Yeah, it’s been a bit of a depressing time for you if you’re an Arkansas fan. Sure, you managed to run off the guy (Houston Nutt) who you say ran off your Golden Boy Quarterback (Mitch Mustain), but now, what’s left for you?
Tommy Tuberville’s staying at Auburn. Tommy Bowden signed a new deal with Clemson. Jim Grobe is still in Winston-Salem. And Les Miles isn’t even crazy enough to be considered for what may be the most withering head coaching position in college football.
There are a host of negatives for whatever name looks at the Arkansas job.
First, Hogs fans are absolutely insane, cell phone-record requesting football enthusiasts. And Frank Broyles is one of them. And he hand-picked Jeff Long, the incoming guy. And this fan base has its teeth bared if the next guy turns out to be anything like the last guy, Nutt, who, it might be noted, did nothing less than go to the SEC Championship Game in 2006 and 2002, upset the #1 team in the nation at the end of this year, and revived a moribund program that went under .500 for Danny Ford’s tenure.
Granted, Nutt did come into Fayetteville braying about those two magical words, “national championship,” that will whip up any fan base to irrational heights. But there’s also no doubt that Arkansas has one of the tougher roads to building a perennial contender.
Just look at the SEC West. LSU will have a bit less talent next year, but Ryan Perrilloux has boatloads of potential and there’s more than enough speed to contend for not just an SEC, but a national title; plus, there’s no doubt Miles, if still on the Bayou, will be gunning for the Boot his Bengals forked over in 2007.
Auburn is still headed by, in Tommy Tuberville, a hell of a coach, and it seems likely ridding themselves of up-and-down Brandon Cox will only help the Tigers. Ole Miss might be a suprise team next year, with outgoing coach Ed Orgeron’s highly touted recruits, led by erstwhile megastar-to-be Jevan Snead, stepping into the newest SEC rivalry, pitting Houston Nutt’s brains with Orgeron’s guys against a team he is already planning to beat and humiliate. And then there’s Alabama, which Nick Saban will have turned around in short order.
Heck, even Mississippi State is bowling this year, and the Bulldogs have reassembled the stout defense that had given opponents fits in Starkville.
Every other team in the West is improving; Arkansas is, almost certainly, losing both Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, top-three and first-round picks, respectively, and struggled this year in the passing game and on defense. It would not be a shock if Arkansas finishes fifth or sixth in the West in 2008.
And then there’s the rest of the conference. 2007 East champs Tennessee will have the same addition-by-subtraction theme without Erik Ainge as Auburn will without Cox. Georgia is arguably the nation’s best team right now, and will only get better, with fab frosh Knowshon Moreno giving cannon-armed Matthew Stafford a run game to diminish the pressure that Stafford sometimes wilts under. Florida will have a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback, USC transfer Emmanuel Moody at running back, a fleet set of wide receivers featuring Percy Harvin, and a somewhat less combustible defense with more experience; the Gators will be another top-five team next year, and Arkansas will host them on October 4th.
South Carolina, Kentucky, and Vanderbilt are all a few steps behind the trio of traditional powers, but Steve Spurrier will probably have the hyped-but-troubled Stephen Garcia to throw into his QB mix behind the inconsistent and similarly touted Chris Smelley, Rich Brooks has somehow made Kentucky respectable and Vandy is “stealth good,” deceptively talented enough for a few scares and an upset every year.
And the 2008 schedule, already dotted with the entire West Division, of course, and Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina from the East, has another big-name foe: Texas. That backyard rivalry is for pride and for recruits. And it’s an away game.
And Texas is a dark-horse national title contender next year, too, with Colt McCoy and Jamaal Charles giving the ‘Horns a potentially potent offense.
Even the cupcake game isn’t exactly a gimme: immortal Louisiana-Monroe beat the Crimson Tide this year.
Combine the gauntlet of a schedule with a horde of fans starving for a change and substantial gains on an already good team, and, in Arkansas, there is only a formula for failure.
Regardless of who helms the Hogs next year, I pity him.