It’s Not National Media That Disrespects Arkansas. It’s the Fans.

Arkansas football
photo credit: Craven Whitlow

Queue the homers, boys. The national media’s snubbing of Arkansas has already begun!

Can’t you hear them now? From Alma to Yellville, from Sulphur Springs to Eudora, the cries of Razorbacks faithful, the guttural howls, are ringing! Can you not hear them, striking up the old familiar: the national media never respects Arkansas. They always underestimate the Hogs. 

You have to hand it to their fans, anyway. They sure do love, and love to hate, their favorite team. Nothing else in the Natural State truly matters, sports wise, except the Razorbacks. Although, for a state that stakes its well-being for six months a year to the results of 12 fall Saturdays, people don’t often want to learn much new about their favorite team. Unless it’s something negative – then they’ll hop on the train of indignation.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the realists will win out for once. Maybe they’ll see that USA Today’s projection of Arkansas finishing with a 4-8 season isn’t disrespectful, but instead an assessment based on the Hogs’ roster and schedule contrasted against their opponents’. 

Is that giving too much credit?

The Difference Between a Homer and an Optimist

Trawl the darkest spaces of the internet and you will see this is not a new phenomenon. Every coach who comes to Arkansas will be a success, according to Homer. And, yes, he is a homer, not an optimist. Optimists have reasons for their beliefs. Homers are the guy who claims the 2020 election was rigged because they watched “2000 Mules.” This is Arkansas, after all, so, yeah, that guy almost definitely watched that fictional motion picture.

The local media who predict Arkansas football records are optimists. Good for them. It’s fantasy land, but, hey, it isn’t so egregious as to actually do damage. They overvalue Arkansas players, somehow legitimately convincing themselves that a guy who had 27 stops, 2 1/2 for-loss, at Podunk State last year is going to step into a No. 1 DT job in the SEC, or whatever. 

Think about the praise heaped on Andrew Armstrong and Isaac TeSlaa upon their arrival, the pair of former Division II players. They were Arkansas’ two top wide receivers basically all year as the Razorbacks finished with an average of 187.5 yards per game through the air, the worst mark since Brandon Allen’s freshman season (the same B.A., by the way, who has put together the third-longest NFL career of a former Arkansas quarterback behind only Joe Ferguson and Lamar McHan).

Even the quartet of Nick Starkel, Ben Hicks, Jack Lindsey and John Stephen Jones put up more. And that’s the worst set of quarterbacks I’ve ever seen at Arkansas.

Listen to ‘em talk, though, and Taylen Green is going to make a marked difference to KJ Jefferson, the school’s most productive quarterback in history, apparently. Green was just tapping into his potential, they tell me. After three years. At Boise State. In the Mountain West. At any rate, fans in the Bible Belt are going to absolutely love him.

Never mind his top two receivers are still Armstrong and TeSlaa and literally everyone else on the roster last year who couldn’t take a job from those two. Arkansas is also without its most talented running back *and* its leading rusher from last year. 

The optimism from the assorted types who always carry it in the summertime is bolstered this year by Petrino’s arrival. They’re assuming he can fix an Arkansas offense that was downright inept last year while bringing out the best from receivers like Jordan Anthony below.

He can, if “fixing” qualifies as not be bottom three in the SEC and out of the bottom 30 in FBS. Any thinking he carries a magic wand, though, is asinine. Texas A&M, with all their five-star talent, had the 50th-ranked offense in the country last year. If Arkansas had the 50th, for sure, it’s a step forward, but not exactly program-saving.

The top four linebackers off the 2023 squad? Gone, replaced by some young talent that could turn into ‘big-time’ talent, even if those aforementioned Razorbacks beat writers, er, content producers, call every single person Arkansas has contact with “big-time.” The best kicker in school history is out and the punter hit the transfer portal, too.

Arkansas Football Predictions

Forget this 7 or 8-win talk. Even the most optimistic of projections should have Arkansas at 5-7. And granted, most beat folks are waiting and watching. A majority of predictions on the Hogs’ record won’t come until late summer. The USA Today 4-8 prediction, which is likely the most realistic one you will encounter, would almost certainly results in Sam Pittman losing his head-coaching job.

Bobby Petrino is almost certainly, in the opinion of this writer and the greater masses, his successor and things will start over.

Or do they? The sport of college football has so drastically changed in the last three years alone that the guys whose peak period was the mid-2010s are working feverishly to catch up. And football is such a different game than basketball, too, a sport in which a coach’s arrival can instantly turn the team into a Top-25 team. Football has too many roster spots for that.

But, by golly, the fresh start is now. Arkansas football fans will be itching to get things going in August and a 60-something-point win over UAPB will pull in the cautious. Real belief that Arkansas can win at Oklahoma State the next week will catch wind and spread quickly. A big upset is possible, but Arkansas has almost a zero percent chance to be favored in that football game. The Razorbacks will probably lose, the fans will begin their revolt, unjustifiably believing a win was likely.

Instead, losses will follow and they will follow in bunches. Except for Vanderbilt and maybe Mississippi State, the entire SEC is better than Arkansas. Four teams on the schedule are top-10 teams. Six are top-25. Even without Georgia and Alabama, the SEC is a gauntlet that has proven too much for Arkansas time and again. 

And instead of embracing a reasonable outlook on just what Arkansas football truly is, a good number of folks will chalk up the 4-8 season to a disappointment, if not an outright embarrassment. Then you know whose fault it will be? The media’s!

‘Cause they got our hopes up!

Please. Own your own emotions and disappointments. Stop blaming others when the issue is how you don’t want to acknowledge certain likely problems with your own football squad.

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