Two reasons people talk about you: jealousy and bullying. Rumor-mongering, for the record, covers either or both.
The SEC Media Days annual gathering in the Deep South is filled with both jealousy and bullying, usually by way of rumor-mongering. Coaches from across college football’s best conference take the dais, four a day, and answer questions. About a third of them are solid, a third are as deep as a puddle and another third are barely questions at all and more of homer reporters’ way of getting their voice on TV (“Coach, talk about…”).
Now, with these questions, or more specifically, with the reporters who ask these questions of the last two natures, usually comes the pre-defined postulate. It’s the working off an assumption, but presented as incontrovertible fact and ultimately framing the interaction with the coach simply to get the coach to agree with the pre-defined postulate.
It used to be that only people asking these kinds of questions were reporters still working at their college newspaper and Joe Schmo who runs a blog. Then, as Americans, we decided to abandon journalistic principles and hop on with Joe Schmo’s blog and turn him into some legitimate news-gatherer simply because he and I like the same team.
Yeah, this is a preamble, all right.
Lots of them (us?) are working from the pre-defined postulate that the SEC will shift to three permanent rivals with five – or six, if a nine-game slate is adopted – opponents rotating year to year as part of its in-league schedule. The format has grown in popularity, over the last year or so especially, as conferences continue to expand. The popularity of the idea, however, hinges on one minor piece: who those opponents are.
Jimbo Fisher Wants Arkansas
Texas and Oklahoma enter the SEC sometime in the next four years. Historically and geographically speaking, the Longhorns and Sooners would make for tremendous rivals for Arkansas. Texas, of course, is the old Southwest Conference archrival and Oklahoma is just a stone’s throw down Interstate 40. Texas A&M, too, though, makes for a great bedfellow with the two Big 12 exiles.
Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher, the last man to take the stage in Atlanta for media days, was asked about his thoughts on the potential schedule. He very clearly failed to mention a certain team.
“You want Texas. When Texas comes into the league, when that schedule comes in, definitely because of that rivalry,” Fisher said. “I think LSU is a great rivalry. But that’s probably our two biggest. Then Arkansas goes into that, too. But I don’t know if that was one of our three that they equated to us in what we did.”
The Aggies want Texas. It makes all the sense in the world. Everyone thinks, too, they’re LSU’s rival. Then the Razorbacks. Why the Razorbacks over the Sooners, though? Yes, the Southwest Conference thing exists, but look closer and it makes more sense.
Arkansas isn’t as good as Oklahoma. Haven’t been in a long, long time. If Texas A&M had Texas, Oklahoma and LSU as three permanent rivals, the Aggies would have their hands full every single season, even in the ones when the Longhorns and Tigers are down, because, let’s face it, those teams’ down years are nothing like the Hogs’ down years now that new modern floor has been set by Chad Morris.
Potential Permanent Foes for Arkansas Football
The Razorbacks may find themselves in a similar bind. Arkansas already plays three trophy games – Texas A&M in the Southwest Classic, LSU in the Battle for the Boot and Missouri in the Battle Line Rivalry. Those three as permanent rivals makes all the sense in the world, but it also negates the re-budding of the classic Horns vs. Hogs stalwart days from the 1960s and ‘70s. For those of us on the border of the Sooner State, too, we know the tenacity that exists between some OU fans and their Razorback neighbors.
Then there’s Ole Miss. Rebels coach Lane Kiffin also wouldn’t mind keeping the Hogs on the docket every year, it seems. Last year’s game between the two teams was a classic.
“Well, that was exciting, an exciting game. Again, just shows you can’t predict year to year, week to week, you got no idea how games are going to go,” Kiffin said. “That’s an exciting rivalry, one that means a lot to fans as well.”
Teams may have some say in which of their opponents will make for the permanent plays, but it won’t be exclusively up to them. Some blend of legitimate animus should exist in at least one game, but they’d probably also want a winnable-eight-times-out-of-10 game to be permanent, too. The question is whether teams see Arkansas as the former or the latter. Or both.
Sam Pittman has made the Razorbacks not only relevant again but he has perhaps put them on the cusp of legitimacy in the eyes of the hardcore opposing fans. One 9-4 season does not a dynasty make. But go back to the Aggies. They were hardly the Big 12’s most dominant team during their run in that conference. Since joining the SEC, they’ve fallen short of eight wins just one time. No, they’re not Alabama, but they’re closer to the Crimson Tide than the bottom third. Dynastic, if not an outright dynasty of almost always good, but never great.
Pittman and Arkansas have at least drawn the respect from the rest of the league, though. Sam Pittman alone has done that much. How long it holds is what will determine whether Arkansas is that team others feel they can beat eight-of-10 times or otherwise. Either way, that’s a start, no matter how the conference ends up looking in the next handful of years and who happens to be on the slate.
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…