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Glimmers of hope for baseball, football Razorbacks



The unspeakable toll of tornadoes puts a pall over our state that lingers, but may there always be relief or at a minimum, momentary distraction, in the realm of sport.

Arkansas scuffled through its weekend baseball series against Auburn, and finds itself 10-11 in league play with nine huge games left. The Hogs aren't terribly highly regarded this spring for a variety of causes, and they're maddeningly uneven on the offensive side even this late into the year, but they find themselves well positioned to surge at the end thanks to their avoidance of prolonged droughts.

It's common knowledge that .500 baseball in the SEC translates well for NCAA Tournament prospects, certainly better than that level of performance might be parlayed in other conferences. What might be more critical for Arkansas this year than in other seasons is to thrive at the conference tourney in Hoover, because it's not been an especially friendly excursion over the years and a surprising run late into the week would likely snuff out recent, baffling RPI concerns about this team. Knocking out six wins over the final nine and showing well in the league double-elimination bracket should legitimately make the Hogs a second seed in a respectable and winnable regional, if not give them an outside shot at getting to host at Baum for a weekend.

Spring football came to a close with the Red-White game. The pervasive skepticism about the 2014 team engendered by a luckless and mostly unskilled 2013 bunch depressed attendance, but it was a relatively acceptable show nonetheless. Austin Allen made some errors, but showed himself to be superior to his elder brother, Brandon, who got picked on his first throw and struggled thereafter to establish any rhythm. Alex Collins, scrutinized in the offseason because of Bret Bielema's consternation, had a quiet four-carry day but the Red team rode Korliss Marshall's and Jonathan Williams' explosiveness to a 61-22 rout. Deatrich Wise and Darius Philon acquitted themselves nicely up front, and Brooks Ellis is emerging as a linebacking leader.

This scrimmage, of course, rarely provides any compelling insight into what may happen in the fall. There's a pervading belief that Rafe Peavey's got the requisite combination of speed and size, as well as time over the next few months, to make a coaching staff inclined to play a true freshman under center. Whether you deem that welcome news or a harbinger of further depression is dependent upon your frame of reference and your battery of prescription pills; what it almost certainly means is that neither Allen brother has enough control of things to warrant full-throttle support from anyone come autumn.

None of the above seemed to matter much after fierce weather ravaged Central Arkansas Sunday night. For all the harrowing fatalities and the untold damage, there's still spirit in this state and there will be opportunities for that to be on display as the year winds onward. The 2012 baseball Hogs, light-hitting and aggravating on the basepaths from time to time, helped smooth over the fanbase's raw and rough edges after Bobby Petrino's imbroglios dominated the news for weeks. When Vilonia was battered the first time, in April 2011, some of its denizens got to smile again when the football team made a fine march to a Top 5 ranking and Cotton Bowl win amid the rebuilding project.

It's a farce to make too many leaps about the psychological impact of sports, but one of the reasons the Hogs own the state's culture is that they've been an imperfect cultural bedrock to lean on when life's gravity starts to pull too hard. There's not a lot going on in Razorback Country right now, but if some first-responders or some displaced folks get a chance to flash a grin through the strain by watching ESPN Fan Hall of Famer Canaan Sandy rumbling down the Razorback Stadium turf for a 50-yard touchdown run, that validates the program more than any ranking or series win ever can.

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