Sam Pittman Reveals His Picks for Arkansas Football’s Permanent Foes

Sam Pittman, Greg Sankey
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

It was about this time last year that news of SEC expansion shocked the college football world, with Oklahoma and Texas ditching the Big 12 for greener pastures.

As things currently stand, the two traditional powers won’t make the move until the summer of 2025, but that hasn’t stopped speculation that it’ll happen sooner — or reporters from asking about the Sooners and Longhorns at the annual SEC Media Days in Atlanta this week.

Taking his turn at the podium Wednesday morning, Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman took a handful of questions about his future conference mates — including one about his message to the two schools before they make the jump.

“We love you, Texas and Oklahoma. Can’t wait for you to come over,” Pittman said with a smile. “I would tell them what they already know: It’s a hell of a league. It’s about big people and fast people. … Consistently each week, you better have some depth.”

Whether they join the league in 2025 as planned or work out a deal to do so earlier, Oklahoma and Texas are primed to shake up the SEC and their addition will have an impact on the Razorbacks.

Permanent Rivals for Arkansas Football?

Increasing from 14 to 16 teams creates a scheduling hurdle the SEC must clear. That was a major topic at the conference’s annual meetings in Destin last month, but — for football, at least — those discussions have been tabled for the time being.

One such solution would be to create two eight-team divisions with Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri joining the west, plus Alabama and Auburn moving to the east. Another possibility is eliminating divisions entirely and assigning each team three permanent opponents.

If the latter of those formats is adopted, it sounds like Pittman has made his preference known for which three teams he’d like to play every year.

“It was fun playing Texas last year,” Pittman said. “Oklahoma would be another rival that would be pretty cool, to be honest with you. If we could play Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, that would be really neat.”

The desire to play the Sooners on an annual basis makes a lot of sense coming from Pittman, even though the two programs appear to be in different stratospheres at the moment.

In addition to being geographically the closest school to Arkansas, as it’s less than a four-hour drive from Fayetteville to Norman, Oklahoma is also Pittman’s home state.

He was born in El Reno, Okla., in the central part of the state and actually rooted for the Sooners as a kid until his family moved to Grove, Okla., in the northeast corner of the state and he became an Arkansas fan.

“I’m not the schedule maker,” Pittman said. “I’m just a football coach, but…that would be a really cool deal, growing up in the state of Oklahoma.”

Razorbacks Renew Rivalry with Longhorns

Having grown up during the Razorbacks’ glory years of the 1960s and ‘70s, Pittman is very familiar with their heated rivalry with Texas during the Southwest Conference days.

Of course, Arkansas left the SWC to join the SEC in the early-1990s, so it’s been about three decades since it shared a conference with the Longhorns.

That means college football players today have no recollection of that rivalry or know anything about the legendary games, such as the ’69 Shootout — unless they were told stories by their parents or grandparents, and that’s typically only in-state kids.

For example, Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson told reporters Wednesday that he didn’t even grasp the significance of it until he saw one of Arkansas’ most famous alumni before kickoff.

“I didn’t know the rivalry was that big because I’m from Mississippi,” Jefferson said. “I didn’t realize it was really big (until) I saw Jerry Jones walk on the field, so I was like, ‘This is a big deal.’”

The Dallas Cowboys owner ended up watching Jefferson lead his alma matter to a dominant 40-21 win over No. 15 Texas in a game that ended with fans storming the field. It was the Longhorns’ first game against an SEC opponent since the announcement that they would soon be joining the conference.

Recruiting Implications of Oklahoma, Texas Joining

As far back as Frank Broyles and even before that, the Lone Star State has always been a critical recruiting ground for Arkansas football.

Texas produces great football players on an annual basis. That fact was as a key reason behind the creation of the Arkansas-Texas A&M series at AT&T Stadium in Arlington every year and his failures in recruiting the state played at least a partial role in Bret Bielema’s downfall.

However, under Pittman, Oklahoma is also becoming a key state for the Razorbacks in recruiting.

Including the three players committed in the 2023 class, Pittman has landed 10 Oklahoma natives since taking over as Arkansas’ head coach in 2020. That four-year total is nearly equal to the previous eight classes combined (11).

He isn’t just getting the leftovers, either. Tight end Luke Hasz and wide receiver Micah Tease were both pursued by the Sooners, only to choose the Razorbacks. In Texas, Arkansas recently beat out the Longhorns to land linebacker Brad Spence.

Having those two schools in the SEC, rather than the Big 12, will add yet another wrinkle to those recruiting battles.

“We’re having recruiting battles with them right now, thank the Lord,” Pittman said. “Before, we couldn’t get in the door, but (now) we’re having recruiting battles. … I’m not telling you we’re whipping them or anything like that. I’m telling you we’re in the conversation.”

More coverage of Pittman’s appearance at SEC Media Days on Wednesday…

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More coverage of the impact of Oklahoma and Texas’ move to the SEC from BoAS…

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