1994 Duke

In basketball, Grant Hill secured ACC player of the year and first team All-American honors. But thanks to the Razorbacks, “national champion” was one honor he didn’t grab for the third straight year. Ryan Jackson took home ACC POY honors after setting a single-season school record with 22 home runs. In football, bruising back Robert Baldwin won it after helping lead Duke to its highest national ranking in 23 years.

Baldwin was the last Duke player to win ACC player of the year honors in football, but was the 10th such POY in school history (which is a surprisingly high number to my 33-year-old self. It reflects how un-dominant Florida State once was).

Continue reading Will Hogs Join Duke, Ohio State & Arizona State to Hit Rare “Player of the Year” Trifecta?

New Study: Missouri Only SEC Program Hating Arkansas More than Other Way Around

When it was made obvious which Springfield the Simpsons don't live in.

The meaning of “rivalry” and whether it can already be applied to Missouri-Arkansas has been much debated this week. Although today’s game marks only the sixth time the programs have ever met, it appears both sides are comfortable with the notion of a bona fide border feud. “Arkansas – they have the word ‘Kansas’ in it, so it’s got to be a rival,” Missouri center Evan Boehm told media a few days ago, referencing his program’s top rival during its Big 12 days. Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel added: “It will be [a rivalry]. I kind of compare it to the Kansas rivalry. It didn’t happen overnight.”

The potential for a real, intense and disturbingly partisan rivalry is here, alright. Today, Missouri has an SEC East title and second straight appearance in the SEC Championship Game on the line. And Arkansas is arguably the nation’s hottest team after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss. A win sends it roaring into bowl season as a Top 25 program.

From a numbers standpoint, though, what would such an “authentic” rivalry look like and how close is Mizzou-Arkansas to it? We have actual data along these lines thanks to Dr. David Tyler and Dr. Joe Cobbs, two professors who have studied the perception of rivalry* among 5, 317 fans of 122 different major college programs. Here are two of their most interesting finds:

1) Arkansas’ fans, on the whole, feel that they are rival to other programs more than the other way around. The blue columns below signify, through points, the strength of Arkansas’ fans’ passion directed toward a particular program. The red columns represent how many “rivalry points” that program’s fans have for Arkansas.

You’ll notice among SEC programs only Missouri fans believe Arkansas is a bigger rival than visa versa:

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LSU’s ranking shows that the Texas Longhorns’ grip on Arkansas’ fans hearts is slowly loosening 22 years after the Hogs left the Southwestern Conference. No one program has yet filled the void. “This is a pretty big distribution of [rivalry] points by a fan base,” researcher David Tyler told me. “The average points received by a team’s top rival is 54.2 points (median & mode are right around there too), so the 35 points that Razorback fans give to LSU is on the low end.”

[*The researchers assigned “Rivalry points” after collecting data from online questionnaires they posted on 194 fan message boards. The survey asked respondents to allocate 100 rivalry points across opponents of his or her favorite team. The closer the number to 100, the more intense feelings that programs’ fans have for their perceived top rival. Missouri,  for instance, has 71.58 rivalry points directed at Kansas. One Tiger fan divided his 100 points, 75 to Kansas and 25 to Arkansas. “This would have been 100 points for Kansas prior to the SEC switch. Not really sure how to handle this now, but this split seems okay.” More details at KnowRivalry.com]

2. The other FBS programs perceiving Arkansas as a bigger rival than visa versa are Tulsa and Arkansas State University. Tulsa has 6.57 points toward Arkansas, though Tulsa doesn’t register at all on Arkansas fans’ radars.  Arkansas State, meanwhile, has 24.7 points allocated to Arkansas, while Arkansas has .096 for A-State.

These programs, of course, don’t even play each other. Dr. Tyler points out “frequency of competition isn’t a necessary condition of perceived rivalry (at least in the eyes of some fans). Frequency of competition is an antecedent to most rivalries, but this is a great example where the teams don’t play but fans [on one side] still perceive a rivalry.”

Tyler and his colleague found “Unfairness, Geography and Competition for personnel (e.g. recruits)” as common themes among those poll respondents who listed Arkansas as their biggest rival. Below are some responses/themes from A-State fans he shared with me:

  • “We don’t play the pigs on the field, yet they have tried to keep us from growing our program since the beginning of time. They even tried to block us from gaining ‘university’ status in the late 60’s.  / They want to be the only team in the state, and refuse to acknowledge our existence…all the while, playing every one of our conference mates. / I hate them, and hope they lose every game in every sport they participate in.”

  • “Arkansas refuses to play us because they are scared.”

  • “Hogs is scared to play us.”

  • ASU fans hate Arkansas fans and vice versa (Big brother keeping little brother down – UA will not play Ark St because they feel they own the state support and media and don’t want to let Ark St have any).

It should be interesting to see if A-State fans’ passion towards the UA wanes or waxes as the program continues to carve out a niche as a mid-major power. As for Missouri-Arkansas, there is no doubt both programs’ level of mutual hate permanently rises once the game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. today.

Perhaps, one day, Missouri’s fans will hate Arkansas as much as they have Kansas, and Hog fans will find in their hearts Texas-sized enmity for their neighbors to the north. It will take a few games of this magnitude before that becomes even a remote possibility. Until then, though, expect to read more fan comments like this: “Missouri is to Arkansas what Canada is to America. They’re too damn nice to hate.”


Below are detailed results from Arkansas Razorback fans’ responses, according to KnowRivalry.com

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 8.13.09 AM

Continue reading New Study: Missouri Only SEC Program Hating Arkansas More than Other Way Around

Six-Minute Video of Nearly 10,000 Hog Fans Flooding Field after Beating LSU

For at the least the third time in school history, students swarmed the field at what’s now the Reynolds Razorback Stadium. In 1999, I was in the stands as a freshman UA student. Seeing so many classmates rush the field to tear down the goalposts (en route to Dickson St.) in the aftermath of a 28-24 win over Tennessee was an amazing thing. But it’s only in my mind. No iPhones back then.

That wasn’t the case Saturday night, in the aftermath of the most cathartic sports event I’ve ever experienced. I happened to be in the stands once more, this time with means to document the historic night.

Here are a few snapshots  –

Below are a couple videos, too. The one at top shows hundreds of UA students gushing all of the sudden onto the field. If I were to make a horrible analogy, I’d say it’s similar to seeing someone’s water break. But I won’t do that.

(PS – Excuse the initial shakiness. It took a while to get my bearings with all the pandemonium.)

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6KoX0KP7fRc]

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nkK6lWzi1yc]

Aftermath

IMG_0134

Before Arkansas-LSU, Had a Winless Conference Team Been Favored Vs. a Top 25 Squad?

brolyles snazzy passerOn the surface, it doesn’t make any sense.

How can a team not able to muster a conference win in 25 months be favored heading into a game against a perennial SEC power and Top 25 team? Yet it’s this unlikely situation Arkansas found itself in much of this week entering tonight’s home game vs. No. 20 LSU. Many major sportsbooks in Las Vegas favored the Hogs by one. They knew Arkansas has been so close to beating a a few Top 10 teams this season as it plows through the nation’s toughest schedule.

But has anything like this ever happened before? That is, has a team still winless in conference in November entered a game against a Top 25 team as nearly the favorite, in the process spitting on one of Bill Parcells’ most treasured maxims?

Not quite – but close.

In the last 12 years or so, the most similar parallel came on Nov 24th, 2012 from the Big East, when Pittsburgh (4-6, 1-4) was favored by 1.5 over No. 18 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0),  according to research done by the full-service sports statistical site KOStats.com. Pitt beat Rutgers 27-6. But for insight into the 20th century, I went to my football historian friend Andrew McKillop of FootballGeography.com. He came back with this:

“There were some leads, but when I looked up the line the Top 25 team was always favored.
The closest I found was in 1944. Duke (1-4) was called just a slight underdog at home against No. 5 Georgia Tech. Duke won and the next week they were ranked No. 20th by the AP – despite that 2-4 record.”
Guess why this Georgia Tech squad was ranked so highly to begin with?
Frank Broyles – the 1944 SEC Player of the Year.
broyles punt
 Images courtesy of Georgia Tech Archives and Special Collections

Yes, Broyles, the eventual legendary Razorback patriarch who hired Jeff Long who hired Bret Bielema who leads Arkansas tonight. Broyles, still kicking at age 89, was in his playing days a jack-of-all-trades All-American back who punted, threw for touchdowns and returned opponents’ passes for scores of his own.

Heading into that November 4, 1944 game at Duke, Broyles had helped lead Georgia Tech to a 5-0 record including a 17-15 takedown of then-dominant Navy. The Blue Devils, which were in a different conference, had only lost by seven to Navy but had been crushed 7-27 by Army the game before.

It didn’t matter. This game belonged to Duke, despite Broyles’ throwing for a 42-yard touchdown to Mickey Logan.

Mickey Logan: Georgia Tech's Rudy?
Mickey Logan: Georgia Tech’s Rudy?

Duke went on to win its remaining four games, including wipe outs of North Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina, as well as a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Georgia Tech won its next three of four games (inc. LSU) and was invited to the Orange Bowl, where Broyles threw for 304 yards in a loss to Tulsa (a record not broken until Tom Brady did it in 2000).

FB: Straight dual-threatin'
            Broyles: Straight dual-threatin’

In later years, Broyles would get his revenge on Duke. Not in football as Arkansas’ head coach, but in basketball as its athletic director. Thirty years after that 1944 loss, he convinced a promising young basketball coach named Eddie Sutton to leave Creighton and come to Fayetteville. Duke was another program heavily courting Sutton at the time, according to Sports Illustrated.

Fifty years after that loss, he would watch in Charlotte as his basketball program and another coach he hired wrest something even more precious from Duke – a national title.

In case you doubted the above 1945 Georgia Tech annual clips are authentic, kindly observe Allen Bowen’s nickname below for verification:

Broyles profile pic throwing

all americans

Matt Jones’ & David Bazzel’s Ideas for an Arkansas-Missouri Rivalry Trophy

The Yellow Horde Cometh. Rejoice?
The Golden Horde Cometh.

Can Missouri become the legit Arkansas rival into which LSU never quite developed?

Many Hog fans believe so. From a geographic standpoint, it makes sense, considering the campuses are about five hours apart – an hour closer than Ole Miss (Oxford) ,  the second-closest SEC campus to Fayetteville.

“I believe in the next decade or so it will be a good rivalry,” former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones says. “Both Arkansas and Mizzou are kind of in the same boat” in terms of overall recent football success. For the hate to really to flourish, though, Missouri must remain near the top of the SEC East and Arkansas must start beating its SEC West foes. He believes that for a true rivalry to flourish between two SEC programs, they must both meet in a regular season finale, both should win roughly half the games they play with each other overall, and each program should – at least once every five years –  play in the game with an SEC Championship Game appearance on the line.

It’s possible if both teams head into that final game with zero or one loss, they would meet again a few weeks later in the SEC Championship Game.  That’s something LSU and Arkansas can’t do now. And it’s not inconceivable that if both programs keep building off their current momentum, they may in a few years end up as two of the four (or eight) College Football Playoff teams. Any post-season clash at this level would kick the rivalry authentication process into warp speed.

Mutual success in the early years will ensure a healthy rivalry in the long run even when both programs inevitably wane at some point. Matt Jones likened this dynamic to Ole Miss and Mississippi State, where “if they beat each other and nobody else, that’s all that matters. It was never like that with LSU and us.”

Two other important factors here: A) As an SEC newcomer, Missouri hasn’t yet had time to develop a more hated in-conference rival already as Texas and LSU had and B) The rivalry’s basketball side will complement and strengthen the football animosity in ways that never happened with LSU-Arkansas or even Texas-Arkansas.

The fact left Hog basketball coach Mike Anderson and much of his staff left Missouri for Arkansas plays a lot into this, of course. It also helps the states of Missouri and Arkansas are in golden eras in terms of elite basketball recruits per capita, their schools often recruit against each other for the best players and that in vast swaths of northern Arkansas and Missouri, basketball – not football – is the most popular sport. That’s not the case in Louisiana and Texas.

Time will tell exactly what form the Missouri-Arkansas rivalry takes, and how deeply it will impress itself on the memories and hearts of today’s young Arkansans and Missourians.

In the short term, however, we have a much more concrete image of what the rivalry will look like. Earlier this month, the two colleges announced the game’s logo:

Battle line rivalry

In a press release, the University of Arkansas played up the “geographic and historical boundaries” between the states, “from disputed demarcations of the border separating the two states to notable alumni and former personnel with ties to both storied athletic programs. The historic rivalry between the two states will take on even more meaning now, as every Thanksgiving weekend the Battle Line will be drawn on the gridiron. The Razorbacks or Tigers will ultimately stake claim to the “Line” – until the next meeting.”

We don’t yet know what the “Line” is, exactly, but don’t be surprised to see a trophy emerge here. Will it, like the Golden Boot, be clad in the glory of a thousand suns?

Probably not.

But there are some interesting ideas out there. I find it hard not to like the message board favorite “ARMOgedden,” but for now the graphic representation of it wallows in alumni association tailgating motif purgatory.

Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones would like to see a kid-friendly trophy emphasizing the mascots. It would represent a giant pot, containing a “Tiger Sooey” witches’ brew that would be stirred by some not-yet-defined creature’s hand, he says.  Perhaps sticking out from the pot would be a tiger paw, or hog’s leg. Perhaps a witch looking like a hog-tiger hybrid stirs it. Suffice to say, Jones’ idea hasn’t exactly congealed.

David Bazzel has also had a crack at it.  His idea is one Carmen Sandiego would love. The logo he designed features the line of latitude which serves as much of Arkansas’ northern border. Nationally, the parallel 36°30′ north is best known for marking the Missouri Compromise, which in the early 1800s divided prospective free and slave states west of the Mississippi River:

mizzouark

For a few years controversy extending all the way to Washington D.C. entangled the Missouri-Arkansas area near the Mississippi River. The result: Arkansas’ weird, jagged northeastern corner. “I think anything’s cool if you have a historical context to it,” Bazzel says. If his idea had taken, “people would have said ‘What is 36°30’?’, and that’s where you would have to explain it to them. So it would have included history.”

Bazzel says he offered his concept to some people at IMG College, a major collegiate sports marketing company, involved creating the rivalry logo. He isn’t sure to what extent, if any, his idea was assimilated into the final rendition.  “I don’t mind the ‘battle line,’” he says. “It’s similar to what I was doing.”

When it comes to branding the future of Arkansas and Missouri’s rivalry, the past is in.

Houston Nutt Predicts Arkansas Will Beat LSU, Make Bowl Game

He's a believer.
He’s a believer.

Temperatures during this Saturday’s game between Arkansas and No. 20 LSU may dip below freezing, but when it comes to competitiveness no SEC trophy game series has been hotter. In each of the last nine games of this rivalry, an average of 6.2 points has been all that separates the teams. Eight times the difference has been eight points or less. It appears the only other major college trophy series with more consistently exciting finishes has been Duke-North Carolina, decided by an average of five points* in the same span.

In the last three years, LSU’s and Arkansas’ fortunes have fallen — the Tigers’ a little, Hogs’ a lot  — but the two sides haven’t let their fans down when facing each other. In 2012, nobody thought the burning Hogmobile soon-to-be-fired coach John L. Smith drove into Razorback Reynolds Stadium could pull away with a win against No. 8 LSU, but those struggling Hogs somehow out-gained LSU 462-306 in total yardage and in the closing seconds were an 18-yard touchdown pass away from forcing overtime.

Likewise, last year’s game also came down to the last couple minutes, when LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings found receiver Travin Dural on a 49-yard TD bomb that detonated Arkansas’ hopes of picking up a first SEC win since 2012.

Arkansas (4-5, 0-5) still seeks that first landmark victory. Many insiders predict the Razorbacks get it Saturday night at home. Coming off a strong showing against No. 1 Mississippi State and a bye week, Arkansas is favored by 2, according to the latest NCAAF game lines. This likely marks the first time a college football team without a conference win is favored over a Top 25 opponent this late in the season.**

Louisiana State, the would-be victim, looks to rebound from a bruising home loss to Alabama. Jennings was banged up in in the 20-13 affair and projects to have limited mobility against an Arkansas defense among the nation’s best in creating havoc in its opponent’s backfield. “Arkansas couldn’t catch them at a better time,”says Houston Nutt, former Razorback head coach. “You have a team who fought their guts out against Alabama … and now they have got to come to Fayetteville against a very hungry Arkansas team.”

“You know [LSU] is used to fighting for championships as well,” he adds, noting the difficulty of physically recovering from last week’s slugfest and overcoming a natural emotional letdown after losing an SEC West title shot. “They’re probably out of it.” Nutt predicts Arkansas will not only beat LSU, but ultimately go to a bowl game after winning at least one of its following two games against Ole Miss and Missouri.

Any bowl is great news for an Arkansas program starving for success. The same cannot be said of LSU, which was so close to still being in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth. Now, whether it finishes the season with seven or nine wins, the Tigers are likely returning to the Outback Bowl or to the Taxslayer, Belk, Liberty, Texas or Music City bowls, writes The  Advocate’s Scott Rabalais. Not exactly music to Tiger fans’ ears.

Given what’s not at stake, it’s time Les Miles and the LSU staff maximize the develop of their record 17 true freshmen these next three games, Rabalais says. Split quarterbacking duties between the struggling Jennings and frosh Brandon Harris. Crank up the carry-o-meter for freshmen tailbacks Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams. And “maximize the D-line rotations for the younger players like Sione Teuhema, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. In the secondary, get more work for youngsters like Ed Paris and Jamal Adams and Russell Gage.”

“This season was never going to be about championships,” Rabalais adds. “It was always going to be a bridge to what the Tigers hope will be a brighter future.”

Paradoxically, this kind of talk, as well as the betting lines, may actually serve as a greater incentive to LSU players than whatever on-field consequences an Arkansas win could mean for them. Yes, of course, they want to keep the nearly 200-pound Golden Boot on campus for the fourth straight season. And what erstwhile SEC champion wouldn’t prefer a return trip to sunny Tampa to the prospect of a 56th AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis?

But despite what players and coaches say in public, simple pride and retaliation for a perceived slight can sometimes be the powerful motivation of all. In public, it’s foolish for coaches to admit they pay attention to Vegas and all the media chatter. But in the privacy of their locker room, it’s smart to use any perceived disrespect as extra fuel for competitive engines that may be running on low.

LSU won’t become Arkansas’ first SEC victim of the Bret Bielema era without a nasty fight. Expect another classic finish in the conference’s most heart-stopping rivalry.

Evin’s Scale of SEC Trophy Game One-Sidededness

Before 2014*, there were five trophies circulating in and among the sweaty, intraconference climes of SEC football country. Each one represents a decades-old rivalry, with LSU-Arkansas the baby of the bunch. What their Golden Boot lacks in tradition, though, has more than been made up for in sheer entertainment value. The below scale, based on final score differences, ranks the SEC trophy rivalries on a scale from most consistently entertaining (1) to most likely to cause a re-reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for lack of anything better to do (5). Winners are in parentheses.

The Bellagio of sports trophies.
The Bellagio of sports trophies.

1. LSU-Arkansas (Golden Boot)

 

Year Point Differential
2013 4 (LSU)
2012 7 (LSU)
2011 24 (LSU)
2010 8 (UA)
2009 3 (LSU)
2008 1 (UA)
2007 2 (UA)
2006 5 (LSU)
2005 2 (LSU)

Total Point Differential: 56

Per-Game Average: 6.2

2. LSU/Ole Miss (Magnolia Bowl)

 

Year Point Differential
2014 3 (LSU)
2013 3 (Ole Miss)
2012 6 (LSU)
2011 49 (LSU)
2010 7 (LSU)
2009 2 (Ole Miss)
2008 17 (Ole Miss)
2007 17 (LSU)
2006 3 (LSU)

Total Point Differential: 90

Per-Game Average: 10


3. Florida/Georgia (Okefenokee Oar)

 

Year Point Differential
2014 18 (UF)
2013 3 (UG)
2012 8  (UG)
2011 4  (UG)
2010 3 (UF)
2009 24 (UF)
2008 39 (UF)
2007 12  (UG)
2006 7 (UF)

Total Point Differential: 118

Per-Game Average: 13.1

4. Ole Miss/Mississippi State (Golden Egg)

 

Year Point Differential
2013 7 (MSU)
2012 17 (Ole Miss)
2011 28 (MSU)
2010 8 (MSU)
2009 14 (MSU)
2008 45 (Ole Miss)
2007 3 (MSU)
2006 3 (Ole Miss)
2005 16 (MSU)

 

Total Point Differential: 138

Per-Game Average: 15.3

5. Alabama/Auburn** (Foy-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy)

Year Point Differential
2013 6 (AU)
2012 49 (UA)
2011 28 (UA)
2010 1 (AU)
2009 5 (UA)
2008 36 (UA)
2007 7 (AU)
2006 7 (AU)
2005 10 (AU)

Total Point Differential: 149

Per-Game Average: 16.6

*The new Texas A&M-South Carolina and Missouri-South Carolina series involve trophies, too. Which is nice. But for membership in this particular club, you need to have been clashin’ man horns for at least nine years running.

** Yes, the 2010 and 2013 Iron Bowls were awesomely entertaining. But Crimson Tide routs in 2008, 2011 and 2012 have made the series’ games on the whole the least consistently compelling.