Auburn’s football game with Arkansas wasn’t the only story unfolding Saturday in what people in Lee County, Alabama call The Most Beautiful Village on the Plains.
The politics of the Southeastern Conference dominated the discussion wherever there was no thought about whether or not Auburn could extend its winning streak in the series to seven games. ESPN broke the story that Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen is in line to become the next AD at Auburn.
That and Auburn’s 41-27 loss at Jordan-Hare Stadium contributed to the fact that second-year Tiger coach Bryan Harsin, who is 9-12 at the school, may need an Iron Bowl win over Alabama if he doesn’t wear down. his welcome.
If he accepts the Auburn job, Cohen’s first duties will be deciding the fate of Harsin, who replaced the fired Gus Malzahn, both former Arkansas State head coaches, the latter replacing the fired Gene Chizik.
For a school with a national championship this century (2010 under Chizik, 2013 in Malzahn’s freshman year) and that beats Alabama more often than some SEC schools (Arkansas, for example), Auburn consistently fires football coaches. Bruce Pearl’s basketball team now provides the cure for the football hangover, no matter what buyout money Malzahn or Chizik receive. Arkansas’ Nolan Richardson’s hoops once provided the same service when the Razorback football program lost its way — it ultimately paid off for Nolan, who won a national title and played for another, though we’ll spare you the details.
Arkansas has become that rare school with an adoring fan base for both money sports coaches. Razorback fans are wild about Eric Musselman’s basketball team, which insiders will tell you should make the NCAA Final Four after back-to-back Elite Eight runs. Sam Pittman, slowly eclipsing his three-year hitting streak over .500, won over fans as they quickly figured the folly of the last decade of Razorback football was over.
If they win including the bowl, these pigs could reach 10 victories. A decision Saturday at home against Liberty, whose Hugh Freeze beat Alabama twice and beat Arkansas at War Memorial Stadium when he coached Ole Miss, would make it six wins for Pittman’s team. That was after we went 9-4 and beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl last year. Pittman’s first team did enough, going 3-7 in the 2020 pandemic season, to swing public opinion in its favor.
Don’t be fooled into thinking this is a top 10 team or an elite program. That can’t be said for one like Arkansas, which hasn’t had a conference title since 1989 in the defunct Southwest and has never come close to the College Football Playoff and has only played once (2010 against Ohio State in the Sugar) in the old Bowl Championship. Series.
That’s more likely in basketball, where a coach with Musselman’s determination attracts All-American recruits from around the world, if only for one year. Musselman’s fourth Razorback team is so loaded that someone watching daily practices told me a grand jury should be called if it doesn’t make the Final Four. Of course, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Kentucky, Duke and others — the usual suspects plus the yet-to-be-identified Cinderellas — will have a lot to say about that.
Basketball is getting better in the SEC – much credit goes to coaches like Musselman, Pearl, Tennessee’s Rick Barnes and of course Kentucky’s John Calipari. But football still drives the train, with the SEC producing a national champion three years in a row and Georgia No. 1 in the polls, Tennessee and Alabama in pursuit.
But a winning Arkansas program can only be sustainable within limits. With major feeder programs like Little Rock Central on the wane and 8-man football becoming all the rage at schools that have struggled with losing numbers for decades, how can an Arkansas prep make enough difference every year to keep the Hogs high in the national level? level? And speaking of the main issue for the 2022 Razorbacks, will they ever be deep enough in talent to overcome the inevitable injuries to key men?
Arkansas beat Auburn after a bye week and veteran quarterback KJ Jefferson had a big day, two factors that helped make the Hogs a slight betting favorite. Of the four remaining games, Missouri is the only one where Arkansas can be assured of a win, and it’s in Columbia where the Hogs have struggled. The top three — Liberty, LSU and Ole Miss — are in Fayetteville with the Hogs possibly favored in all after not playing on campus since Oct. 1 against Alabama.
Arkansas finished October two games over .500 as it began the month. Eight wins, this corner’s preseason estimate, is within reach. Nine or more looks tricky. As in most seasons, Arkansas plays in the SEC West, a closed community within college football.