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.

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