Arkansas Will Notch a Program First When Taking Field vs Liberty

Great Ready for Double Dose of Non-Conference Rarity

Khari Johnson, Arkansas football, Arkansas vs Liberty
photo credit: Nick Wenger

What used to be a relatively rare occurrence will happen for the second time this season Saturday afternoon, when Arkansas welcomes No. 23 Liberty to Fayetteville.

The Razorbacks had played just three regular-season games against AP-ranked teams outside of the SEC in the previous 13 seasons before they hosted No. 23 Cincinnati for a top-25 matchup in the opener. The Flames will make it twice that’s happened in 2022 when they kick off inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium at 3 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.

It very nearly could have been three such games, but BYU fell out of the top 25 the week before hosting Arkansas last month.

“It just seems to me like we’ve had some difficult schedules, but, at the same time, we embrace those things,” head coach Sam Pittman said. “Like I say, the schedule is just the next game. If you look at it in totality, then sometimes you can go, ‘Wow!’ But if you just look at it game by game, it doesn’t look quite so impressive.”

Making Arkansas Football History

Making the two games against Cincinnati and Liberty even more unusual is the fact that neither opponent hails from a Power Five conference. Indeed, this is the first time the Arkansas football program has played two ranked non-Power Five opponents in the same season since the AP poll for Division I began in 1936.

Just playing one such opponent in a season is rare enough.

The last time was 2008*, when Arkansas played No. 19 Tulsa (then a member of C-USA), but before that you have to go all the way back to the World War II era to find an example of the Razorbacks playing a ranked non-conference team outside of a major conference — not including a pair of matchups with Miami (Fla.) when the Hurricanes were an independent.

From 1938-45, Arkansas went on the road and lost to No. 6 Santa Clara (1938), No. 17 Fordham (1940) and three ranked Tulsa teams (1942, 1943 and 1945).

Luckily for the Razorbacks, they’ve had more success in recent years, handing Tulsa (and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn) its first loss in 2008 by a score of 30-23 and then snapping Cincinnati’s 20-game regular-season winning streak by winning 31-24 to open this season.

Overall, Arkansas has a 9-21 record in regular-season non-conference games against ranked opponents. Other notable wins including the Powder River Pass that beat No. 5 Ole Miss in 1954, a takedown of No. 5 USC in 1974, an upset win at No. 6 Texas in 2003, a double-overtime win at TCU in 2016 and last year’s beatdown of No. 15 Texas that ended with fans storming the field.

*In 2008, Arkansas played two ranked non-conference teams for the first time in program history (it also played at No. 7 Texas). This season is the second time that has happened.

How to Watch Arkansas vs Liberty

Date: Saturday, Nov. 5

Location: Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)

Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 3 p.m. CT (SEC Network)

Announcers: Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play), Aaron Murray (analyst), Alyssa Lang (sideline reporter)

Liberty’s Rankings: No. 23 (AP) | No. 23 (Coaches) | No. 72 (SP+) | No. 66 (FPI)

Arkansas’ Rankings: RV (AP) | RV (Coaches) | No. 27 (SP+) | No. 38 (FPI)

Arkansas vs Auburn Predictions

Here are several picks — including from our own managing editor, Andrew Hutchinson — and computer projections for the Arkansas vs Liberty matchup…

Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (preseason): Arkansas, 41-13 (click here to read Hutch’s full preseason predictions)

Outside of the FCS matchup earlier in the season, this is probably Arkansas’ easiest game on the schedule. That said, the Flames are still coached by Hugh Freeze and have Charlie Brewer, who has more than 10,000 career passing yards at the Power Five level, at quarterback. That could make this a competitive game, but I think the Razorbacks will still be riding high from their win over Auburn and they cruise to another easy win.

Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (updated): Arkansas, 42-20

I was fully prepared to pick a closer score, but all of the uncertainty the Flames have at quarterback — Charlie Brewer still dealing with his hand injury, Johnathan Bennett dealing with the flu and Kaidon Salter out for the year — has me thinking the Razorbacks’ defense will play better on Saturday than their indicate.

Regardless, Arkansas is rolling offensively and I don’t think Liberty can slow down KJ Jefferson (through the air or on the ground) or Rocket Sanders. The Flames’ rush defense numbers look impressive on paper, but they haven’t seen anything like what they’ll see from the Razorbacks’ offensive line. I see this as a comfortable win.

Trey Biddy, HawgSports: Arkansas, 42-28 (click here for HawgSports’ entire staff picks)

Mason Choate, HawgBeat: Arkansas, 48-32 (click here for HawgBeat’s entire staff picks)

Christina Long, Southwest Times Record: Arkansas, 38-28 (click here)

Chris Hummer, 247Sports: Arkansas, 45-35 (click here)

Yahoo! Sports: Arkansas, 38-24 (click here)

Bleacher Report: Arkansas, 36-24 (click here)

Vegas (using spread and O/U): Arkansas, 38-23.5

ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 75.5% chance to win (down 8.6 percentage points from preseason projection)

Bill Connelly’s SP+: Arkansas has a 78% chance to win, favored by 13.2 (projected score: 36-23)

Sagarin: Arkansas has a 81% chance to win, favored by 13.75 (projected score: 37.0-23.3)

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