SEC’s One-Off Rule Helps Arkansas Avoid Less Favorable Road Slate

Sam Pittman, Arkansas football, SEC football
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

The SEC unveiled the conference matchups for the stop-gap 2024 season Wednesday night and the general consensus is that Arkansas football ended up with a favorable draw.

Most notably, the Razorbacks avoided getting either of the SEC powers, Alabama and Georgia, on their schedule. They also maintained rivalries — both real and perceived — with LSU, Ole Miss, Texas A&M and Missouri, while renewing an old one against Texas.

Arkansas kept current SEC West foes Mississippi State and Auburn on the docket, as well, plus added Tennessee to complete the eight-game slate. Essentially, the Razorbacks replaced Alabama and Kentucky with Texas and Tennessee.

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of Arkansas football’s original opponents and who it’ll play instead:

Original 2024 ScheduleNew 2024 Schedule
vs. Alabamavs. Texas
vs. Kentuckyvs. Tennessee
vs. LSUvs. LSU
vs. Ole Missvs. Ole Miss
at Auburnat Auburn
at Mississippi Stateat Mississippi State
at Missouriat Missouri
at Texas A&M*at Texas A&M*
*game played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas

ESPN’s Bill Connelly deemed the Razorbacks as his “biggest winner” from the schedule release, describing it as “almost perfect for the Hogs.”

One of Pat Forde’s 10 takeaways for Sports Illustrated said basically the same thing about Arkansas making out well, speculating that “the Pig People will happily take the hand they were dealt.”

Other national college football analysts weighed in with similar sentiments on Twitter:

Considering what the SEC did to the Razorbacks just three years ago with the pandemic schedules, it’s a surprising, yet welcome, twist for Arkansas football fans.

However, it’s important to remember that this is just a one-year, temporary setup and won’t necessarily have any impact on future schedules. The league is still considering both keeping the eight-game format and expanding to nine games.

Here are a few other specific takeaways from the 2024 opponent reveal…

One Last Ride for Jerry’s World

Beyond the fact that playing the game at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, gives it just three true road SEC games, Arkansas football keeping Texas A&M on the schedule is good news because otherwise, it would have quietly been one of the bigger hose jobs of the 2024 reveal.

Athletics director Hunter Yurachek said earlier this month that it was no guarantee the Razorbacks would play the Aggies that season. If they didn’t, the two schools’ contract with the Cowboys would have ended following the 2023 matchup.

In that scenario, the next time they played would be in College Station, which would have been the second time Texas A&M got out of playing the neutral site game as the designated “home” team. It also happened in 2020.

Fortunately for the Razorbacks, they don’t have to worry about that. The Aggies will “host” them at AT&T Stadium in 2024 before the game returns to campus sites in future seasons.

Arkansas joins Florida and Texas as the only SEC teams with three true road conference games in 2024 because of that scheduling quirk.

Manageable Road Slate for Arkansas Football

It’s hard to know what teams will look like in 2024 when the 2023 season is still more than two months away, but at least on paper and considering recent results, the three true road games for Arkansas football are at least manageable.

Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri went a combined 20-18 overall and 9-15 in SEC play last season.

The best of those teams was actually Mississippi State, which won nine games and finished ranked in the top 20. However, head coach Mike Leach tragically passed away before the bowl game and the Bulldogs have since hired first-time head coach Zach Arnett. The jury is still out on whether or not he can succeed at a school that has traditionally been hard to win at.

Since winning back-to-back SEC East titles soon after joining the league, Missouri has been mostly mediocre — but the Razorbacks haven’t been able to get over the hump and win in Columbia.

Auburn didn’t even make a bowl game last year, but it did hire a proven winner in Hugh Freeze who could get things turned around by the next time Arkansas visits the Plains.

All three games will be tough and the Razorbacks could still end up being underdogs in any or all of them, but it’s at least more manageable than, say, trips to Tuscaloosa or Athens.

The SEC also couldn’t ship Arkansas to Gainesville like it has the last two times it created temporary schedules. One of the league’s guidelines when creating the 2024 slates was not to force a team to make the same trip in back-to-back years, and Arkansas is already headed to Gainesville this season.

Marquee Home Games for Arkansas Football

The aspect of Arkansas football’s 2024 schedule that likely has Hunter Yurachek and the athletic department most excited is the fact that the biggest games of the year are all at home.

Texas, Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU promise to draw large crowds and generate a lot of buzz around Fayetteville, especially if the Razorbacks are good.

The headliner of that group is easily Texas. The Longhorns will once again be a conference rival for Arkansas, bringing back memories of their showdowns in the old Southwest Conference. It’s a rivalry that many current fans are too young to have experienced, but they seemed to fully embrace it a couple years ago when they stormed the field following Arkansas’ dominant 40-21 win over Texas.

The biggest rival to those fans is likely LSU. Whether or not it’s on Thanksgiving weekend, fans will be fired up when the Tigers come to town. Even when one team is clearly better than the other, it’s typically a close game, as well.

Ole Miss is probably an underrated rival for the Razorbacks. Not only are the Rebels close in proximity, leading to many matchups over the year, but there have been some absolutely crazy moments between the two teams. It would have been a travesty for all of college football if this game wasn’t played.

Finally, Tennessee should be a big draw because it appears to be trending back toward national relevancy. It’s also worth noting that the Volunteers used to be a permanent cross-division opponent for Arkansas and they’ve also played some memorable games — even if the Razorbacks came up on the wrong side more times than not.


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