J.R. and Henry: It’s Really a Six-Game Season
You have been reading the newspapers, message boards and listening to talk radio just like us. The Razorbacks are wrapping up spring practice. The number one thing we have ascertained thus far – thank goodness it’s only spring practice.
The only good news from the Hill is that Michael Grant will be our starting safety. Yee-haw! Casey Dick hasn’t solidified himself as the No. 1 alternative to Mitch Mustain, how, we have no idea (while we’re pleased that Robert Johnson has shown improvement, we’re very concerned that Dick has apparently regressed since the end of last season). Darren McFadden and Felix Jones look great, but it turns out that our linemen can’t figure out how to block under Malzahn’s schemes.
We won’t panic just yet. After all, they have the entire summer to spend in the weight room and the film room studying schemes and learning the plays (we disagree with Clay Henry of Hawgs Illustrated that it’s all about the quarterback. Great quarterbacks have become mediocre with poor offensive lines). Nevertheless, we hope Mike Markuson does something – anything – for this team other than scream in running plays. The offensive line is his responsibility and Malzahn is his offensive coordinator. Step it up, Mike, and teach these players how to block.
We were disappointed, but not surprised when we read that Nutt was running the first-team offense against the second-team defense, and the second team offense against the first team defense. Not only is it nonsensical, but it allows Nutt and Herring to inflate the success of the respective first teams (does anyone out there believe that our second team defense could stop Mississippi State from scoring?). As a result, any observations from the spring game may be skewed.
Rather than continue to belabor our concerns about spring practice, we want to take a look at the upcoming football season. As we commented last week, this is perhaps the most favorable schedule Arkansas has had in a long, long time. The Hogs play a record eight games at home. And what stands out even more to us after examining the 2006 schedule is that the Hogs never have to play back-to-back road games. Never. Not once. Talk about favorable.
This team has potential. Reggie Herring, despite his asinine comments, gets a lot out of his defense. We believe they will be better. Gus Malzahn brings some creativity and fresh approach, which this program has lacked since Nutt’s first season. With the addition of Mustain (we’ve seen him play and don’t believe that Dick and Johnson are better) receivers Damian Williams, London Crawford and Carlton Salters to complement McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hillis, Marcus Monk and a more experienced offensive line (again, if they can block), then our offense should be on fire.
The real difference this season is the addition of the “12th game.” With a 12-game schedule, every major conference coach can set up three or four “easy” wins. That’s what has happened this year for the Hogs.
Easy wins? There are no easy wins in college football, you say? Come on, football fan, you know that’s not true. We all live for the weeks where our favorite team gets to lay into some scrub team, particularly after a heartbreaking loss the week before. We also sit and praise the gods of scheduling for these gimmes so we can rest players, heal injuries and correct mistakes, while we enjoy College Gameday without worrying about losing that afternoon.
Take a look at the 2006-2007 schedule. It’s scrub-team central. But don’t just focus on the scrub teams, take a long look at how it’s set up. We think you’ll reach the same conclusion we did: it’s really a six-game season.
Six games? But the Hogs play 12?
Utah State, Southeast Missouri State and Louisiana-Monroe bring a combined ten wins from last season to the table (half of those by Lousiana-Monroe in the weak-ass Sun Belt). Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt are the very worst of the SEC, and Vanderbilt, the only somewhat decent one of the lot, lost its entire team when Jay Cutler graduated (we’ll give Ole Miss credit because of their new recruits, but with the game in Fayetteville, the Hogs should walk over the Rebels). In short, each one of these games should result in a comfortable Razorback victory.
As a result, Houston Nutt and the Razorbacks enter the 2006-2007 season with six wins in the bag.
In past seasons, the success of Razorback football has been measured by the statewide media by whether the team made it to a bowl game. It didn’t matter which bowl game. So long as the Hogs were playing in a bowl game, it was a successful season. Nothing is more frustrating.
We understood the belief eight years ago, when the entire state was bruised from some low, low years under Danny Ford. But now, after years of modest success in some seasons and trips to bowl games all across the Southeast, simply making a bowl game shouldn’t be the measure of success this season. Put another way, an invitation to Shreveport or Memphis isn’t good enough.
And the question isn’t whether Houston Nutt is better for Arkansas than Danny Ford. No one wants to go back to the Danny Ford days (although some may forget that Danny Ford took Arkansas to as many SEC championship games in five years as Houston has in eight). The question is whether Houston Nutt is the man for the job. So you’ll pardon us if we don’t celebrate if Arkansas plays in another minor bowl game.
No, success this year should be measured by how the Razorbacks fare against the remaining six teams on the schedule: USC, Alabama, Auburn, South Carolina, Tennessee and LSU. After all, with six wins in the bag, it’s the outcome of those games that will determine whether the season truly was a success. That’s why we say 8-4 isn’t good enough. Getting four of those six real games at home, we’re not prepared to say 2-4 equals a successful season.--J.R. and Henry
ED. NOTE: J.R. and Henry are a couple of suffering Arkansas sports diehards tired of reading the daily column drivel in the statewide daily and decided to do something about it. Blog here! Their columns will appear every Wednesday and Saturday morning.