ASU and the UA Should Use the Natural State to their Recruiting Advantage

 

The great outdoors, design, football.

A decade ago, the typical college athletics administrator likely concerns himself only with the last of these.

Not anymore. These worlds are colliding with unprecedented frequency as self-marketing matters more and more in college football. Across the nation, programs are jazzing up their facilities and uniforms in an effort to attract recruits, media coverage and donations. Ambitious programs are realizing more variation – in color, shade, design – is better.

Two trends have emerged, one piggybacking on the other.

The first trend entailed marketing an array of different uniforms designs and colors that went beyond a program’s traditional road color and home white. Oregon football kicked this off in 2006 by unveiling a dizzying array of pant, jersey and helmet combinations. Merchandise sales soared as Oregon became one of the nation’s hottest programs.

Around 2011, an offshoot trend emerged where designs of jerseys and playing surfaces incorporate local, geophysical flavor. Here, heritage – natural or man-made – meets the all-important “buzz” factor.

Oregon basketball, one of the first to get into the act, superimposed onto its new court silhouette images of the state’s native fir tree. Other programs have made similar moves. Palm tree images now frame the courts of Long Beach and Florida International universities.

Wyoming football last year unveiled a new artificial turf with a depiction of the state’s Teton Range in both end zones. The lettering “7220 feet” is on both sidelines, marking the stadium’s record-setting elevation above sea level.

Even older, more established programs have gone down a similar, though more subtle, path.

Programs are also using man-made objects to promote their brands. Take Maryland, which in 2011 launched a “state pride” initiative that put the design of its distinctive state flag (the nation’s only one to feature British heraldic banners) on Terrapin football helmets and end zones.

 Indiana went the same flag-based route with one its new football helmet variants.

 So, should Arkansas join the movement?

 Without a doubt.

Our state has far too much iconic imagery to stand on the sidelines and not take advantage. Why, for instance, should the Hogs settle for white helmets and black jerseys when there are so many more interesting, Arkansas-specific designs that could be used?

 We’re the Natural State. It’s high time those playing our best football programs know it.

I’ve shared some ways already on Sporting Life Arkansas - including a diamond Razorback helmet – but below are some others that would work for any program in the state even thought I highlight Arkansas and Arkansas State.

1. According to a Washington, Ark. newspaper article in 1841, the Bowie knife was originally invented not by frontiersman extraordinaire Jim Bowie but by craftsman James Black. It became known as one of the most dangerous big knives in the region, just as Bielema’s Hogs aim to become of the most feared teams in the SEC.  Use a a small silhouette or outline of this knife somewhere on the uniform, perhaps down the side of the legs. Make the blade diamond-like for extra points.

2. Arkansas’ Buffalo River was the first National River to be designated in the United States and along with the Hogs is one of north Arkansas’ prime attractions. It’s time they join forces. Why not incorporate an image representing running water onto the perimeter of the field at Reynolds Razorback Stadium?

3. The Red Wolves and now the Razorbacks have a thing going with mostly-black unis, we know. Tough guy and all that. But so many other programs do that, too. Why not separate yourself from the pack by incorporating colors from the most visually stunning bird native to the state? In the hands of a skilled designer, adding flecks of color from the scissor-tailed flycatcher onto the dark background would be a sure-thing eyecatcher.

The above is an update of an article that originally ran in Sync magazine in summer 2013.

 

 

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A History of the N Word that isn’t Black and White

 

This pioneer's life deserves a closer look

This pioneer’s life deserves a closer look

Next week, we’ll learn whether the Fritz Pollard Alliance’s proposal to ban the N word in the NFL passed. The rule, which would cost teams 15 yards per violation, will be taken under further review by NFL owners at their annual meeting in Florida starting Monday.

The name “Fritz Pollard” has been leveraged by a non-profit organization to push for a change that Fritz Pollard himself might have not supported.But there’s some evidence Pollard, who in the 1920s became the first black NFL quarterback and coach (as well as the first black to play in the Rose Bowl), was O.K. with the word when it was used in non-hateful ways or in artistic endeavors. This runs counter to the beliefs of current leaders of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, who believe the word should be banned regardless where and how it’s used in the NFL work place. “We want this word to be policed from the parking lot to the equipment room to the locker room,” chairman John Wooten told CBS Sports.  “Secretaries, PR people, whoever, we want it eliminated completely and want it policed everywhere.”

Harry Carson, another Fritz Pollard Alliance leader, told SI.com that those who use the n-word as a sign of solidarity have “have no sense of history.” He added: “I find it very disheartening that in our society today we’re having a debate about the n-words being used as a term of endearment.”

Carson isn’t altogether accurate here. That’s why a closer look at the world in which Fritz Pollard lived is merited.

Nearly a century ago, a black Yale student used the N word in way that evokes how it’s used among many blacks today. The student, William Ashby, attended a Brown game at Yale to watch the much hyped Fritz Pollard play for the visiting Brown team. As the game got underway, Pollard – as usual – was pelted with racist taunts by the home side’s white fans. N words rained down on him. Opponents tried to maim him. But also, like usual, Pollard started dominating – and then a curious thing happened during one of his punt returns, according to Pollard’s biography. While Pollard ran, Yale students yelled “Catch that nigger. Kill that nigger” while Ashby – who was sitting with other African-Americans on the Brown side –  jumped up and yelled “Run, nigger, run. Go, Fritz, go.”

This appears to be evidence – which I will bear out – that the word was not always used in a derogatory way at the beginning of the 20th century. It appears blacks sometimes used the word in a positive way among themselves, as happens now. I don’t have direct evidence of Pollard using the N word himself but have found a few facts that make it less likely he was troubled by blacks who used it. In 1933, he played a significant role in a movie as controversial in large segments of black culture then as Wooten’s proposal is now. The movie was “Emperor Jones,” a story about an ambitious Pullman porter based on a Eugene O’Neill play. It starred former NFL player Paul Robeson, a college friend of Pollard’s whom he served as a personal assistant and trainer. Pollard played a bit part on screen as a pianist.

The movie was controversial among many whites because it starred a black man. But it was divisive among many writers in black newspaper circles because it made extensive use of the N word, quoting verbatim from the O’Neill play. Black columnists encouraged readers to boycott the movie. If Pollard despised the casual use of the N word in entertainment, as Wooten does, I don’t think Pollard would have been involved with the project.


List of All Division I Football Players Born in Arkansas

There are so many Arkansans who play Division I football. You know this, on a gut level. What you don’t know – on any level – is the name of every single last one of those Arkansans. That ends now.

So come, brother, and let the waters below sate your parched mind:

Arkansas has produced two Harvard football players - including Andrew Flesher, two-time Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.

Arkansas is home to two current Harvard football players – including Andrew Flesher, two-time Ivy League Special Teams Player of the Week.

The below stats are current as of fall 2013. I have listed the most recent 2014 signees at the bottom.

20140205_123716 20140205_123726 20140205_123733 20140205_123738 20140205_12374320140205_123754

All spreadsheets courtesy of Benn Stencil of Mode. Check here for a breakdown of which Arkansas counties produce the most talent per capita. 

2014 Signees

ARKANSASHereARKANSAS STATEHereCENTRAL ARKANSAS
Tyler Colquitt – LB 5-10 235 Pulaski Academy
Toney Hawkins – QB 6-1 185 Morrilton
Will Jones – OT 6-4 300 Parkers Chapel
Curtis Parker – OG 6-2 280 North Little Rock
Dalvin Simmons – DE 6-2 220 LR Central
Josiah Wymer – TE 6-4 262 Springdale

ALABAMA
PLAYER POS. HT. WT. SCHOOL
Josh Frazier – DT 6-3 330 Springdale Har-Ber

GRAMBLING STATE
Devohn Lindsey – WR 6-2 198 North Little Rock

LOUISIANA-MONROE
Tyrone Carter – WR 6-2 175 Rayville, La./Arkansas Baptist JC
Isaac Jackson – QB 6-2 210 FS Southside
Jake Snyder – OT 6-3 270 Wynne

LOUISIANA TECH
Ty Mullens# – DL 6-1 220 Smackover

MEMPHIS
Jarvis Cooper – DL/LB 6-2 245 West Memphis

MISSOURI STATE
Daryl Coburn – DT 6-1 325 LR Central
Deion Holliman – WR 5-9 165 Camden Fairview
Colby Isbell – DE 6-2 240 Rogers Heritage

PURDUE
Austin McGehee – PK/P 6-0 200 Pine Bluff

TULSA
Jabe Burgess* – QB 6-2 200 Greenwood
Jordan Dennis – ATH 6-1 175 Fayetteville
Isaac Johnson – OT 6-6 275 Springdale Har-Ber
Tim Quickel – LB 6-1 200 North Little Rock

WAKE FOREST
Zack Wary – LB 6-4 215 Rogers
#Walk on *Enrolled NOTE – Most players listed for Lyon are signees

UAPB

Kavin Alexander DB 5’10 190 North Little Rock HS (North Little Rock, AR)
Lawrence Berry WR 5’11 170 Parkview HS (Little Rock, AR)
Kyron Lawson DL 6’6 230 Mills HS (Little Rock, AR)
Patrick Rowland WR 5’10 165 Parkview HS (Little Rock, AR)


Alvin Bailey, Ross Rasner, Tarvaris Jackson, Sean McGrath, Ty Powell & the Super Bowl

Ex Hog and Bronco Ross Rasner sure knows how to get after it.

Ex Hog and Bronco Ross Rasner sure knows how to get after it. Via Instagram

20140129_215312

McDonald (upper left) with other 2004 all-metro players such as Darren McFadden (#5) (via Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Heading into this Sunday’s Super Bowl, there appears to be three players with Arkansas ties on the rosters of the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks. The one who will likely play the biggest role in the game itself is Clinton McDaniel, a Jacksonville native/pass rusher extraordinaire who specializes in collapsing the pocket on third downs. Learn more about him in my Sporting Life Arkansas profile here.

Offensive lineman Alvin Bailey also looks to get some burn in the big game. The former Razorback left school early last spring, went undrafted, but has carved out a nice niche for himself in Seattle. He threw a key block in the NFC Championship game to spring running back Marshawn Lynch for a 40-yard touchdown run. Those points proved to be the winning margin in a game which finished 23-17.

“I’m having the time of a lifetime,” Bailey told The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel.

He’s made no starts. But Bailey played about a dozen snaps in the NFC Championship Game as an extra lineman. And he cleared out 49er safety Donte Whitner, allowing Lynch to score and put the Seahawks in control.

Bailey said leaving Arkansas wasn’t just a good decision, “it was a great decision.”

“I thought I was going to get drafted. Things didn’t work out that way. But I made it to the Seahawks, we’re in the Super Bowl now. I don’t regret anything.”

Btw, here’s a nice KARK interview with Bailey’s gargantuan uncle, who’s livin’ large in Little Rock and is the main reason Bailey chose to attend Arkansas in the first place.

Tarvaris Jackson

Jackson hardly looked like a future pro during his two seasons as Razorback quarterback in 2002 and 2003. He had plenty “physical tools,” sure, but so does every other QB who starts at least one game in the SEC. What he lacked was the maturity to put it all together, and the patience to see it through in Fayetteville. Ten years after he transferred to Alabama State, he becomes the most unlikely former Razorback quarterback to be on a Super Bowl roster only a couple years after becoming the most unlikely ex Hog to throw for 3,000 yards in the NFL.

To me, it doesn’t matter that he likely won’t play a snap. Or that in the last week he has inspired such headlines as “Tarvaris Jackson’s Super Bowl Preparation is Sad and Boring.” But laugh not. Appreciate how amazing it is he’s almost been in the League for a full decade at QB, given how uninspiring his UA days were. It would be like time traveling to the NFL circa 2022 only to find Brandon Mitchell there as a savvy backup QB to Rafe Peavey in the Cowboy’s long-awaited return to the Super Bowl.

The Left Overs

None of the following guys with Arkansas college ties are on the rosters for Denver or Seattle. But don’t discount the part they played earlier in the season sharpening their teammates for the long haul.

1. Ross Rasner – Ras-Nasty sure could deliver a hit in his Hog days in 2009-2012, whether on special teams, as linebacker or safety. He wasn’t the most technically sound decleater we’ve ever seen on the Hill, so it wasn’t a surprise when he went unpicked in the 2013 Draft. Still, there was some cause for optimism when Denver signed Rasner as a free agent last spring and brought him to camp. Even if rookie stuff like this was happening:

khyyz_rasner_670089

Unfortunately, in the end, the burden of beating out veteran safeties like Quentin Jammer and Mike Adams for a final roster spot was too much to bear. Rasner was cut on August 31, 2013. He hasn’t yet resigned with another team, but if you think this is a man feeling down on his luck, these swag-tastic Instagram updates will have you thinking otherwise:

ras nasty

2. Sean McGrath

The 6-5, 247-pound McGrath is one of the most physically imposing college players to come out of Clark County, Ark. since Cowboys great Cliff Harris. While Harris played for Ouachita Baptist University, McGrath played in 2010 and 2011 for Henderson State after transferring from Eastern Illinois.

The Illinois native found the culture change tough at first, as he shared with ESPNW:

After two seasons as an EIU Panther, McGrath was dismissed for a violation of team rules… He got some help finding his next step from his assistant coach at EIU, Jeff Hoover, who would die in a car accident just a few months later.

“I was fortunate,” McGrath said of getting a second chance. “The late Jeff Hoover hooked me up with Coach [Scott] Maxfield down at Henderson State U, and bada-bing, bada-boom, I’m in the Bible Belt. Arkadelphia, Arkansas.”

Sounds made up, but it’s a real place. There were, of course, a few growing pains for McGrath, who adjusted to the South while sitting out the 2009 season.

“It’s a different place,” he said. “When I first got down there I didn’t know what a dry county was. Needless to say we had to get that changed. Political process went into effect and, you know. Let’s just say it was wet when we left.”

By 2010 the students of Henderson State were getting their buzz on and McGrath was back on track, catching 55 passes for 565 yards and four touchdowns. He was injured for much of his senior year and went undrafted, but he refused to give up on his dream to go pro.

Last year, McGrath played as a tight end on Seattle’s practice squad for four months before finally being called up. McGrath played well and improved over the offseason. By last spring, he’d worked his way into being the Seahawks’ second-string tight end , and sent some Seattle sports opinionators into a caffeinated craze along the way. One blogger even imagined McGrath’s role in the waning minutes of a (then) hypothetical Super Bowl:

Wilson snaps the ball.  Broncos linebacker Von Miller reads the run coming his way, and attacks the line. Oddly, he finds himself moving backwards despite his legs churning forwards. Seahawks tight end Sean McGrath is walking him back off the line. It starts slowly, but McGrath gains momentum and has completely overpowered Miller by this point. Miller is a full five yards beyond the line of scrimmage when McGrath assassinates his dignity.  [emphasis mine]  He is no longer moving backwards because McGrath has planted him on his back.

McGrath was cut by Seattle on August 31, but soon picked up Kansas City. He ended up starting nine games for the Chiefs, tallying 26 receptions for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. And he would never, ever, think of assassinating the dignity of a good locker room interview:

Keep this man away from the “Discovery Channel”!

3. Ty Powell

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll loves his linebacker/safeties fast, physical, big and snarling. That’s why he chose the 6’2″, 248-pound Powell in the seventh round, with the 231 overall pick, in the 2013 Draft. Powell had been plenty impressive at Harding University, where he was ranked the 17th best outside linebacker in the nation (inc. Division I) after a 2012 season that included 12 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and four blocked kicks [This, btw, may be a single season Arkansas college football record. Perhaps Hog Dan Skipper will break it...]

Powell says in the below video he believed he could have gone as high as the third or fourth round, so when he dropped to seventh he was left with a bit of a “chip on my shoulder”:

If Powell had a chip on his shoulder then, you know he had a veritable tortilla shell on the shoulder after being waived by the Seahawks this past September. Buffalo snapped the linebacker up the following month, though, and Powell finished with nine tackles in the the last four games of the season.

P.S. Kicker Eddie Carmona, who nailed a 62-yd FG at Harding, signed w/ Oakland in 2011, 2012

P.S. Kicker Eddie Carmona, who nailed a 62-yd FG at Harding, signed w/ Oakland in 2011, 2012


Top 10 Greatest One-Season Turnarounds in Sports History

Few turnarounds in sports history surpass what Gus Malzahn and his team pulled off.

Few turnarounds in sports history surpass what Gus Malzahn and his team pulled off.

When Auburn barely fell 34-31 to Florida State on Monday night in a showdown for the national title, it didn’t just lose a game. It lost a shot at securing status as the greatest one-season turnaround in major American team sports history. Auburn was within three points of completing a U-turn which, in terms of winning percentage and postseason results, had never before been seen on this scale.

That said, these Tigers still went from 3-9 to 12-2 and a No. 2 ranking. That in itself is still historic and ranks at the top of all-time turnarounds in major college football. But, when it comes to all-time bounce backs, a few examples in pro basketball and football still take the cake.  The St. Louis Rams, for instance, overcame 300-1 odds heading into the 1999 season to win the 2000 Super Bowl. In fact, looking at the official odds at the start of the season has provided fodder for some of the best “comebacks” and “turnarounds” recorded in recent time. One may click here for more on NFL betting this postseason and ask themselves if anything indicates a franchise turnaround.

Unquestionably, those ’99 Rams and these ’13 Tigers are  all-timers. Here are eight more:

10. Hawaii (college football)

1998: 0-12 (12.4 points per game / 35.2 points against per game)

1999: 9-4   (28.5 points per game / 26.8 points against per game)

Like at Auburn, an offensive guru turned the Rainbow Warrior program around.

When June Jones arrived as Hawaii’s head coach, he faced a team which was suffering through an 18-game losing streak and could not pass the ball to the Pacific Ocean. Within a fall, he had the offense humming and led Hawaii to the Oahu Bowl, where it beat Oregon State 23-17.

“He actually came in and gave us a system,” former Hawaii quarterback Dan Robinson told the Montgomery Advisor.  “We started the exact same players as the season before when we went 0-12. He gave us a system and taught us how to believe in that system. The season before, every week, we’d run a different offense.”

9. Kansas City Wizards (pro soccer)

1999: 8-24 (24 goals scored total / 53 goals scored against total)

2000: 16-9*-7 (47 goals scored total / 29 goals scored against total)

In 1999, the team had a talented roster – including two-time World Cup starters Tony Meola and Alexi Lalas – but could not put it together. Of course, it’s never a good sign when a defender (Lalas) is your third-leading scorer for a season. Putting points on the board was not a problem for KC the following season, thanks to the vastly improved play of midfielder Chris Henderson and his Danish friend and MLS newcomer Miklos Molnar. What’s now Sporting Kansas City won its first MLS Supporters’ Shield, beating the Chicago Fire 1-0.

*Eight draws, along with 16 wins and seven losses. This was the first season MLS games were allowed to finish in ties.

8. New England Patriots (pro football)

2000: 5-11 (17.2 points per game / 21.1 points against per game)

2001: 11-5  (23.2  points per game / 17.0 points against per game)

It’s hard to imagine the Patriots slogging through a losing season under Bill Belichick. That’s because it hasn’t happened since 2000, when he start reorganizing everything in his first season as head coach in Foxboro. He certainly laid a good foundation, which was unexpectedly helped in the second game of the following season when the Patriots were blessed by the “fortune” of having their 29-year-old franchise quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, go down with a sheared blood vessel in his chest. Tom Brady, a sixth-round draft pick in 2000, stepped in to replace him and proceeded to lead New England to an 11-3 record as starter. With the help of three clutch Adam Vinatieri field goals, the Patriots won the franchise’s first Super Bowl.

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Trey Flowers Keeps Pursuing His Dream of Chasing His Razorback Dreams

trey flowers

All-SEC Trey Flowers pursues quarterbacks and, apparently, transhuman forms of consciousness.

Press releases.

God bless the fine sports information men and women who have to crank ‘em out and the coaches and student-athletes who have to say something, anything really, to make them look more official.

It’s a fairly standard process that keeps the entire sportswriting-industrial complex humming along. Sometimes, though, there’s a glitch in the system. Somebody’s not quite on their “A game” when it comes to clearly thinking about what to say, or to write.

The result can be words that stretch the limits of logic to a breaking point. Case in point is today’s press release from the University of Arkansas  that nearly sent my mind into a metaphysical tailspin. The statement declares star defensive end Trey Flowers is returning for his senior season to anchor the Razorbacks’ line. “I’m very excited for Trey and not just his immediate future, but for everything down the road,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema pronounced.

Bielema should be excited about Flowers’ immediate future. Not only is the Alabama native returning as a second-team All-SEC player who has superb on-the-field awareness, but it’s possible he’s tapped into another dimension altogether.  Bielema said Flowers told him he’d decided to forego entering the 2014 NFL Draft because “he wanted to maintain and pursue his dream of playing and chasing his dreams here at Arkansas for another year.”

Pursuing a dream of chasing dreams? I don’t exactly know what that means. I’m pretty sure it means there’s a lot of dreaming going on. Beyond that, if I had to guess, I’d say it Bielema is trying to tell us young Trey also has the ability to meta-dream, a quality typically ascribed to techno-saviors of mankind who can flit between alternate realities and download their consciousnesses into avatars – you know, that sort of thing.

Bottom line: Flowers is still very much plugged into the program at a time when it desperately needs him. And that’s something for Hog fans to cheer about.

Proof I’m not a dirty liar:

Flowers Announces Return For 2014 Season

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Arkansas defensive end Trey Flowers announced Monday he was returning to the Razorbacks for his senior season after considering early entry into the NFL Draft.

“I have made the decision to stay at Arkansas for my senior season,” Flowers said. “Coach Bielema was very supportive throughout the process and helped me and my family navigate this decision. I still have goals on and off the field I want to accomplish at Arkansas, beginning with graduating, and want to continue pursuing those. On the field, I am excited about the program being built and wanted to help the Razorbacks back in 2014. Even though my draft grade was good, I believe another year with Coach Bielema will help improve my draft status. I am looking forward to another season at Arkansas, where we have support from our administration, some of the best fans in the nation and a bright future for the football program.”

A second-team All-SEC selection in 2013, Flowers finished the season with 44 tackles, including 13.5 for loss with 5.0 sacks, three forced fumbles, one interception, two pass breakups and five quarterback hurries. His average of 1.23 tackles for loss per game ranks second in the SEC and 35th in the NCAA, and his tackles for loss total is tied for third in the conference. His tackles for loss accounted for 58 yards lost, the ninth-highest total in the SEC. He recorded 9.5 tackles for loss in conference play, which ranked fourth in the SEC. The Huntsville, Ala., native also is tied for second in the conference and for 23rd in the country with three forced fumbles.

Through his first three seasons as a Razorback, Flowers has recorded 122 tackles, 32.0 for loss with 12.0 sacks, 17 quarterback hurries, three forced fumbles, seven pass breakups and one interception. He is tied for 11th on Arkansas’ career tackles for loss list and is tied for 16th on the school’s career sacks list. In addition to his All-SEC inclusion in 2013, he also was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team in 2011. The economics major has earned recognition on the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll and the Razorback Honor Roll for his work in the classroom.

“I’m very excited for Trey and not just his immediate future, but for everything down the road,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I went through this process, going back to last spring when I first sat down with him and his parents to talk about exactly where he was and where we thought we could get him. Then we’d have a decision to make. I really kept them in the loop as much as we could. I talked to his parents several times throughout the course of the year. Trey came in as I expected after the end of the regular season and we sat down. We filled out the information. We did a telephone conference with his father. I said we’d wait for the grades. We got our grades in, and I believe I was notified on Jan. 1. Last Friday afternoon I flew over to Alabama and myself and Coach (Ben) Herbert sat down, went through about 15 documents with Trey and his mom and dad, the information that I gathered for him to make an informed decision. Thankfully he notified us shortly thereafter and said he wanted to maintain and pursue his dream of playing and chasing his dreams here at Arkansas for another year. He’ll be able to get his degree and hopefully move his draft status that much more for the future.”

 


College Football Teams Which Played in Bowl Games Despite Losing Records

Fifty years ago, one of the worst bowl teams ever took the field to do what they did well – lose.

College football fans have a love/hate relationship with democracy; no where is this more obvious than when talk turns to the sport’s postseason. Most fans like that starting next year the national champion will be crowned through a playoff system instead of through final BCS rankings.  Some think the tourney should include eight teams instead of four, but on the whole they agree that a playoff system is more egalitarian and just than the current format which has left a few undefeated teams out of the title game.

So, yes, widening the path to the national title game = good. But widening the path to any postseason bowl? Not so cool. In 2006, the NCAA opened the floodgates on the number of programs eligible for the postseason by allowing programs with .500 records in. A winning record was no longer required to go bowling. This change was necessary. Otherwise, the openings reserved for the surging number of bowl games – now 35 – could not have been filled.

The result, of course, has been the lampooning of a profusion of horrendously mediocre football neither  you, me nor Aunt Wilma have the time to care about. Competitions like the Gildan New Mexico Bowl, played ten days ago between Colorado State and Washington State, are supposed to count for something. But, in reality, they are not so much sporting events to pay serious attention to as soothing background television during the sometimes heated holiday season. When the turkey’s burning, or the dog just bit off baby doll’s head,  a Gildan New Mexico Bowl functions as the visual equivalent of Muzak.

The current bowl system gets flak for giving afterlives to scores of 6-6 teams. But the field wasn’t necessarily more selective in previous decades. Indeed, on December 31, 1963, a team with a record-low four wins played in the Sun Bowl. That would be SMU, which was invited to play Oregon in the El Paso, Texas bowl despite a 4-6 record. “I’ll admit we did feel funny about it at first,” former SMU head coach Hayden Fry told the Dallas Morning News. “But we got to thinking, there’s no rules and regulations about records of bowl teams.” It also helped that SMU had earlier in the 1963 season knocked off fourth-ranked Navy and had an athletic director, Matty Bell, who was close friends with Mike Brumbelow, an influential El Paso businessman and leading figure in Sun Bowl operations.

This SMU team was the second of at least five major college football teams which have been invited to a bowl game despite having a losing regular season record. Not that the Mustangs were ashamed. “From the players’ standpoint, this is about the best bowl trip in the country,” Fry said in Dallas on December, 1963. “They have horse racing, bullfights, a nice luncheon, and a New Year’s Eve party in Jaurez, and we fly them back here New Year’s Day early enough that they can see the other bowl games if they want to. The players get watches, and SMU gets money in the bank. What could be better than that?”

Hold it right there, Hayden. I’ll tell you what could be better than that. How about a list of the worst major college football teams to be invited to a bowl game?

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Every Arkansas State Head Coach Marches to the Beat of His Predecessor’s Drummer

The Twitterverse is convulsing with this morning’s news that Bryan Harsin has left Jonesboro to take over the head coaching job at his alma mater Boise State. Harsin is only the latest of a series of one-year football coaches at Arkansas State. The constant turnover has been hard on the players, sure, but the good news for the program is that it will end up netting $1 million off the early buy-out clause Harsin had to sign last December. As Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky put it, “the Red Wolves job is like an unpaid internship. It’ll cost you money in the short term, but just think of it as an audition for the job you actually want.”

If you include interim coaches, Arkansas State will soon have its seventh head coach since December 2010. This kind of turnover may be unprecedented in college or pro football, but it’s not so unique in the world of iconic mockumentaries starring Christopher Guest:

H/T to Deadspin commentor Mittens Romney


Gus Malzahn & Arkansan head coaches who have won major conference titles

As head coach, Gus Malzahn doesn't have a single major conference title to his credit .... yet.

Gus Malzahn doesn’t have to be so angry anymore.

This afternoon Fort Smith native Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers will play the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship Game. If Malzahn pulls out a win that looks much less improbable than the one seared across the nation’s memory last Saturday, he will become the fifth Arkansan to have won an SEC title and at least the ninth to have won a major conference title as head coach. [UPDATE: Auburn won 59-42] Below is a list of native Arkansans (i.e. spent a majority of childhood in the state) who have already pulled this off. Not surprisingly, some are part of college football’s pantheon of coaches:

1. Bear Bryant

Hometown: Fordyce

School: Kentucky/Texas A&M/Alabama

Conference Titles Won: 15

(14 in SEC: 1950, 1961, 1964–1966, 1971–1975, 1977–1979, 1981; 1 in SWC: 1956)

National Titles Won: 6

(1961, 1964–1965, 1973, 1978–1979)

2. Barry Switzer

Hometown: Crossett

School: Oklahoma

Conference Titles Won: 12

(All in Big Eight: (1973–1980, 1984–1987)

National Titles Won: 3

(1974–1975, 1985)

3. Ken Hatfield

Hometown: Helena

School: Arkansas/Clemson/Rice

Conference Titles Won: 4

(3 SWC: 1988–1989, 1994; 1 ACC: 1991)

4. Fred Akers

Hometown: Blytheville

School: Texas

Conference Titles Won: 2

(SWC: 1977, 1983)

5. Tommy Tuberville

Hometown: Camden

School: Auburn

Conference Titles Won: 1

(SEC: 2004)

6. Charlie Strong

Hometown: Batesville

School: Louisville

Conference Titles Won: 1

(Big East: 2012)

7. Charlie McClendon

Hometown: Lewisville

School: LSU

Conference Titles Won: 1

(SEC: 1970)

This fancy Dartmouth-educated fella was Arkansan? I had no idea either...

This fancy Dartmouth-educated fella was Arkansan? I had no idea either…

8. Clarence Spears

Hometown: DeWitt*

School: Minnesota

Conference Titles Won: 1

(Big Ten: 1927)

*I admit it: I simply don’t know how long Spears lived in Arkansas before his family moved to Illinois, where he graduated high school. But I sure like to think he stuck around for longer than a Douglas MacArthur-minute.

N.B. For this list, I only focused on coaches who had spent the majority of their childhood in Arkansas. That’s why you don’t like Frank Broyles or Butch Davis, guys who came to Arkansas after high school. Malzahn, for instance, was born in Texas but grew up in Fort Smith. If I missed someone, please let me know.

Also, I’m defining “major conference” as a current automatic qualifying conferences as well as the now-defunct Big East, Big Eight and Southwest conferences. Akers won a WAC title with Wyoming, but I didn’t include that in the list above because the notion of Wyoming being a major conference school is just plain wack.


QB Fred Marshall Almost Quit On Frank Broyles, Imperiling Arkansas’ 1964 National Championship

From mmbolding.com

From mmbolding.com

Arkansas’ starting quarterback on its 1964 national title team nearly skipped out on that entire season. In 1963, Fred Marshall was a fourth-year junior who had bided his time and was ready to take the reins as Hogs’ full-time quarterback. When he didn’t, he visited head coach Frank Broyles in his office with two games left in the season and told him he’d had enough. “I told him I wasn’t coming back the following year because I thought he’d done me wrong. I was saying, in essence, ‘Coach, you messed up and I’m pissed about it.’”

Broyles didn’t act defensive, Marshall recalled. Broyles heard Marshall out. And he tried to explain to him his reasoning.

The winter before, quarterback Billy Gray had starred in the Sugar Bowl and Arkansas coaches assumed he would be the starting quarterback the following fall. That season great things were expected of the Hogs, which had finished in the AP Top 10 for four consecutive years and entered the fall as conference favorites. Problem was, Gray didn’t want to play quarterback. He wanted to stick to cornerback on defense (this was the era of two-way players). So Marshall goes in, but it didn’t help his cause that  in the 1963 conference opener he threw three passes that should have been intercepted.

So the baton was passed around.  “I start the season as the starter and next thing I know, I’m not starting any longer,” Marshall said in August, 2o13 interview. “Billy Gray’s starting and Billy Gray takes his turn and lo and behold he joins me over on the bench. And now we got Jon Brittenum starting.” It went on like this through the first eight games of the season as Arkansas fell to a 4-4 record. Gray and Brittenum weren’t as explosive in terms of passing as anticipated. Marshall, more of a running, ball-control type of quarterback, recalled being told by Broyles that “we can’t take the ball and just grind it down the field. We’ve got to have somebody who can make the big plays.” That wasn’t happening as much as expected, though, and Marshall heard about it: “I had people all over the state telling me they didn’t understand why I wasn’t playing. To a lot of people it was clear that I should have been playing.”

With Gray and Brittenum both returning the next year, and Marshall stuck as the third stringer, he decided he’d had enough. “I wasn’t gonna ride the bench for another year,” Marshall said. He was only three or six hours away from graduating at that point and moving on with his life. He had a wife and eight-month-old son to support. “I was going to get into the workforce and do my thing. [Pro] football was not part of my future.”

He vented to Broyles after a 7-0 road loss to Rice, but added that he didn’t intend to stop playing hard for the team for the remainder of the season. During the next game, at SMU, Broyles put in Marshall early but the team still lost 14-7. That didn’t dissuade Broyles. He approached Marshall in the locker room. “If you come back next year, you’ll be my starting quarterback,” Marshall recalled being told. Broyles admitted he’d made a mistake and was going to start him the next game against Texas Tech.  “I look back and wish we’d stuck with Fred in ’63,” Broyles recalled in his autobiography “Hog Wild.” “Instead of 5-5, we might have won eight or nine games.”

Marshall started the season finale at home against Texas Tech [ in the only SWC game played the day after Kennedy was assassinated] and helped the Hogs get out to a 20-0 start. Gray jumped in for Marshall in the second period after a running play in which he hit a defender head on. “As we call it in football language, he got his ‘bell rung,’” Arkansas Gazette writer Orville Henry wrote after the game. “I got a little dazed and nauseated, but I was all right by the middle of the second half,” Marshall told the Gazette.

The Hogs held on for a 27-20 win – the first of what would be 22 straight wins. Marshall would go on to be the starting quarterback the following season in which the Hogs went undefeated and clinched the national title with a 10-7 win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Marshall engineered the crucial game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and got co-MVP honors along with linebacker Ronnie Caveness. The entire season, under the steady leadership of Marshall and an elite defense, Arkansas gave up only six turnovers.

Would Arkansas have  won its lone national title had Marshall quit the previous winter? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a credit to Broyles’ ability to listen and admit mistakes that Arkansas fans never had to find out.


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