SEC Seemingly Pulls a Marc Curles + Other Takeaways from 2023 Arkansas Football Schedule

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photo credit: Florida Athletics / Nick Wenger

The Razorbacks are just three games into the current season, but the 2023 Arkansas football schedule was released by the SEC on Tuesday.

Head coach Sam Pittman will open and close his fourth season at home, albeit in different locations. Arkansas hosts FCS Western Carolina at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock on Sept. 2 and then welcomes permanent SEC East rival Missouri to Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville the weekend of Thanksgiving.

In between, the Razorbacks will play 10 more games — including seven against SEC foes — to round out their 12-game schedule.

Here are Best of Arkansas Sports’ key takeaways from Tuesday’s 2023 Arkansas football schedule release…

Much Easier Non-Conference Slate

After being assigned one of the toughest non-conference slates in the country this season, Sam Pittman should be able to let out a sigh of relief in 2023.

The marquee Arkansas football game outside of SEC play is another matchup with BYU, which the Razorbacks face on Oct. 15 this season, but next year’s game will be in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. It remains to be seen how the matchup in Provo, Utah, goes this year, but not playing the game at an elevation of 4,649 feet and in front of a home crowd should be a benefit. It will also be a Power Five matchup, as BYU is joining the Big 12 next year.

The Razorbacks’ annual FCS opponent gets the 2023 schedule started and even that should be an easier test. Western Carolina is 2-1 and hung with Georgia Tech for a quarter, but lost 35-17. Last year, the Catamounts went 4-7 with a 76-0 loss at Oklahoma. They are currently unranked and No. 44 in the FCS SP+ ratings, while Missouri State is a top-10 FCS team. It’s also worth noting that Western Carolina is not coached by Bobby Petrino.

Replacing Cincinnati on next year’s slate is Kent State. The Golden Flashes did win their division last season, but play in the MAC and went 7-7 with losses to Texas A&M, Iowa and Maryland by an average margin of 25 points. They are off to a 1-2 start in 2022 with losses at Washington (45-20) and Oklahoma (33-3). Even though Kent State was within 7-3 at halftime against the Sooners, it is a significant step down from a team fresh off an appearance in the College Football Playoff, like the Bearcats.

Later in the 2023 season, Arkansas will step out of conference play to host Florida International. The Panthers have lost 18 straight games against FBS opponents dating back to 2019 and are off to a 1-1 start that includes an overtime win over an FCS team under first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre, the former San Jose State and Colorado head coach.

Former Arkansas football player Butch Davis was previously FIU’s coach, but resigned after a 1-11 season last year and alleged the school cut the football program’s budget by $500,000 and didn’t allow coaches to recruit on the road. Needless to say, it’s a dramatically different situation than Liberty, which visits Fayetteville later this season and is coached by Hugh Freeze.

Cincinnati and Liberty are currently No. 23 and No. 58, respectively, in ESPN’s Football Power Index. They are essentially being replaced by Kent State and Florida International, which are currently No. 96 and No. 130, respectively, in the FPI.

Long Stretch of SEC Games

Because of the dates of Arkansas’ non-conference games, it will play seven straight SEC opponents over an eight-week span in 2023.

The Razorbacks will play LSU, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Alabama and Mississippi State before an open date on Oct. 28 and then play Florida and Auburn before the aforementioned matchup with FIU in the penultimate game of the season.

The first four of those games – against the Tigers, Aggies, Rebels and Crimson Tide – will be away from home, with the Texas A&M game being at a neutral site and the other three being true road games. It will be the first time since 1999 that Arkansas played four straight regular-season games outside of Fayetteville, but that stretch included one game in Little Rock.

You have to go all the way back to 1911 to find a stretch of four consecutive regular-season games the Razorbacks played outside of the state of Arkansas. That year, they actually played five straight, facing Texas and Southwestern University on the road, playing Missouri-Rolla and Kansas State in neutral site games in Joplin and Kansas City, Mo., respectively, and then traveling to Washington University in St. Louis. Three of those teams no longer play in Division I.

This will also will be the first time Arkansas has has played seven straight SEC opponents since 2016, when it did so over the final eight weeks of the season.

Another Trip to the Swamp for Arkansas Football

Included in that stretch of SEC games is a road trip to Florida on Nov. 4. As many fans have pointed out, it will be the second straight time Arkansas has played the Gators in Gainesville, Fla., and the fourth time in the previous five matchups.

So how in the world did that happen?

First of all, this year’s matchup is part of the predetermined 12-year rotation of cross-division foes that was announced in May of 2014 — as was Florida trip to Fayetteville in 2016.

That rotation was announced in response to the SEC adding Missouri and Texas A&M in 2013. Prior to that, rotating cross-division foes were played in home-and-home series in back-to-back years. For Arkansas and Florida, they played in 1996 and 1997, 2003 and 2004, and then again in 2008 and 2009. In each of those, the first game was in Fayetteville and the second was in Gainesville. The last game under the previous system was 2009 in Gainesville, the infamous Marc Curles game.

The other two road matchups with Florida were just bad luck on Arkansas’ part. The first was in 2013, when the SEC used a “bridge” schedule that wasn’t part of any other previous or future scheduling format. The “random” opponent Arkansas was assigned just happened to be Florida and it was on the road because South Carolina — the Razorbacks’ formerly permanent SEC East opponent — was set to come to Fayetteville that year.

Finally, during the COVID-19 pandemic year of 2020, the SEC shifted to a 10-game, all-conference schedule and randomly assigned two additional opponents to each team. As fate would have it, Arkansas had to welcome Georgia to Fayetteville and travel to Gainesville to play Florida — the top two teams in the SEC East.

It’s worth pointing out that the aforementioned rotation includes a home game against Kentucky in 2024 and road game at Vanderbilt in 2025, but those games may not happen as currently scheduled because of the looming addition of Oklahoma and Texas. The Sooners and Longhorns will join the conference no later than 2025, but potentially sooner, and a scheduling format has yet to be determined.

Only 3 SEC Games in Fayetteville

Making the seven-game stretch between non-conference matchups even tougher is the fact that only two of them will be played in Fayetteville.

Arkansas is the designated home team in the Southwest Classic in 2023, so that means it will play just three SEC games inside its home stadium and one of those is the regular-season finale against Missouri following the non-conference matchup with FIU.

Outside of hosting Mississippi State on Oct. 21 and Auburn on Nov. 11, the Razorbacks will play Texas A&M in Arlington on Sept. 30 and then travel to

This will likely be the final time that happens because the current contract between Arkansas, Texas A&M and AT&T Stadium is not expected to be renewed when it expires following the 2024 season.

Both athletics directors — Arkansas’ Hunter Yurachek and Texas A&M’s Ross Bjork — have indicated they are in favor of returning the series to campus sites. In fact, a source previously told Best of Arkansas Sports that the reason the Razorbacks didn’t get a return game in Fayetteville after the game was played in College Station in 2020 is because it would have required a two-year extension on the current contract and neither side was willing to make that concession.

Missouri Not on Black Friday…For Now

Speaking of that regular-season finale against Missouri, it is currently scheduled for the Saturday before the SEC Championship Game.

However, it will likely get moved to Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — at some point during the offseason. This year, it was announced on April 14. The Battle Line Rivalry is typically picked up by CBS, which will air it this year for the seventh time in eight meetings since the Tigers joined the SEC. The lone exception was in the COVID-19 pandemic year of 2020.

Black Friday has been a tradition for the Razorbacks, as that’s been the date of their final regular-season game for every season between 1996-2022, except for in 2009, 2010 and 2020. Before it was replaced by Missouri, Arkansas’ matchup with LSU — the Battle for the Golden Boot — was the final game of the season.

This could potentially be the final year of playing on Black Friday because the game has typically been picked up and moved by CBS and the SEC’s contract with CBS expires after next season. Beginning in 2024, ABC and ESPN will take over all of the SEC’s television rights.

Other Arkansas Football Schedule Nuggets

  • For the first time since Arkansas joined the SEC in 1992, it will play LSU in a month other than November. In fact, the Tigers will be the Razorbacks’ SEC opener.
  • On the flip side, the Arkansas-Auburn game being on Nov. 11 is a bit of an oddity because those two teams have played in November just twice before: 1996 (28-7, Auburn) and 2013 (35-17, Auburn).
  • After not playing a game there in 2022, the Razorbacks will open the 2023 season at War Memorial Stadium against Western Carolina. They also didn’t play a game in Little Rock in 2020, which marked the first time they hadn’t played in the state’s capital city since 1931.
  • The Oct. 21 matchup with Mississippi State is the Razorbacks’ latest SEC home opener since 2017, when Auburn came to Fayetteville on that date. However, that was just the seventh game of the season, compared to Mississippi State being the eighth of 2023. From that standpoint, it’s Arkansas’ latest SEC home opener since joining the conference in 1992.
  • There is only one team playing Arkansas following an open date and that is Mississippi State. While the Razorbacks will be coming off four straight games away from home, the Bulldogs will get two weeks to prepare for the matchup in Fayetteville. They also play Western Michigan the week before that week off.

2023 Arkansas Football Schedule

Sept. 2Western CarolinaLittle Rock
Sept. 9Kent StateFayetteville
Sept. 16BYUFayetteville
Sept. 23LSU*Baton Rouge, La.
Sept. 30Texas A&M*Arlington, Texas
Oct. 7Ole Miss*Oxford, Miss.
Oct. 14Alabama*Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Oct. 21Mississippi State*Fayetteville
Nov. 4Florida*Gainesville, Fla.
Nov. 11Auburn*Fayetteville
Nov. 18Florida InternationalFayetteville
Nov. 25Missouri*Fayetteville
*SEC game


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