All 3 Too-Early Bowl Projections Involve Arkansas Coaching Ties But One Takes Cake for Sizzle Factor

Dan Enos, Mike Norvell, Bret Bielema, Arkansas football, Illinois football
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics / FSU Athletics

With the opener still more than 100 days away, it’s far too early to be talking about bowl games, but that hasn’t stopped a few outlets from releasing their projections for Arkansas football and others for the upcoming college football season.

Perhaps the main takeaway should be the fact that the Razorbacks have reached a point where they’re widely expected to qualify for a bowl at the bare minimum. However, as pointless as they may appear, it’s hard to ignore the potential matchups already being laid out as postseason possibilities.

Three projections that have come out so far this month — from CFB News, 247Sports and Action Network — have interesting storylines that would surely have Arkansas fans buzzing come December…

Action Network: Music City Bowl

Arkansas vs. Illinois

We’ll start with the juiciest of the three matchups, as Action Network’s Brett McMurphy projects the matchup that some were hoping for last season — Arkansas vs Illinois in the Music City Bowl.

This would of course match the Razorbacks with their former coach — and Sam Pittman with his former boss — because the Illini are led by Bret Bielema.

After three years working in the NFL, Bielema returned to the college game as Illinois’ head coach in 2021 and has gone 13-12 overall and 9-9 in Big Ten play through his first two seasons in the position.

Last year, the Illini were one of the biggest surprises in college football, getting off to a 7-1 start, cracking the top 25 and challenging for the Big Ten West title. They lost four of their final five games, though, including to Mississippi State in the ReliaQuest Bowl.

Their five losses were by an average of 5.8 points, though, including a tough two-point loss to College Football Playoff participant Michigan.

However, this matchup would be more than just Bielema vs Arkansas.

Both of Illinois’ coordinators have ties to the Razorbacks. Most notably, offensive coordinator Barry Lunney Jr. is a Fort Smith native who played and coached at Arkansas. New defensive coordinator Aaron Henry began his coaching career at Arkansas under Bielema, serving as a graduate assistant from 2014-15.

The Illini also have a few former Arkansas players on their support staff. Tank Wright was hired as their head strength and conditioning coach this offseason, while Grant Morgan joined the staff as a graduate assistant and Kevin Richardson II is an analyst.

CFB News: Music City Bowl

Arkansas vs. Maryland

Much like Action Network, College Football News has the Razorbacks heading to Nashville for the Music City Bowl — which it hasn’t played in since 2002 — but it has them facing a different Big Ten foe.

The foe here is one offensive coordinator Dan Enos well knows, as Maryland is where he coached the last two seasons before returning to Fayetteville.

The Terrapins went 15-11 during Enos’ time leading the offense, including two bowl wins — the program’s first in more than a decade.

That would obviously be the most notable storyline in that hypothetical matchup, but it would also give defensive tackle Anthony “Tank” Booker Jr. an opportunity to face his former team.

Joining the team as a transfer this summer, Booker spent the last four years at Maryland and was part of the defensive line rotation the last three. The Razorbacks added offensive lineman Tommy Varhall via the transfer portal from Maryland, as well, but he is a walk-on and likely won’t play much, if at all, this year.

247Sports: Gator Bowl

Arkansas vs. Florida State

One of three significant Florida bowl games affiliated with the SEC, the Gator Bowl hasn’t invited the Arkansas football program to its game since 1981, when the Razorbacks lost to North Carolina 31-27. That drought will end in 2023, according to 247Sports’ Brad Crawford.

If Crawford’s projections hold true, it’d be a quasi-road game for Arkansas because Florida State is just 2.5 hours away from Jacksonville.

It would also be another matchup between a new Arkansas football assistant and his former team, as co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson spent the last three seasons in a similar role with the Seminoles.

Another connection worth noting in this hypothetical bowl game is Florida State left tackle Robert Scott Jr., who has been a starter for the Seminoles the last three years. He is from Conway and chose Florida State over Arkansas.

The Seminoles are coached by Mike Norvell, who played wide receiver at Central Arkansas and was rumored to be a candidate for Arkansas’ next head coach the last two times the job was open.


More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…

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