In late February, the then No. 9 Arkansas baseball team knocked out No. 8 Texas in a 4-0 wipeout in the middle of a three-game, season-opening sweep that helped put the nation on the notice that these Hogs were going to be a handful this season.
Afterward, Razorback shortstop Jalen Battles, a San Antonio native, flashed a “horns down” gesture to the cameras as a special message for Longhorns fans.
Expect a similar kind of heat, times about 1,000, in the Arkansas vs Texas football game on September 11.
That, too, will be the Hogs’ second game of the season.
For Arkansas football, the game that will air on ESPN at 6pm in national primetime will be a chance to show the world that the foundation Sam Pittman has built in a year and a half is as steady as they come.
How the Hogs perform will show fans the status of a few critical aspects of the Arkansas football program:
- How ready Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is to take the reins
- How much the offensive line has improved
- If the Arkansas defense will be as improved as at least one national columnist thinks it will be
Meanwhile, for Texas football, it’s a major road test against an historic rival in only the second game under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, the former Alabama offensive coordinator.
The Longhorns players won’t be totally prepared for the level of animosity waiting for them in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“Arkansas fans hate — flat out hate — Texas more than Texas A&M fans do,” said Geoff Ketchum, publisher of the Texas sports outlet Orangebloods.com.
“It’s not a rivalry that is alive, but those people still hate Texas in a way that is not healthy. And I think it will come alive in that game.”
He added: “I don’t think Texas feels the same way. This is historically a very Arkansas thing.”
“Texas fans in the old days would tell stories about not being sold gas when they’d drive [through Arkansas]: “You better load up and fill your tank up when you leave Texarkana, the Texas side of it, because nobody will sell you gas on the Arkansas side.”
Laughable Take on Arkansas vs Texas from Dallas Morning News
As ready to rock and roll as the Arkansas football team will be to play its most hated historic rival, it’s hard to imagine that Texas will simply walk into Fayetteville and rout the Hogs.
That’s something Texas hasn’t done since 1973, when it beat Arkansas in Fayetteville 34-6.
At least one Dallas Morning News sportswriter thinks otherwise.
Stephen Wagner doesn’t think the Razorbacks and the home crowd will cause much trouble for Sarkisian’s bunch.
“Most Longhorn fans aren’t old enough to remember the famed Southwest Conference rivalry or truly understand why students chant certain expletives during the chorus of the fight song,” he wrote. “But a rivalry once strong enough to kindle the strongest animosities will be reborn the second weekend of September.”
And then this laugher: “Playing Arkansas should be a walk in the park for Sarkisian, who scored 100 combined points against them in 2019 and 2020 as Alabama’s play caller.”
Slow down there, young Padawan.
Let’s look at recent history: At Alabama, Sarkisian also had one of the nation’s best offensive lines, best quarterbacks and an incredible array of skilled, talented weapons including a Heisman Trophy winner.
Those won’t immediately transfer over to Texas, and nor will the ability to hang 50+ points on pretty much anybody.
Geoff Ketchum of Orangebloods gives Arkansas football far more credit.
Some of that is because of the hostile Arkansas football home crowd, and some of that is because Texas has a much tougher Week 1 opponent (Louisiana) than Arkansas (Rice.)
The Hogs also get a weak opponent in Week 3 in Georgia Southern.
“So Arkansas has tune up game, big game, take a break game,” Ketchum said.
That means Sam Pittman can hold more plays close to vest in the season opener, because he can afford to, while Texas will need to show more of its plays to beat Louisiana.
The Arkansas football team “will circle Texas in a way now that is just different than the way Texas will circle Arkansas,” Ketchum added in the Arkansas vs Texas video preview below:
CBS Ranks Sam Pittman Last Among Coaches in the SEC West
Last year, CBS placed Sam Pittman dead last in its annual ranking of Division I head coaches.
To many around the nation, Pittman turning Arkansas football around enough to make it a legit SEC contender seemed as likely as walking away from a night of crypto casino binging as a millionaire.
While Pittman still has a ways to go on that front, he’s a lot closer after making Arkansas competitive in its 3-7 season in 2020.
That partial turnaround was enough to bump Pittman up 15 spots in the latest CBS ranking.
“Yessir, Pittman is one of our highest climbers this season,” CBS’ Tom Fornelli wrote.
“He finished last in our rankings last season but surprised many people by winning three SEC games in his first season. Those three conference wins were three more than Chad Morris had in his two seasons and the most the Razorbacks had in a single season since going 3-5 in 2016.”
But Sam Pittman is still dead last among the SEC West coaches despite beating Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach last year.
We all know Nick Saban deserves to be No. 1, but here is the rankings and reasonings for the other SEC West coaches:
No. 33 Mike Leach (Mississippi State): “There might not be a more polarizing coach in these rankings. The reasons people have for where they rank Leach covers everything from success on the field compared to expectations to his personality off the field.”
“Some love him and probably overrate him a bit because of that affinity, while others are put off by him and judge him too harshly because of it… I wouldn’t be shocked at all to see Leach back in the top 25 next season or perhaps outside the top 40. He’s the cryptocurrency of coaches when it comes to his value.”
No. 30 Lane Kiffin (Ole Miss): “I thought Kiffin would be higher and was surprised to see that I’m on the higher end of our voting pool…. You know they’re going to try to score a lot of points, and they’re probably going to allow a lot of points in the process.”
“There’s a volatility to Ole Miss games that keeps you locked in, and I appreciate that.”
No. 27 Bryan Harsin (Auburn): “It says a lot about what Harsin was able to do at Boise State that he nearly cracked the top 25 of these rankings even though he’s never coached at a Power Five program before.”
“The resume speaks for itself. He went 69-19 in seven seasons at Boise and won the Mountain West three times with six division titles. He also won a conference title during his lone season at Arkansas State before that.”
No. 11 Ed Orgeron (LSU): “While it’s not the biggest fall from one of our coaches as far as placement is concerned, you can argue that going from No. 4 to No. 11 in one season is the most significant drop as far as quality.”
“Orgeron went from being on the top of the world following a national title win to people wondering how much longer he’s going to last in Baton Rouge.”
“It felt like Coach O couldn’t do anything wrong in 2019 and that it all balanced out by him not being able to do anything right last season. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle, and it will be interesting to see what 2021 brings for Orgeron and the Tigers.”
“Consider, though, that Coach O was ranked 30th before the national title season.”
No. 6 Jimbo Fisher (Texas A&M): When Jimbo left Florida State for Texas A&M, he said he would compete for national titles. The Aggies got close to playing for one last season, finishing just outside the College Football Playoff.”
“It’s exactly the kind of trajectory Texas A&M fans want to see in their program, and it sets a new set of expectations in the future. However, the 2021 season will be interesting for Jimbo as he must replace a veteran QB while still trying to win games in the SEC West.”
Currently, the line for Arkansas vs Texas is -4 for Texas. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette beat reporter Tom Murphy breaks it down here: