FAYETTEVILLE — It’s hard to ignore the similarities between the state of the Arkansas football program and its counterpart at South Carolina.
Not only did the two schools join the SEC together in 1992 and meet annually as permanent cross-over rivals through the 2013 season, but their current situations also closely mirror each other — albeit one year apart.
Both programs are led by head coaches who grew up within a couple hours of the campus where they currently work — Arkansas’ Sam Pittman in Grove, Okla., and South Carolina’s Shane Beamer in Charleston, S.C. — and have have a genuine love for the school.
“I know from our time together in Athens how highly he spoke of his time there in Fayetteville,” Beamer said. “I’m a guy that loved and loves South Carolina. I was out-spoken about that.”
They both inherited teams coming off two-win seasons and quickly turned things around, far exceeding expectations in Year 1 despite never being an offensive or defensive coordinator. (Beamer has been a special teams coordinator.)
Pittman led the Razorbacks, who had lost 19 consecutive SEC games, to a 3-7 record against a brutal 10-game, SEC-only slate in the weird COVID year that was 2020. The next offseason, Beamer took over at South Carolina and led the Gamecocks to a bowl game with a 7-6 record.
“In no way did I feel like what we had done at Arkansas helped him get that job,” Pittman said. “But I do think it was easier for schools to start hiring, for universities to start hiring guys with non-coordinator titles as far as offense or defense.”
It remains to be seen if South Carolina will make the same second-year jump that Arkansas did under Pittman, winning eight regular-season games and the Outback Bowl, but it’s clear the two coaches on opposite sidelines Saturday have a mutual respect for each other.
After all, Pittman and Beamer have worked together before. Both were were part of Kirby Smart’s first staff at Georgia and they spent two years on the same staff, with Pittman coaching the offensive line and Beamer coaching the tight ends — two positions that work closely together in blocking schemes — before Beamer left to take a job at Oklahoma.
While the demands of the job prevented them from hanging out together outside of the office, they lived in the same subdivision and were around each other quite a bit.
“Obviously we worked together in the same meetings for 14 hours a day, so we knew each other well,” Pittman said. “He has a wonderful family, beautiful family. He’d always go on bike rides and walks through the neighborhood and stop in and say hello. He’s just a really good man, really good coach.”
The fact that Beamer and Pittman’s similar paths crossed in Georgia is just one of several notable connections that make this matchup more interesting.
Former Teammates Meet as Foes
The mass exodus from Oklahoma that followed Lincoln Riley’s shocking departure to take the USC job benefited both the South Carolina and Arkansas football programs.
Needing help at wide receiver to replace Treylon Burks, the Razorbacks were able to nab former five-star recruit Jadon Haselwood. The Gamecocks landed former five-star recruit and one-time Heisman Trophy frontrunner Spencer Rattler to solidify their quarterback situation, plus brought in tight end Austin Stogner.
All three of those players were part of the Sooners’ 2019 signing class and spent three years together in Norman, Okla. Considering their connection, Haselwood probably knows Rattler pretty well, but he downplayed any potential impact he could have on the game plan.
“I doubt (defensive coordinator Barry Odom) needs me,” Haselwood said. “He’s a mastermind, so he’s gonna do what he’s gotta do and I’m gonna do my job.”
Beamer Knows Arkansas WRs Well
One of Haselwood’s coaches with the Sooners was actually Shane Beamer, as he was hired as the tight ends coach and assistant head coach at Oklahoma in 2018.
Beamer said he remembered recruiting Haselwood, a Georgia native, while with the Bulldogs and he was glad to get to coach him with the Sooners. He wasn’t surprised by his impressive touchdown catch against Cincinnati last week.
“Watching the tape reminded me of the Jadon Haselwood that I know,” Beamer said. “I think a lot of him. When I say he’s got that dog mentality in him, that is a compliment.”
Even though he wasn’t his position coach at Oklahoma, Haselwood said he had a lot of respect for Beamer because of how he handled his departure.
“When he left he actually stayed for the bowl game, and he was there even though he had got that head coach job, he stayed,” Haselwood said. “After the season was over, that’s when he shifted over and went. He actually kept it real with his players that was there and I kind of respected that.”
Interestingly, Haselwood isn’t the only Arkansas receiver Beamer previously coached. He was also on staff at Georgia when Matt Landers began his collegiate career in 2017.
Former Assistant Coaches at Each School
Arkansas football fans probably have fond memories of former assistant Justin Stepp. Even though he was part of Chad Morris’ staff, he helped the Razorbacks bring in a lot of talented players, such as Treylon Burks, Trey Knox, Ketron Jackson Jr. and Rocket Sanders.
Stepp was actually the lone holdover from Morris’ staff on Pittman’s first staff, but stayed only the one year before returning to his home state and taking the same job at South Carolina.
The Razorbacks also have a former South Carolina coach on their staff, as they brought in Deke Adams to coach the defensive line this year. He coached the Gamecocks from 2013-15.
South Carolina Flip to Start for Arkansas Football
It isn’t official yet, but the Razorbacks will likely be without starting nickel Myles Slusher. Assuming he’s out, sophomore Jayden Johnson is expected to start in his place.
That is significant because Johnson, who started a handful of games as a true freshman last year, was actually committed to South Carolina for about five months. He flipped to Arkansas in November of his senior season.
Rattler’s Family Connection to Arkansas
Even though he was a five-star recruit and top dual-threat quarterback in the 2019 class, there is a segment of the Arkansas fanbase that believes Spencer Rattler would have played for the Razorbacks had they simply recruited him.
That line of thinking stems from this tweet by Jason Kersey — formerly of The Athletic — on Dec. 6, 2018:
No one knows for sure if Rattler actually would have considered Arkansas, but it seems unlikely considering he committed to Oklahoma in the summer of 2017 — between his sophomore and junior seasons — and could pick pretty much any college he wanted. Why would he have picked the Razorbacks, who had just blown back-to-back massive leads to end the 2016 season? Even if he did, would have have stuck with the commitment through a 4-8 season in 2017, coaching change and 2-10 season in 2018? Unlikely.
Also, it’s hard to blame Bret Bielema or Chad Morris because how were they supposed to know of the alleged Arkansas connection if he or his family never reached out?
How to Watch Arkansas vs South Carolina
Date: Saturday, Sept. 10
Location: Reynolds Razorback Stadium (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Kickoff Time and TV Schedule: 11 a.m. CT (ESPN)
TV Announcers: Bob Wischusen (play-by-play), Dan Orlovsky (analyst), Kris Budden (sideline reporter)
South Carolina’s Rankings: RV (AP) | RV (Coaches) | No. 32 (SP+) | No. 44 (FPI)
Arkansas’ Rankings: No. 16 (AP) | No. 17 (Coaches) | No. 11 (SP+) | No. 26 (FPI)
Odds/Betting Line: Arkansas, -8.5 | O/U 54.5 (FanDuel)
Know the Foe – South Carolina Football
Check out our conversation with Collyn Taylor of Gamecock Central in the On3 network:
Arkansas vs South Carolina Predictions, Projections
Here are several picks — including from our own managing editor, Andrew Hutchinson — and computer projections for the Arkansas vs South Carolina matchup…
Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (preseason): Arkansas, 38-35 (click here to read Hutch’s full preseason predictions)
The Arkansas football schedule is littered with “trap games” that could prove more difficult than some fans expect and none scare me quite as much as the Week 2 matchup against South Carolina. Coming off what I believe will be a convincing win over Cincinnati, Arkansas can’t lose focus the following week because Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks come to town. After going 7-6 in its first season under Shane Beamer, a career position coach, South Carolina is giving me very similar Sam Pittman/2021 Arkansas vibes. I could see this game going either way, but with this being the Gamecocks’ first real test after opening against Georgia State and it being in Fayetteville, I give the Razorbacks a slight edge.
Andrew Hutchinson, BoAS (updated): Arkansas, 31-28
Even though Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher are likely out, I think the defense steps up to the challenge and slows down Spencer Rattler and the South Carolina offense just enough to give KJ Jefferson a chance at the end. That’s typically all he needs, as he’s been really good in pressure situations throughout his career. I see Arkansas winning this one on a late score, but not covering the 8.5-point spread.
John Whittle, The Big Spur (South Carolina 247Sports): Arkansas, 28-23 (click here for their full staff predictions)
Josh Pate, 247Sports: Arkansas favored by 10.5 (according to the “Pate State Model”)
Aaron Torres, Fox Sports Radio: Arkansas covers the 8.5-point spread
Stewart Mandel, The Athletic: Arkansas 35, South Carolina 21 (click here for his explanation)
Vegas (using spread and O/U): Arkansas, 31.5-23
ESPN FPI: Arkansas has a 74.0% chance to win (+1.8 percentage points since the preseason)
Bill Connelly’s SP+: Arkansas has a 69% chance to win, favored by 8.5 (projected score: 30-21)
Sagarin: Arkansas has a 71% chance to win, favored by 8.44 (projected score: 29.3-20.8)
Razorback Starters Compared to South Carolina Football
This side-by-side comparison of the starting lineups for Arkansas and South Carolina uses the depth charts provided by both schools. It doesn’t account for injuries not yet reflected in the depth chart, such as those to Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher for the Razorbacks.
|Arkansas||247Sports Composite||South Carolina||247Sports Composite|
|QB KJ Jefferson||.8960 4*||QB Spencer Rattler||.9942 5*|
|RB Rocket Sanders||.9031 4*||RB MarShawn Lloyd||.9778 4*|
|TE Trey Knox||.9129 4*||TE Austin Stogner||.9467 4*|
|WR Warren Thompson||.9361 4*||WR Jalen Brooks||n/a 0*|
|WR Jadon Haselwood||.9967 5*||TE Jaheim Bell||.8884 3*|
|WR Matt Landers||.8570 3*||WR Xavier Legette||.8685 3*|
|LT Luke Jones||.8776 3*||LT Jaylen Nichols||.8540 3*|
|LG Brady Latham||.8519 3*||LG Vershon Lee||.8647 3*|
|C Ricky Stromberg||.8810 3*||C Eric Douglas||.8684 3*|
|RG Beaux Limmer||.8701 3*||RG Jovaughn Gwyn||.8937 4*|
|RT Dalton Wagner||.8613 3*||RT Dylan Wonnum||.9385 4*|
|DE Zach Williams||.8888 3*||DE Jordan Burch||.9954 5*|
|DT Eric Gregory||.8824 3*||DT Zacch Pickens||.9946 5*|
|DT Isaiah Nichols||.8601 3*||DT Alex Huntley||.9181 4*|
|DE Jashaud Stewart||.8802 3*||OLB Jordan Strachan||.7742 2*|
|WLB Bumper Pool||.8947 4*||WLB Brad Johnson||.8929 4*|
|MLB Drew Sanders||.9896 5*||MLB Mohamed Kaba||.9126 4*|
|NB Myles Slusher||.9281 4*||NB Cam Smith||.9366 4*|
|CB Dwight McGlothern||.9024 4*||CB Marcella Dial||.8399 3*|
|S Jalen Catalon||.9001 4*||S R.J. Roderick||.8438 3*|
|S Simeon Blair||n/a 0*||S Devonni Reed||.8180 3*|
|CB Hudson Clark||n/a 0*||CB Darius Rush||.8506 3*|
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