By Otis Kirk
The debate the past week or two is can Arkansas go to a bowl game in 2019 coming off a 2-10 record?
Here’s to thinking it’s very possible. A school needs to win six games to assure itself of a chance to go to a bowl game. A four-win improvement in one year isn’t easy, but it can happen.
Since Arkansas began playing an SEC schedule in 1992 they have had a four-win improvement from the previous season just four times.
The first time was in 1995 the Hogs went 8-5 under Danny Ford. That followed up a 4-7 season in 1994. The 1995 season was Ford’s best season with the Hogs.
In 1998, Houston Nutt led Arkansas to a 9-3 record in his first season with the Hogs. They had gone 4-7 in Ford’s last season in 1997.
In 2005 under Nutt, Arkansas went 4-7. The Razorbacks followed that up with a 10-4 mark in 2006 which was Nutt’s best record at Arkansas.
Bret Bielema led the Hogs to a 7-6 record in 2014 which was his second team. That followed up a 3-9 campaign in 2013.
So four times in 27 seasons in the SEC Arkansas has been able to make a four-win improvement from one season to the next. That seems to stack the odds against Chad Morris’ second team going to a bowl.
But upon a closer look it can happen. Here’s maybe the easiest path the Razorbacks have to a bowl game this fall.
The 2019 schedule for Arkansas is set up where they really need to come out of the gate 4-0 before taking on Texas A&M.
The Hogs open on Aug. 31 hosting Portland State in Fayetteville. They follow that up on Sept. 7 with a trip to Ole Miss to open SEC play. The Hogs then return to Fayetteville to host Colorado State on Sept. 14 and then San Jose State comes to Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Sept. 21.
Going 4-0 won’t be easy for Arkansas considering they were 0-2 against the two teams in that group they played last year. But some odd circumstances seemed to lead to Arkansas losing to both Colorado State in Fort Collins and Ole Miss in Little Rock.
The Hogs dominated both teams before running out of gas in the altitude at Colorado State and then losing Ty Storey, Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley against the Rebels. Before Storey exited in the fourth quarter the Hogs hadn’t punted a single time. Losing those three players caused the offense to go stagnant and the Rebels came charging back late to take the win.
That isn’t meant to be excuses for Arkansas in those two games, but just to point out both games could have just as easily gone into the win column. Playing the Rebels in Oxford won’t be as easy as in the friendly War Memorial Stadium, but the Hogs need to find a way to win the game.
So assuming the Hogs get out to a 4-0 start that would mean they would have to win two of the next eight game to be eligible for a bowl game. They host Western Kentucky in Fayetteville on Nov. 9 and that should be a win. So that gets them to five.
A sixth win would require them winning a second SEC game, remember we are assuming they win in Oxford.
The first opportunity would be the Aggies in Arlington’s AT&T Stadium on Sept. 28. While much is made about Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006, it gets overlooked at times the Hogs haven’t defeated A&M since Bobby Petrino’s last season in 2011. There has been a lot of close losses that left Arkansas fans wondering what if, but the truth is it’s hard to pick the Hogs to win this game until they actually pull it off.
The Razorbacks get a bye week following the Aggies. They follow that up by going to Kentucky, hosting Auburn and then heading to Alabama. That is their three games in October and it’s a brutal one. They are catching the Wildcats at possibly the worst possible time. They are playing great football.
Auburn, as weird as it sounds, might be the easiest game of this group to win. First, it’s the only home game for Arkansas of the three. Auburn could have a lot of turmoil by this time. Gus Malzahn will likely enter the season on the hot seat despite having done a very good job there. Auburn is tough on coaches, they don’t want very good they demand greatness on a yearly basis. Auburn will be a tough game for the Hogs regardless of Malzahn’s status though they have a wealth of talent.
Alabama is going to be loaded again. Nick Saban is still the head coach. The chances of Arkansas going to Tuscaloosa and winning this game are maybe the same as this reporter beating Donald Trump in 2020 to become the next president. In other words, it’s not happening.
Assuming Arkansas enters October 4-1 they likely exit 4-4. So they go to November needing to at least split to become bowl eligible. Here’s to thinking the Hogs end the drama early.
Arkansas will host Mississippi State in Fayetteville on Nov. 2 and the Bulldogs were built to win big last season. The prediction here is the Hogs snap a four-game skid and get their fifth win of the season.
That sets them up for Western Kentucky coming to Fayetteville. Remember earlier we picked this as one of the games the Hogs will win. This is where the Hogs get to 6-4 and assure Morris’ second team they are going to a bowl.
Following its second bye, Arkansas will then close out the season by going to LSU on Nov. 23 and then finishing up with Missouri in Little Rock. It’s very unlikely the Hogs top LSU so that drops them to 6-5. What happens in the Rock probably on Nov. 29 though it’s set for Nov. 30 at this time? If the Hogs slip say against Ole Miss or Mississippi State winning this game could become a must to get to a bowl game.
At least one media person took exception to Arkansas’ fans booing Reggie Perry on Saturday night during the basketball game. If he was offended by that one can hope he’s not at War Memorial Stadium on a Friday afternoon following Thanksgiving when Kelly Bryant is taking snaps for the Tigers. The cheers Bryant got at Razorback Stadium during his official visit are likely to be loud boos in War Memorial that day. Right or wrong, that is the ways sports works in this day and age.
So the path to Arkansas going to a bowl game is possible though they will need to avoid a lot of bumps along the way.