For for the first time in a long time, belief in Arkansas football program is extending beyond just the fanbase.
The Razorbacks’ big win against then No. 15 Texas has sent the program into a realm of national respect not seen since the start of the 2012 season under John L. Smith — which was also the start of the down period that appears to finally be over.
Multiple college football top 25 polls in Week 3 include the Razorbacks. The most famous, of course, is the Associated Press. The AP has Arkansas ranked at No. 20. It’s the first time that Arkansas has made that poll since 2016.
But there are a few other notable top 25 polls which show that Arkansas is on the cusp of reaching a level of national respect not seen in more than nine years.
Then there’s one, created by ESPN, that makes a mockery of itself because of where it places Arkansas relative to Texas. We’ll get to that in a minute.
In the meantime, here’s a breakdown of Arkansas’ status in other big polls.
Arkansas Football in College Football Top 25 Polls
USA Today coaches poll
Arkansas football ranking: 24
Change from previous week: +20
Ranking among SEC teams only: 7th
SEC teams ahead of Arkansas: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida, Ole Miss, Auburn
Arkansas football ranking: 18
Change from previous week: N/A
Ranking among SEC teams only: 5th
SEC teams ahead of Arkansas: Alabama, Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida
“Defensive coordinator Barry Odom is making a living off Steve Sarkisian,” CBS analyst Dennis Dodd wrote.
“In his last two meetings with Sark, Odom held Mac Jones to a season-low in passing, Devonta Jones to a season-low in receiving and shut out the Longhorns in the first half of a 40-21 win.”
“The 40 points are the most the Hogs have scored against the ‘Horns in 40 years.”
Arkansas football ranking: No. 12 (No Arkansas football team has been ranked this high in the AP poll since the 2012 team started the season as high as No. 8 before the wheels fell off vs Louisiana-Monroe)
Change from previous week: +47 (!)
Ranking among SEC teams only: 4th
SEC teams ahead of Arkansas: Alabama, Georgia and Texas A&M
“If there’s one thing we know about Arkansas under Sam Pittman, it’s that the Razorbacks play hard,” The Athletics’ Chris Vannini wrote.
“It’s not a cliché, it’s true. We saw it through last year’s up-and-down 3-7 all-SEC season (with three one-possession losses), which was an improvement from consecutive 0-8 SEC campaigns under Chad Morris.”
“And we saw it Saturday in a 40-21 win against Texas that wasn’t as close as the final score. The Hogs beat up the Longhorns, especially in the trenches.”
“It was a physically impressive win. After a slow start against Rice in Week 1, the Razorbacks look like they’ve found something. There’s been a lot of momentum since Pittman arrived, and that’ll ramp up after Saturday.”
As much as certain outlets are showering love on Arkansas, there are always a few head-scratchers.
Consider Power Football Focus, which doesn’t even rank Arkansas in its latest college football poll. Instead of Arkansas, they put in teams like Coastal Carolina, North Carolina, Nevada, Virginia (which just destroyed Bret Bielema’s new team) and even put Kentucky at No. 20.
However, Kentucky did just beat a salty Missouri team 35-28. PFF’s reasoning is sound enough:
“The offensive line did its part by giving the backfield 3.6 yards before contact per attempt. And the ball-carriers took advantage of the lanes by busting off 10 runs of 10-plus yards and producing a successful run on 54% of their attempts — the third-best rate by a team against a Power Five defense in Week 2.”
ESPN: Are you serious?
The college football ranking system that bothers me the most is ESPN’s College Football Power Index.
Here, Arkansas is ranked at No. 22. But guess who’s ranked four spots ahead of the Hogs?
None other than Texas – the overrated team that Arkansas just blew the socks off.
This at first blush seems ridiculous. Arkansas is 2-0 while Texas is 1-1. Arkansas won the head to head meeting. It should be an open and shut case.
Turns out, though, that no human or team of humans actually run ESPN’s College Football Power Index.
It’s a bunch of algorithms that crunch numbers and spit out rankings based on not just on current strength but projected season performance. It supposed to measure “a team’s true strength on net points scale; expected point margin vs average opponent on neutral field.”
Technically, here ESPN isn’t just talking about where a team ranks in Week 3 — but where they expect that team to rank weeks from now.
So, this index predicts Texas will finish with 7.6 wins to Arkansas’ 7.3 wins when it’s all said and done.
They even deem the Longhorns twice as likely to make the 2021 College Football Playoffs as Arkansas.
Clearly, ESPN’s bots expect Texas to improve a lot bouncing off of this loss and do relatively well in the weaker Big 12. Let’s say this happens. I say even if both teams end up with similar records at the end of the season, Arkansas should rank higher than Texas based on their Week 2 meeting and the fact the Hogs play in a much tougher conference.
Any algorithms that say otherwise need to be reformulated.
Sam Pittman recently went on the Jim Rome Show for the first time. Here are some excerpts from the interview:
On the potential for a letdown:
“Here’s what happened last year. Second game of the year, we beat Mississippi State, on the road, and we had won an SEC game in, I don’t know, a long time. Then we go to Auburn, and I don’t know if you remember, but there was a bad call at the end of the game at Auburn.”
“Well, we rebounded, we played a good game at Auburn, then we come home we beat Ole Miss. So I think what we’ve done in the past where you could be pretty high and then get a low — we’re not going to talk about any of that to be honest with you. Our kids have a lot of pride. We know every week is so precious.”
“I think we’re going to be just fine. We’re going to flush this game by about 3:00 this afternoon [on Monday] and get on to Georgia Southern.”
On believing he could turn around Arkansas football:
“I know that any school that’s won a national championship, they can get back to power, they can get back. And a lot of people go down, and then come back up.”
“I know a lot of people didn’t take the [Arkansas football] job for me to get it. I understand that. I didn’t care if I was [number] one or 100. I just wanted to come back here, because I knew if you had passion for this program, that you could eventually turn it around.”
Sam Pittman on his love for the state:
“My wife and I were going to retire in Hot Springs, Arkansas. We bought a lot down there, getting ready to build before I got the head coaching job here. So, I just love the water, the people. It’s just a really, really neat state.”
“But people that haven’t been in the state of Arkansas, they ought to look at it, because there’s a lot of nice places here. And really good people.”
Listen to the whole Sam Pittman interview here:
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