Friday, September 17, 2010

Watch With Me

I hate making predictions.

I have long been of the school of thought that college football is so unpredictable that there is no way to know how a game will play out.  Predicting a winner is tough enough in all but the most lopsided affairs.  Any remotely accurate prediction is nothing more than a lucky guess, and each and every incorrect offering provides evidence that the would-be clairvoyant doesn't know what the hell he or she is talking about.

Of course, I don't know what the hell I'm talking about.  So why not throw some stuff at the wall?  I don't know about you, but here is what I'm watching this weekend.  If your television displays something other than what I describe over the next few paragraphs, you should get it checked out, because you can take this stuff to the bank.

Not really.  The research here is minimal.  In fact, you'd probably be wise to bet on the opposite of whatever gibberish is forthcoming.  Here we go.

Cal @ Nevada  Friday Night 9:00 p.m. CST (ESPN2)

Really, no football on Friday night until 9:00?  When is the west coast going to realize that it is a sideshow and nothing more?  Yeah, it's great to watch SMU @ Fresno State in the late game on Saturday when you're hammered and not ready to stop watching football, but this business about being the main event is a bunch of bull.  Cal doesn't have Jahvid Best.  Nevada doesn't have Chris Klenakis, a longtime assistant at Nevada who is now the offensive line coach at Arkansas.  The Wolf Pack lost the brains behind their offense, but I'm giving them the nod for no reason other than their lack of an "s".  Nevada in a thriller.  Nevada 34, Cal 31 (OT)

Arkansas @ Georgia 11:00 a.m. CST (ESPN)

This is the big one for me and the dozens others reading this.  Arkansas is your unbeaten, untied, untested underdog, despite the fact that they are ranked #12 nationally, bring nearly their entire team back from last season, and face a Georgia team that was unable to find the end zone last week against South Carolina, looked completely inept when tasked with tackling South Carolina freshman Marcus Lattimore, and, at the moment of this writing (4:22 p.m. CST), will be without their best player, stud receiver A.J. Green.

I think Georgia will find the end zone against the Hogs, but will do so infrequently, which is bad news for the Dawgs.  Arkansas will certainly find it, and if they find it early, things could get ugly.  Last year, Bobby Petrino schemed all summer for the matchup against Georgia, and the Hogs responded with a 21-point opening salvo.  It was only the questionable ejection of defensive leader Jerry Franklin that slowed the Hogs' momentum, and helped Georgia turn the tide.  Petrino revealed this week during his radio show that this season was no different, and that the Razorback offense has been held back against two lesser opponents in order to retain some new wrinkles for the Bulldog defense, as well as the Alabama defense, who the Razorbacks play next week.

If anyone can have a workman-like effort and produce 400 yards passing, it's Ryan Mallett.  That's what he did last week, and I foresee something similar going down tomorrow.  Mallett will be efficient above all else, but it won't be the coming out party he enjoyed last year against Georgia.  Look for Joe Adams and the Razorback defense to be the stars of this one, while Mallett quietly throws for 300-plus and two touchdowns, and the committee of Razorback running backs handle the rest of the scoring.  Arkansas 42, Georgia 24

Alabama @ Duke 2:30 p.m. CST (ABC)

If you are wondering why in blue blazes the defending national champion Crimson Tide are going on the road to play the weakest member of a weak football conference, you aren't the only one.  It's not very often you see a team go on the road as a 24-point favorite against another school from a BCS conference, but that's what you'll see tomorrow.  Wallace Wade Stadium just doesn't have the same magic that Cameron Indoor does.  I'm tuning in purely to witness the carnage as the Tide tuneup for a potential Top 10 clash next Saturday.  Mark Ingram makes his debut, but Trent Richardson is still the star.  Bama gives up its first touchdown of the year, but the Tide roll regardless.  Alabama 30, Duke 10

Florida @ Tennessee 2:30 p.m. CST (CBS)

The SEC on CBS.  For the last four seasons, this weekly game in this coveted time slot has done more to shape the national champion than any other.  I don't foresee the matchup between the Gators and the Vols to play much of a role in shaping the SEC Champion, much less the national champion, but there are storylines nonetheless.  Vince Dooley's son makes his SEC debut in a rivalry game that has decided the East Division representative in Atlanta the vast majority of the time since conference expansion in 1992.  The Vols are licking their wounds after getting shellacked in the fourth quarter against Oregon, but fortunately for Tennessee, the Gator offense seems too preoccupied with staying out of prison and snapping the football to score too many points.  Look for lots of momentum swings early, but superior Gator talent on the defensive side of the ball to make the difference late.  Florida 23, Tennessee 10

Clemson @ Auburn 6:00 CST (ESPN)

Not the most appealing game to be chosen for GameDay, but that's where Chris, Kirk, Lee, and crew are this week.  The purple-and-orange Tigers from Death Valley are visiting the blue-and-orange Tigers on the Plains, in a rare game where an assistant coach is likely to get more airtime than either head coach.  The camera loves Auburn Offensive Coordinator Gus Malzahn, who is arguably a bigger star than either his boss Gene Chizik or Clemson Head Coach Dabo Sweeney.  Auburn's offensive unit looked pedestrian in a Thursday night victory over Mississippi State last week, although Cam Newton seems to have lived up to his massive hype, at least in the eyes of Auburn fans.  I haven't seen him make an impressive throw yet, and I'm convinced he won't make it through the season if he continues to be as physical as he was against State.  Once again, Newton's legs make the difference.  Auburn 24, Clemson 20

Mississippi State @ LSU 6:00 CST (ESPNU)

Last year's contest was too close for comfort, as far as the Tigers are concerned.  Chad Jones returned a punt 90-plus yards for a touchdown late in the game to put the Bulldogs away, and special teams could play a significant role this Saturday as well.  Star LSU Cornerback Patrick Peterson showed out as a return man in the Tigers less-than-impressive victory over a depleted North Carolina squad, but he may have trouble getting too many touches.  It's doubtful that Dan Mullen will allow a kicked ball to go anywhere remotely near Peterson, and neither of the Bulldog quarterbacks seem competent enough to get a pass close enough for Peterson to intercept.  Assuming he is providing his usual blanket coverage, he will be far too close to a Bulldog receiver to get a play on the ball.  Depending on your perspective, it's either a pillow fight or a defensive struggle.  Either way, it's Saturday Night in Death Valley, and the drunks will make the difference.  LSU 24, Mississippi State 14

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Everyone Loves a Good Road Story

Even more than Ryan Mallett, high expectations seem to be the dominant storyline as the Arkansas Razorbacks make their way through fall camp.  The reasons behind the buzz are obvious. The Razorbacks have a Heisman Trophy front-runner in quarterback Ryan Mallett, return the vast majority of their other offensive weapons, and look to be much improved and more experienced on the defensive side of the ball.  

Even Hog fans with the shortest of memories, however, certainly cannot forget that the Razorbacks went 0-4 on the road last season, and must factor that in when contemplating the Razorbacks' fortunes this year.  Winning them all, while a longshot, is undoubtedly the Hogs' goal this season.  But you can't win them all unless you win them on the road.  So can they?

Skeptics of Arkansas will immediately point to the Hogs' .000 road record in conference last season as an indicator that the 2010 Hogs' chances of an SEC Championship (or beyond) are somewhere between slim and none.  That is fair criticism, but there are counterarguments to be made.  More than anything, it cannot be denied that the 2009 road schedule was more difficult than the 2010 slate will be.  In 2009, every opponent Arkansas faced on the road featured a Top 15 Scoring Defense.  Alabama, of course, finished the season as the national champion, and Florida finished ranked #3.  The other two road opponents, Ole Miss and LSU, also finished ranked.  No disrespect intended to Georgia, Auburn, South Carolina, and Mississippi State, but none of those opponents on paper stack up to any of the four teams Arkansas traveled to meet last season.  

Not to be ignored when examining the dismal road record Arkansas put up in 2009 is the fact that the Hogs were criminally setback by pitiful officiating during their game against Florida, and then stunned by an equally egregious gaffe against LSU, both of which likely cost them victories.  0-4 is still 0-4, but in my eyes, the Razorbacks played well enough to win in both Gainesville and Baton Rouge, two of the toughest places to play in the country.  Turn 0-4 into 2-2 and the 2009 Hogs are suddenly 10-3, and the skeptics screaming about having to prove their mettle on the road are much less convincing.

Thinking about it that way led me to begin investigating Bobby Petrino's record on the road as a head coach.  Was last year an anomaly?  What about the 1-3 road campaign in 2008?  Do we attribute that to the utter lack of talent left to him by outgoing Houston Nutt, or is there something else that is keeping Petrino from attaining success away from home.  The answers might not be definitive, but they certainly shed some light on the apparent disconnect between Petrino's 1-7 SEC road record and his reputation for meticulous preparation, come hell, high water, or unfriendly confines.

As a collegiate head coach, Petrino has compiled an 18-14 record in regular season away games, a winning percentage of 56%.  Not stellar, although the 1-8 record in his first two seasons at Arkansas significantly tarnish the shine off the 17-6 mark he built at Louisville, where he won on the road at a 74% clip.  His two stints on the surface could not be any more disparate, but there is a common thread that appears when taking a closer look at things.

In his 14 losses as a head coach at Louisville and Arkansas, Petrino lost an astounding NINE by a field goal or less.  Only one of the other five losses occurred while he was at Louisville, a 45-14 defeat at the hands of South Florida that is the only real head-scratcher in the bunch.  The rest of those "bad losses" came while Petrino was with the Hogs, rebuilding a depleted talent base and facing a murderous schedule.  Among them, Texas destroyed the Hogs 52-10 in Austin  in 2008 en route to a 12-1 season and a Fiesta Bowl victory.  Last season, Alabama handled the Razorbacks 35-7 in Tuscaloosa on their way to a national championship.

Even with the murderous schedule Petrino has faced the past two seasons, he has still managed to coach his team to within a field goal more than half the time.  The Hogs lost heartbreakers on the road to Kentucky and Mississippi State in 2008, and Florida and LSU in 2009, all decided by a field goal or less, and three of the four featuring missed 4th quarter game-winning or game-tying kicks by Alex Tejada.  Yeouch.

Petrino lost his share of heartbreakers at Louisville, too, including overtime games to South Florida and West Virginia, and a 28-25 loss at Rutgers in 2006 that knocked the Cardinals out of their bid for a BCS National Championship.  It also turned out to be their only loss on the season.

So what does all this mean?  If you're a Hog fan, it means exactly what you likely have already known.  That Bobby Petrino will not coach himself out of any game, but especially one in which the deck is stacked against his team with a hostile crowd and potentially less-than-impartial officiating.  Far more often than not, his team will have an opportunity in the fourth quarter to either win or extend the game.  And as we have heard so much, that is all you can ask for when you're on the road.

If you look at the four games on Arkansas' road schedule this season, the thing that stands out is the certainty of what the Hogs bring to the table, versus great uncertainty in each of their opponents.  Georgia and Auburn are breaking in new quarterbacks.  Mississippi State is searching for a replacement for the great Anthony Dixon.  South Carolina is mired in controversy, and could potentially be without the services of one of its best players, tight end Weslye Saunders, for the entire season.

The Razorbacks, on the other hand, return three-quarters of last season's offensive and defensive starters, and  are virtually assured of being a better team than last year, when they went 3-1 at home against this season's road slate.  The odds of the Petrino getting back to his winning ways on the road seem favorable, to say the least.

As long as they don't have to kick it.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Never Mind the Bullshit, Here's Gregg Doyel!

It is certainly not the intention of this blog to zero in on the stinkbait of hit-trolling columnists, but we're going down that road for the second consecutive day. Today, the misguided soul between the sights is columnist Gregg Doyel. Although not a graduate of Ole Miss or Florida, he spent time growing up in Oxford and did attend school in Gainesville. He claims no allegiance to either school, but he's certainly no fan of the Razorbacks.

The flailing hackjob Doyel produced today undoubtedly accomplished his intended result by generating thousands of views, but it also rose my hackles. Mouth agape, I read Doyel's scolding with mounting anger. At the point he counseled Arkansans that "people don't act this way", I knew silence was no longer an option. I fired off a quick email to Mr. Doyel.

The irony is staggering.

An opinion writer shaming someone (or in this case, someones) for persuading another to their line of thinking.

Isn't that what you, as a "National Columnist", are paid to do?

It seems the only difference between you and the Arkansas fans you ridicule is the fact that we at least did our research.

I've got to ask... what would you consider an appropriate punishment if you took it upon yourself to meet with your bosses in garb? After others had warned against it?

After, of course, you tweeted about how much better things were when you were working at

After, of course, you made a point to mention to your readers how many more awards deserved last year over CBS.

Of course, you wouldn't do that. Journalists don't act that way.

I look forward to updating everyone, but no response as of yet. I'm certainly not one to expect a big important national journalist to answer this peon on MY terms, so I'll be patient. I think I'll stop short of holding my breath, though.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

For Once The World Needs One MORE Lawyer

On Saturday the Razorback nation was aflutter with the news that Arkansas head football coach, Bobby Petrino responded to a question from a local radio co-host saying, “…and that will be the last question I answer with that hat on.” The radio personality in question, Renee Gork, is a Florida graduate who claimed that she wore a hat brandishing her alma mater’s mascot to protect her hair from the Saturday morning rain. Fast forward to Monday morning and Gork is terminated by KAKS, a Northwest Arkansas radio station that bills itself as “Hog Sports Radio.” By Monday afternoon, The Associated Press had picked up the story prompting numerous national pundits, including AOL Fanhouse columnist Clay Travis, to weigh in.

Mr. Travis knows a thing or two about covering the South’s fall religion. In 2005 the Vanderbilt Law graduate and unapologetic Tennessee Volunteers fan burst on the southern football scene with his weekly mail bag column for CBS Sportsline. Mr. Travis parlayed his column into a fantastic book, Dixieland Delight, which chronicled his visits to each SEC venue during the 2006 football season. Travis’ biting wit and everyfan perspective made him a hit among his fellow twenty-something Southeastern Conference football fans, and eventually led to another book that followed Phil Fulmer and his Volunteers in Fulmer’s last season as head coach.

Now, I must confess, I am a fan of Travis’ work. I’ve been a regular reader of his material since the beginning. I own two of his books. I constantly recommend Dixieland Delight, right alongside The Blind Side, and Meat Market to friends looking for excellent football reading. I have written in to his mail bag column, and I have encouraged others to do so. I follow him on twitter. I even know that he made a huge impression on his first day as an editor at the popular sports blog when he talked about Vince Young’s use of the phrase “No homo,” in the Tennessee Titans locker room. But I think it might finally be time for me to take exception with Mr. Travis’ work.

I suppose I should not be surprised that Travis would stick up for Gork through this ordeal. Media famously sticks up for other members of the media, but Travis goes too far in his defense. As usual, instead of relying on his lawyer’s logic to make a point that could easily be made, especially in this case, Travis pulls out his quiver filled with arrows of stereotype and innuendo.

First, in attacking Petrino, Travis insists that Razorback fans should be ashamed of their coach, because he left his NFL team in mid season, and of course Travis cannot resist a chance to call Arkansas the 8th best football program in the SEC. Is it possible that Travis had a lapse in memory in regards to the dubious history of Tennessee’s own head football coaches? I wonder if Travis thought less of Phillip Fulmer for pushing out his legendary boss, Johnny Majors, to take the reins of the boys in orange? Did Travis shudder when Lane Kiffen took the position of head coach to new lows just a year ago? I think not. Travis should also be reminded that the so called 8th best football program in the SEC played for the conference title more recently than the Vols, and are expected to do so again.

But, of course, this is not a discussion of the Hogs and the Vols. It’s a question of professionalism in the media. Gork had long covered both college and professional football. By all accounts Gork was successful in covering the Florida Gators, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In other words, she should have known better. Even the most casual fan knows that reporters don’t cheer in the press box, and you sure don’t wear the apparel of a conference rival to question one of the most beloved men in Arkansas.

Even Gork’s choice of clothing might have been nothing more than an interesting post practice anecdote if she had managed to maintain a semblance of professionalism both at practice and away from it. Numerous reports identify Gork as a regular violator of a University of Arkansas policy that bans those attending Razorback football practices from transmitting information during the practice about its events. But even still with this violation Gork might have kept her job despite raising the ire of Coach Petrino and the U of A media relations staff if she could have convinced herself to be a little more professional with her use of popular social media tools. No, Gork insisted on complaining about her job duties, not once, but numerous times via facebook and twitter. Most adults who use these social media tools understand that what you say on the internet has consequences, but Gork clearly didn’t see anything wrong with doing any of these things. Frankly, she’s a poster child for any aspiring reporters who are looking for examples of what not to do if you hope to be a successful journalist.

Clay would do well to learn from this episode. Here’s to hoping he doesn’t try to interview Derek Dooley in his Vanderbilt Law t-shirt.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

An Open Letter to Jeff Long

Mr. Long,

We have never met. I am an avid fan of the athletic programs of the University of Arkansas. The Razorbacks. Those teams which you endeavor to manage. And though my meager annual contribution to the Razorback Foundation in a perfect world might purchase me some voice, however distant and tinny, regarding the personnel you choose to maintain as coaches of my beloved Razorbacks, I am a realist. I know I have no legitimate voice. No legitimate means of influence.

Still, I feel compelled to write.

Last Thursday, as you are certainly aware, the Razorbacks men's team played the Florida Gators in Bud Walton Arena, and lost a close decision. 71-66. It was a game that Arkansas could have, and perhaps should have, won. Florida did not win impressively. To my eyes, they played poorly. They did not shoot the ball well, and yet escaped Bud Walton Arena, our Basketball Palace of Mid-America, with a victory.

But basketball teams lose games sometimes. Heck, we lost 16 of them last year, and have lost 11 so far this season. We even lost three in 1994 when we won the national championship. That the Florida game was an agonizing loss at home is something else that I know I have to stomach. Basketball teams lose home games sometimes. I know that. We can't win them all in Bud Walton. Well, I guess technically we can, but we've only done it twice in 17 seasons. Home losses, however tough, are part of the game.

Still, I feel compelled to write.

Last night, I sat on my couch and watched the Border War on ESPN. Bill Self's #2 ranked Kansas Jayhawks hosting Mike Anderson's Missouri Tigers. If you watched the game, you saw Kansas dismantle Mizzou in impressive fashion. The noise inside Allen Fieldhouse was deafening, and the knowledgeable fans there were active and engaged for the entire game.

I'm sure you already know this, but with a capacity of around 16,000, Allen Fieldhouse is actually smaller than Bud Walton Arena. And due to its ingenious design and the foresight of Frank Broyles to create a facility built purely for big-time basketball, Bud Walton Arena's 19,000 seats are actually closer to the floor than the seats at Allen Fieldhouse. Proceeding logically, and I have seen nothing from you to doubt your loyalty to logic, you have to be open to the possibility that Bud Walton could conceivably be louder even than intimidating Allen Fieldhouse, where the Jayhawks have now won 54 consecutive games.

I am no basketball expert, but I do have an appreciation for the game and a respect for its history.  I know that the James Naismith that Kansas' court is named for is the same James Naismith that invented the game in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, and was also Kansas' first basketball coach.  I know that Allen Fieldhouse is named after Phog Allen, Naismith's successor at Kansas, and one of the most successful collegiate basketball coaches of all-time.  I understand and appreciate the stature of programs such as Kansas.  As Kentucky.  North Carolina.  And I realize that Arkansas is not in that echelon.

Still, I feel compelled to write. 

To put it simply, I sleep too easily.  After our loss to Florida last week, I went to bed and I fell asleep.  Immediately.  I was angry momentarily following the game, but it dissipated as soon as I turned the television off.  There was a time when sleep would have been impossible following any such loss, much less one in such an agonizing manner....especially one at home.  It seems that time has passed, however.  How dignified is it, after all, to lose sleep over Morgan State, East Tennessee State, and South Alabama,?

I am 28 years old.  I wasn't around for The Triplets and Eddie Sutton, but I came to love basketball during our finest hour as Hogs.  These things may not mean much to you, but I remember the 1990 Final Four.  I remember the life-sized newspaper insert poster of Todd Day that hung on my wall for years.  I remember Corliss Williamson's delayed debut in the winter of 1993 due to a stress fracture, and the dominance that followed it.  I remember great games.  Overtime against LSU and Kentucky.   I remember great players that I demonized because they played against the Razorbacks.  Shaquille O'Neal.  Anfernee Hardaway.  Jamal Mashburn. 

I remember the final game inside Barnhill Arena.  Jim Robken and the Hog Wild Band.  Capturing the "spirit" of Barnhill to transport to Bud Walton Arena.  I remember that some people were angry, and that virtually everyone was sad.  Can you believe that?  A fan base so tied to an old, outdated facility that it was hesitant to move into a sparkling new facility twice the size of its predecessor?  It happened.  Here.  That's how great Barnhill was, but as great as it was, I have personally witnessed Bud Walton Arena exceed it in every way. 

The problem, Mr. Long, is that you have not. 

The past two seasons have seen our numbers dwindle.  The past two seasons have seen our wins dwindle.  Bud Walton Arena,  a place once feared, has become what residents of this state swore it would never, ever be.  Just a building where basketball is played.  The "spirit" that was captured in 1993 has escaped somehow, and been replaced with something dangerously close to apathy.  I could never turn my back on the Razorbacks, but despite my best efforts to combat it, it seems I am vulnerable to dozing off on them, and that is alarming.

It compelled me to write.  What does it compel you to do?

Woo Pig Sooie,


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