The sports columnist in the biggest Arkansas state newspaper recently complained about the afternoon start time for Arkansas’ football opener against Rice at 1 p.m. on September. 4.
First, there’s no guarantee it’s going to be scorching hot like he’s thinking. Secondly, I’d submit the nearly 80,000 rabid Hogs fans in attendance won’t care.
That day will be a celebration – a celebration of football and normalcy.
If the game is a sellout, it will be a first time in a while. Hogs fans have endured the end of a mediocre Bret Bielema Era and then two years of the worst football on The Hill in history with two catastrophic years under Chad Morris.
Arkansas football’s last great year came in 2011 when Arkansas finished 11-2 and beat Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. This is getting to be a particularly long drought.
However, last year hope arrived at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in the form of new Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman.
The former career offensive line coach has been a breath of fresh air and in 2021 Arkansas football fans were never so happy to win three games.
Playing a tough all-SEC schedule during a pandemic season, the Hogs competed and played very well at times. It was easy to see the buy-in the players had with Sam Pittman as the “Turn that damn jukebox on” era was born, as the below clip so clearly shows.
Besides the highway robbery that SEC officials committed against Arkansas at the end of the Auburn game, only shame about last season was very few fans were there to see it. In the throes of the pandemic, the capacity at SEC stadiums was limited.
There isn’t much doubt that home Hog wins such as Tennessee and Ole Miss would have been highly attended as the glimmer of progress grew.
Then came the official word recently that when the Owls come calling the first week, the stadium and all of the pregame festivities that come with game day will be wide open.
The only better news for Hogs fans would be the commitment of a five-star recruit.
The timing couldn’t be better.
While a full stadium might have helped last season, Sam Pittman and Co. still had a lot of work to do to get on the same page. They still do, but Year 2 should be filled with more highlights and maybe even a bowl game.
If Arkansas can take care of Rice, then the Arkansas vs Texas game a week later at 6 p.m. could be one of the best atmospheres Hogs fans have seen in decades.
The Longhorns, under first-year coach Steve Sarkisian, will be overrated in the polls, as usual. So the Arkansas vs Texas game will be one of the highlights of the schedule that week. The ESPN evening time slot will draw even more attention.
A packed crowd of rabid Hogs fans, many of whom hadn’t been in the stadium in a few years, will make the atmosphere especially raucous.
That game will be the beginning of the end for high hopes for Sarkisian and aid Pittman’s run for the Hogs first bowl game since the Belk Bowl loss to Virginia Tech in 2016.
The three home SEC opponents are Auburn (Oct. 16), Mississippi State (Nov. 6) and Missouri (Nov. 26). All of those games appear winnable and will be needed to get to the six-win plateau that is required to go bowling. The bad news is the Hogs have to play at Alabama and LSU in consecutive weeks in November.
Full capacity at those stadiums, or any SEC stadium, won’t help a young Arkansas team. Games at Ole Miss and Georgia will not be easy, either. Even with a better team, Arkansas may go winless on the road in the SEC.
That makes the home field advantage all that more important as Pittman tries to continue to shore up the foundation to transform Arkansas football into a winning program.
While hopes are high Arkansas can make bigger strides in 2021, there are question marks such as first-year starting quarterback K.J. Jefferson, depth at the linebacker and running back positions and a schedule that some pundits rate as the most difficult in the country.
Every year there’s plenty of question marks. But this year, the party gets to go on despite them.
Come September, with no pandemic restrictions a thing of the past, Reynolds Razorback Stadium’s atmosphere will be lit and Arkansas could be 3-0 in those home SEC games.
That will be a good feeling in more ways than one for the Hogs faithful.
More on the 2021 Arkansas football season here: