Around this time last year, the Arkansas football team program had already felt the cold, bitter touch of the all-pervasive transfer portal.
In the month of August, two Razorbacks – Jaqualyn Crawford and Taylor Lewis – left the Razorbacks during fall camp to look for greener pastures in the portal.
At the time, Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman was all on board with a “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen” type mentality in response to those early departures. “I feel like if they don’t want to be here they need to get in the portal and I have no problem with it,” he said last August.
“We’re not for everybody. You’ve got to practice and you’ve got to go to weights…it’s hard. If you don’t like it, that’s who we are. We’re not changing…go in the portal.”
No question, fans and coaches alike knew more transfers would be leaving the program in the months ahead, given 21 had left Arkansas after the previous 2021 season. Few, though, could have predicted the gushing exodus to come.
Transfer Portal Hits Hard
In all, a bewildering 31 Razorbacks including Crawford and Lewis left the program in the latter part of 2022 and early part of 2023.
This fall camp, there’s been only one departee – AJ Brathwaite – a newcomer who quit the team in early August.
While it appears Pittman has struck gold with his 17 incoming scholarship transfer portal guys this season, there’s little question he would like to avoid the mass exodus that befell the program last winter.
To that preventative end, it appears he may be changing his mindset a little.
In today’s press conference ahead of Arkansas vs Western Carolina, Pig Trail Nation’s Otis Kirk asked Pittman if the threat of entering the transfer portal makes him play guys he might normally keep on the bench.
“I think I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it was always in the back of my mind,” Sam Pittman replied. He went on to discuss the depth at defensive line this year (potentially an eight-deep lineup vs the five-deep that Pittman has preferred in the past) before circling back to Kirk’s question: “I’d be lying to you if I told you the answer to that was ‘no.'”
“I think there’s a lot to [it] nowadays, you know you don’t get suspended a year in the portal,” he said, referring to the immediate eligibility for first-time undergraduate transfers. “So I think you just earn reps, to be perfectly honest with you.”
Pittman isn’t saying that he lets specific players on the bench influence into more playing time. He’s simply acknowledging the reality of modern big-time college football: a head coach can find a fifth of his team, in the matter of weeks, walking out the door.
Only a fool – or, perhaps, Deion Sanders – would experience such a dizzying turnstile and refuse to learn nothing from it, or not let the experience linger in the mind.
Relenting a little on certain fronts isn’t the hallmark of weakness – it’s the sign of letting experience teach you to be better. Decades ago, for instance, college football coaches felt it was necessary to toughen up their players for hot early September Saturday games by running them through sweltering drills in non-air conditioned practice facilities and outdoor practices in the middle of August.
But, over time, they learned this approach does far more hard than good and now coaches and athletic trainers alike embrace a more measured approach to training. That’s why the Arkansas football practice facility finally has air conditioning.
What Stays the Same for Arkansas Football
While change often seems like a constant, some things always stay the same.
The savage, child-like joy of beating up early-season cupcakes at War Memorial Stadium, for one.
“We have the games next to the zoo for a reason, so the remains of our opponents can be fed to the animals at the zoo,” comedian Matt Besser says in the Arkansas vs Western Carolina bit below. “And speaking of the zoo, their mascot is a catamount. That is an animal, not a piece of architecture. Yes, a catamount. What is that?”
Besser, a lifelong Razorback fan, is ready for kickoff against a borderline anonymous opponent.
“That means we’re going to take on a team that you have never heard of. Yes, there’s a South Carolina, there’s a North Carolina, Western Carolina. I looked it up on the map. There is no Western Carolina. That’s Tennessee… So already I’m suspicious of this team.”
“Secondly, I’m always suspicious of the six-syllable teams. We once lost to a team in Little Rock called Louisiana Monroe. That’s too many syllables. Even Mississippi State is only five syllables. You can’t trust these six syllable or more teams… these teams that have nothing to lose. These S&M submissive kind of teams that will come up to an SEC team and go, ‘If you pay me, I will come to your home and you can beat me, and I will be happy about it.'”
You don’t have to pay Matt Besser a dime to enjoy his standup. Check out the rest of his Razorback season opener bit here:
Make sure to follow Besser, a Little Rock Central grad, on Twitter.
Arkansas vs Western Carolina: More Insight
Here’s more insight from Pittman into defending the most potent part of Western Carolina’s offense:
“I think Western Carolina does as good a job as anybody we’ll play throwing the bubble screens, the intermediate shorter passes. Not to say they don’t do the deep ball well, I’m just saying they do a great job with that bubble, intermediate-range… they are good at the bubble screen, and we’ve gotten a lot of good-on-good reps trying to defend it.”
Here also provided a strong, steely-jawed glimpse into what fans can expect from the Hogs’ true freshmen right off the bat:
“Brad Spence comes to mind at linebacker. Alex Sanford comes to mind if you’re talking about special teams role. Spence is going to be more than that. I think he’ll play quality minutes at linebacker. Quincy Rhodes is a guy that’s going to play… think he’s really a special talent. Ian Geffrard is going to play.”
“In the back end, you mentioned Jaylon Braxton. TJ Metcalf would be one. Offensive line, probably not there. We talked about tight end. Running back, probably not yet even though we’re really pleased with Isaiah. Quarterback, Malachi [Singleton] has done a really good job. Wide receiver, yeah, you’re going to see both of them — Dazmin James and Davion Dozier. They’re in our top six wide receivers. You’ll see both of them.”
Here’s the last update before Arkansas vs Western Carolina:
For more on Arkansas football from BoAS: