Last month, the Razorback defense played as well over a three and a half game stretch as it had at any point since its 1964 national championship season. Maintaining such intensity and execution won’t be easy, though. Significant losses loom ahead of the 2015 season. The defense loses two all-SEC caliber players in senior linebacker Martrell Spaight and senior defensive end Trey Flowers, and possibly a third in redshirt sophomore Darius Philon.
Philon, the nation’s 14th-ranked defensive tackle, is getting feedback on high how he’d be taken in the 2015 NFL Draft. Regardless of whether he leaves, Arkansas defensive coordinator Robb Smith knows it’s vital he restock the cupboard this coming off-season.
Along those lines, there’s good news.
Today, one of the nation’s most highly sought JC defensive linemen signed a National Letter of Intent with Arkansas. Jeremiah Ledbetter, a 6’3″, 280 pound four-star recruit ( according to Rivals.com), will join the team in January after spending the past two seasons at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.
From Arkansas’ sports information department:
A first-team All-Jayhawk Conference selectee, Ledbetter (@leddy_55) completed his sophomore campaign at Hutchinson with 76 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 16 sacks, nine quarterback hurries and two recovered fumbles. Ledbetter concluded his sophomore season as a second-team National Junior College Athletic Association All-American.
A native of Orlando, Florida, Ledbetter finished his senior year of high school at Gainesville (Ga.) High School, the same high school as Arkansas senior linebacker Daunte Carr. Ledbetter then redshirted his freshman year with the Blue Dragons.
Ledbetter selected the Razorbacks over offers from Georgia, Oklahoma State, Florida, South Carolina, Auburn and Miami (Fla.).
“Jeremiah is another fantastic addition to our growing 2015 class,” said Bielema. “He will bring experience and physicality to our defensive line and joins a group of outstanding future Razorbacks that will make an immediate impact with our team. The sky is the limit with Jeremiah and we can’t wait to see what he’ll bring during spring practice on and off the field.”
According to Rivals.com, Arkansas’ 2015 signing class ranks No. 20 in the nation. Ledbetter joins quarterback Ty Storey (@tystorey4), offensive lineman Zach Rogers (@HebronHawks75), defensive end Daytrieon Dean (@_dwoop) and defensive lineman Hjalte Froholdt (@Y3llur) as Arkansas’ early signees that will enroll January.
Arkansas will travel to Houston to take on the Texas Longhorns in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl. The SEC/BIG12 matchup will take place at NRG Stadium in Houston on Monday, Dec. 29 at 8 p.m. and will be nationally televised on ESPN.
To see Ledbetter’s 2014 highlights, click here.
The Arkansas Times‘ Max Brantley recently pointed out the changing demographics of UA’s student population mean that, increasingly, resident Texans – not Arkansans – represent the University of Arkansas:
Texas, if anything, feels kindly these days to UA-Fayetteville. It has become a haven for Texas students for the cut-rate tuition we offer Texas students who meet grade and test criteria and for the competitiveness of flagship Texas campuses. Almost half of new freshmen are from out of state at UA, a quarter of them alone from Texas. All told, there are 4,595 Texans on campus at Fayetteville.
Out-of-state and foreign students now comprise almost 46 percent of the University of Arkansas’ enrollment, and Texans comprise the fastest-growing subset of those groups. Nearly 25% of all University of Arkansas freshmen are Texans, with 4,600 Texans now comprising the overall 26,237 student population.
That’s an 803% increase from 2002, when there were 572 Texan students on campus.
The rate of growth among Arkansan residents has been much slower, going from 12,357 in 2002 to 14,629 this year. Given how the Texans have been rolling over the Ozarks in such increasingly large waves, I thought it would interesting to see when they would outnumber Arkansans as students enrolled in the state’s flagship campus.
At the current rates, we’re on track for 2022.
Perhaps you laugh at this extrapolation*.
True, it would be nearly impossible to maintain such an aggressive growth rate for a simple brick and mortar university, but the UA is increasingly making entire classes digital. Indeed, the University of Arkansas President Donald Bobbitt’s plans to vigorously push the launch of an online UA system university, eVersity, in the fall of 2015.
Success here means the rate of enrolled resident Arkansans should also incease in the coming years. But don’t assume the Texans’ rate of growth will steeply drop off, not with the number of online degree tracks to be rolled out in the next eight years. Plus, Texas has tens of millions of more people than Arkansas and is growing a much faster rate**. All those people have to get degrees somewhere, and as Brantley pointed out the the UA isn’t shy about extending a fiscal carrot or two to out-of-state parents looking for the best deal.
Should a UA of more Texans than Arkansans be of any concern to Razorback fans? Probably not. In the short term, don’t expect a contingent of Texas-born UA students to go rogue, roll down to the upcoming Texas Bowl in Houston, emerge from a burnt orange bus with repurposed “LIVESTRONG” gear and proceed to sabotage the Hogs’ hopes of a season-ending win. In the long term, expect thousands of the resident Texans who end up enrolling in online classes with eVersity to also be transplanted Arkansans. Many will be University of Arkansas grads looking to pad their resume. Plus, many of the Texans (Razorback players included) who become UA students also become Hog fans.
A more pressing issue is how the proliferation of eVersity, coupled with the increasingly sweet HD TV viewing experience most sports fans are getting accustomed to, will change the live experience at Reynolds Razorback stadium. Let’s say, tens years from now, you’re a UA student who doesn’t attend classes in person. You do support your Hogs, but it’s by representing them in a new, football offshoot of eSports***. The points you win for the program as a fan play into a highly lucrative meta-point ranking system of which the Hogs’ on-field performance is only a part.
Do you want to attend games in person anymore?
*Future estimates derived from Excel by using the GROWTH function, which provides predicted extrapolations using existing data.
** Texas’ population increased 20.6% from 2000 to 2010, to 25.1 million people. Arkansas increased by 9.1% to 2.9 million people in the same span.
*** Don’t tell me the SEC won’t find a way to grab a piece of this rapidly expanding pie in the next 10 years.
NB – The above post is an update of a previously published post.
The meaning of “rivalry” and whether it can already be applied to Missouri-Arkansas has been much debated this week. Although today’s game marks only the sixth time the programs have ever met, it appears both sides are comfortable with the notion of a bona fide border feud. “Arkansas – they have the word ‘Kansas’ in it, so it’s got to be a rival,” Missouri center Evan Boehm told media a few days ago, referencing his program’s top rival during its Big 12 days. Tigers head coach Gary Pinkel added: “It will be [a rivalry]. I kind of compare it to the Kansas rivalry. It didn’t happen overnight.”
The potential for a real, intense and disturbingly partisan rivalry is here, alright. Today, Missouri has an SEC East title and second straight appearance in the SEC Championship Game on the line. And Arkansas is arguably the nation’s hottest team after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss. A win sends it roaring into bowl season as a Top 25 program.
From a numbers standpoint, though, what would such an “authentic” rivalry look like and how close is Mizzou-Arkansas to it? We have actual data along these lines thanks to Dr. David Tyler and Dr. Joe Cobbs, two professors who have studied the perception of rivalry* among 5, 317 fans of 122 different major college programs. Here are two of their most interesting finds:
1) Arkansas’ fans, on the whole, feel that they are rival to other programs more than the other way around. The blue columns below signify, through points, the strength of Arkansas’ fans’ passion directed toward a particular program. The red columns represent how many “rivalry points” that program’s fans have for Arkansas.
You’ll notice among SEC programs only Missouri fans believe Arkansas is a bigger rival than visa versa:
LSU’s ranking shows that the Texas Longhorns’ grip on Arkansas’ fans hearts is slowly loosening 22 years after the Hogs left the Southwestern Conference. No one program has yet filled the void. “This is a pretty big distribution of [rivalry] points by a fan base,” researcher David Tyler told me. “The average points received by a team’s top rival is 54.2 points (median & mode are right around there too), so the 35 points that Razorback fans give to LSU is on the low end.”
[*The researchers assigned “Rivalry points” after collecting data from online questionnaires they posted on 194 fan message boards. The survey asked respondents to allocate 100 rivalry points across opponents of his or her favorite team. The closer the number to 100, the more intense feelings that programs’ fans have for their perceived top rival. Missouri, for instance, has 71.58 rivalry points directed at Kansas. One Tiger fan divided his 100 points, 75 to Kansas and 25 to Arkansas. “This would have been 100 points for Kansas prior to the SEC switch. Not really sure how to handle this now, but this split seems okay.” More details at KnowRivalry.com]
2. The other FBS programs perceiving Arkansas as a bigger rival than visa versa are Tulsa and Arkansas State University. Tulsa has 6.57 points toward Arkansas, though Tulsa doesn’t register at all on Arkansas fans’ radars. Arkansas State, meanwhile, has 24.7 points allocated to Arkansas, while Arkansas has .096 for A-State.
These programs, of course, don’t even play each other. Dr. Tyler points out “frequency of competition isn’t a necessary condition of perceived rivalry (at least in the eyes of some fans). Frequency of competition is an antecedent to most rivalries, but this is a great example where the teams don’t play but fans [on one side] still perceive a rivalry.”
Tyler and his colleague found “Unfairness, Geography and Competition for personnel (e.g. recruits)” as common themes among those poll respondents who listed Arkansas as their biggest rival. Below are some responses/themes from A-State fans he shared with me:
“We don’t play the pigs on the field, yet they have tried to keep us from growing our program since the beginning of time. They even tried to block us from gaining ‘university’ status in the late 60’s. / They want to be the only team in the state, and refuse to acknowledge our existence…all the while, playing every one of our conference mates. / I hate them, and hope they lose every game in every sport they participate in.”
“Arkansas refuses to play us because they are scared.”
“Hogs is scared to play us.”
ASU fans hate Arkansas fans and vice versa (Big brother keeping little brother down – UA will not play Ark St because they feel they own the state support and media and don’t want to let Ark St have any).
It should be interesting to see if A-State fans’ passion towards the UA wanes or waxes as the program continues to carve out a niche as a mid-major power. As for Missouri-Arkansas, there is no doubt both programs’ level of mutual hate permanently rises once the game kicks off at 1:30 p.m. today.
Perhaps, one day, Missouri’s fans will hate Arkansas as much as they have Kansas, and Hog fans will find in their hearts Texas-sized enmity for their neighbors to the north. It will take a few games of this magnitude before that becomes even a remote possibility. Until then, though, expect to read more fan comments like this: “Missouri is to Arkansas what Canada is to America. They’re too damn nice to hate.”
Below are detailed results from Arkansas Razorback fans’ responses, according to KnowRivalry.com
For at the least the third time in school history, students swarmed the field at what’s now the Reynolds Razorback Stadium. In 1999, I was in the stands as a freshman UA student. Seeing so many classmates rush the field to tear down the goalposts (en route to Dickson St.) in the aftermath of a 28-24 win over Tennessee was an amazing thing. But it’s only in my mind. No iPhones back then.
That wasn’t the case Saturday night, in the aftermath of the most cathartic sports event I’ve ever experienced. I happened to be in the stands once more, this time with means to document the historic night.
Here are a few snapshots -
— Evin Demirel (@evindemirel) November 16, 2014
Below are a couple videos, too. The one at top shows hundreds of UA students gushing all of the sudden onto the field. If I were to make a horrible analogy, I’d say it’s similar to seeing someone’s water break. But I won’t do that.
(PS – Excuse the initial shakiness. It took a while to get my bearings with all the pandemonium.)
How can a team not able to muster a conference win in 25 months be favored heading into a game against a perennial SEC power and Top 25 team? Yet it’s this unlikely situation Arkansas found itself in much of this week entering tonight’s home game vs. No. 20 LSU. Many major sportsbooks in Las Vegas favored the Hogs by one. They knew Arkansas has been so close to beating a a few Top 10 teams this season as it plows through the nation’s toughest schedule.
But has anything like this ever happened before? That is, has a team still winless in conference in November entered a game against a Top 25 team as nearly the favorite, in the process spitting on one of Bill Parcells’ most treasured maxims?
Not quite – but close.
In the last 12 years or so, the most similar parallel came on Nov 24th, 2012 from the Big East, when Pittsburgh (4-6, 1-4) was favored by 1.5 over No. 18 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0), according to research done by the full-service sports statistical site KOStats.com. Pitt beat Rutgers 27-6. But for insight into the 20th century, I went to my football historian friend Andrew McKillop of FootballGeography.com. He came back with this:
“There were some leads, but when I looked up the line the Top 25 team was always favored.The closest I found was in 1944. Duke (1-4) was called just a slight underdog at home against No. 5 Georgia Tech. Duke won and the next week they were ranked No. 20th by the AP – despite that 2-4 record.”
Yes, Broyles, the eventual legendary Razorback patriarch who hired Jeff Long who hired Bret Bielema who leads Arkansas tonight. Broyles, still kicking at age 89, was in his playing days a jack-of-all-trades All-American back who punted, threw for touchdowns and returned opponents’ passes for scores of his own.
Heading into that November 4, 1944 game at Duke, Broyles had helped lead Georgia Tech to a 5-0 record including a 17-15 takedown of then-dominant Navy. The Blue Devils, which were in a different conference, had only lost by seven to Navy but had been crushed 7-27 by Army the game before.
It didn’t matter. This game belonged to Duke, despite Broyles’ throwing for a 42-yard touchdown to Mickey Logan.
Duke went on to win its remaining four games, including wipe outs of North Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina, as well as a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Georgia Tech won its next three of four games (inc. LSU) and was invited to the Orange Bowl, where Broyles threw for 304 yards in a loss to Tulsa (a record not broken until Tom Brady did it in 2000).
In later years, Broyles would get his revenge on Duke. Not in football as Arkansas’ head coach, but in basketball as its athletic director. Thirty years after that 1944 loss, he convinced a promising young basketball coach named Eddie Sutton to leave Creighton and come to Fayetteville. Duke was another program heavily courting Sutton at the time, according to Sports Illustrated.
Fifty years after that loss, he would watch in Charlotte as his basketball program and another coach he hired wrest something even more precious from Duke – a national title.
In case you doubted the above 1945 Georgia Tech annual clips are authentic, kindly observe Allen Bowen’s nickname below for verification:
Can Missouri become the legit Arkansas rival into which LSU never quite developed?
Many Hog fans believe so. From a geographic standpoint, it makes sense, considering the campuses are about five hours apart – an hour closer than Ole Miss (Oxford) , the second-closest SEC campus to Fayetteville.
“I believe in the next decade or so it will be a good rivalry,” former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones says. “Both Arkansas and Mizzou are kind of in the same boat” in terms of overall recent football success. For the hate to really to flourish, though, Missouri must remain near the top of the SEC East and Arkansas must start beating its SEC West foes. He believes that for a true rivalry to flourish between two SEC programs, they must both meet in a regular season finale, both should win roughly half the games they play with each other overall, and each program should – at least once every five years – play in the game with an SEC Championship Game appearance on the line.
It’s possible if both teams head into that final game with zero or one loss, they would meet again a few weeks later in the SEC Championship Game. That’s something LSU and Arkansas can’t do now. And it’s not inconceivable that if both programs keep building off their current momentum, they may in a few years end up as two of the four (or eight) College Football Playoff teams. Any post-season clash at this level would kick the rivalry authentication process into warp speed.
Mutual success in the early years will ensure a healthy rivalry in the long run even when both programs inevitably wane at some point. Matt Jones likened this dynamic to Ole Miss and Mississippi State, where “if they beat each other and nobody else, that’s all that matters. It was never like that with LSU and us.”
Two other important factors here: A) As an SEC newcomer, Missouri hasn’t yet had time to develop a more hated in-conference rival already as Texas and LSU had and B) The rivalry’s basketball side will complement and strengthen the football animosity in ways that never happened with LSU-Arkansas or even Texas-Arkansas.
The fact left Hog basketball coach Mike Anderson and much of his staff left Missouri for Arkansas plays a lot into this, of course. It also helps the states of Missouri and Arkansas are in golden eras in terms of elite basketball recruits per capita, their schools often recruit against each other for the best players and that in vast swaths of northern Arkansas and Missouri, basketball – not football – is the most popular sport. That’s not the case in Louisiana and Texas.
Time will tell exactly what form the Missouri-Arkansas rivalry takes, and how deeply it will impress itself on the memories and hearts of today’s young Arkansans and Missourians.
In the short term, however, we have a much more concrete image of what the rivalry will look like. Earlier this month, the two colleges announced the game’s logo:
In a press release, the University of Arkansas played up the “geographic and historical boundaries” between the states, “from disputed demarcations of the border separating the two states to notable alumni and former personnel with ties to both storied athletic programs. The historic rivalry between the two states will take on even more meaning now, as every Thanksgiving weekend the Battle Line will be drawn on the gridiron. The Razorbacks or Tigers will ultimately stake claim to the “Line” – until the next meeting.”
We don’t yet know what the “Line” is, exactly, but don’t be surprised to see a trophy emerge here. Will it, like the Golden Boot, be clad in the glory of a thousand suns?
But there are some interesting ideas out there. I find it hard not to like the message board favorite “ARMOgedden,” but for now the graphic representation of it wallows in alumni association tailgating motif purgatory.
Former Arkansas quarterback Matt Jones would like to see a kid-friendly trophy emphasizing the mascots. It would represent a giant pot, containing a “Tiger Sooey” witches’ brew that would be stirred by some not-yet-defined creature’s hand, he says. Perhaps sticking out from the pot would be a tiger paw, or hog’s leg. Perhaps a witch looking like a hog-tiger hybrid stirs it. Suffice to say, Jones’ idea hasn’t exactly congealed.
David Bazzel has also had a crack at it. His idea is one Carmen Sandiego would love. The logo he designed features the line of latitude which serves as much of Arkansas’ northern border. Nationally, the parallel 36°30′ north is best known for marking the Missouri Compromise, which in the early 1800s divided prospective free and slave states west of the Mississippi River:
For a few years controversy extending all the way to Washington D.C. entangled the Missouri-Arkansas area near the Mississippi River. The result: Arkansas’ weird, jagged northeastern corner. “I think anything’s cool if you have a historical context to it,” Bazzel says. If his idea had taken, “people would have said ‘What is 36°30’?’, and that’s where you would have to explain it to them. So it would have included history.”
Bazzel says he offered his concept to some people at IMG College, a major collegiate sports marketing company, involved creating the rivalry logo. He isn’t sure to what extent, if any, his idea was assimilated into the final rendition. “I don’t mind the ‘battle line,’” he says. “It’s similar to what I was doing.”
When it comes to branding the future of Arkansas and Missouri’s rivalry, the past is in.
Temperatures during this Saturday’s game between Arkansas and No. 20 LSU may dip below freezing, but when it comes to competitiveness no SEC trophy game series has been hotter. In each of the last nine games of this rivalry, an average of 6.2 points has been all that separates the teams. Eight times the difference has been eight points or less. It appears the only other major college trophy series with more consistently exciting finishes has been Duke-North Carolina, decided by an average of five points* in the same span.
In the last three years, LSU’s and Arkansas’ fortunes have fallen — the Tigers’ a little, Hogs’ a lot — but the two sides haven’t let their fans down when facing each other. In 2012, nobody thought the burning Hogmobile soon-to-be-fired coach John L. Smith drove into Razorback Reynolds Stadium could pull away with a win against No. 8 LSU, but those struggling Hogs somehow out-gained LSU 462-306 in total yardage and in the closing seconds were an 18-yard touchdown pass away from forcing overtime.
Likewise, last year’s game also came down to the last couple minutes, when LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings found receiver Travin Dural on a 49-yard TD bomb that detonated Arkansas’ hopes of picking up a first SEC win since 2012.
Arkansas (4-5, 0-5) still seeks that first landmark victory. Many insiders predict the Razorbacks get it Saturday night at home. Coming off a strong showing against No. 1 Mississippi State and a bye week, Arkansas is favored by 2, according to the latest NCAAF game lines. This likely marks the first time a college football team without a conference win is favored over a Top 25 opponent this late in the season.**
Louisiana State, the would-be victim, looks to rebound from a bruising home loss to Alabama. Jennings was banged up in in the 20-13 affair and projects to have limited mobility against an Arkansas defense among the nation’s best in creating havoc in its opponent’s backfield. “Arkansas couldn’t catch them at a better time,”says Houston Nutt, former Razorback head coach. “You have a team who fought their guts out against Alabama … and now they have got to come to Fayetteville against a very hungry Arkansas team.”
“You know [LSU] is used to fighting for championships as well,” he adds, noting the difficulty of physically recovering from last week’s slugfest and overcoming a natural emotional letdown after losing an SEC West title shot. “They’re probably out of it.” Nutt predicts Arkansas will not only beat LSU, but ultimately go to a bowl game after winning at least one of its following two games against Ole Miss and Missouri.
Any bowl is great news for an Arkansas program starving for success. The same cannot be said of LSU, which was so close to still being in the hunt for a College Football Playoff berth. Now, whether it finishes the season with seven or nine wins, the Tigers are likely returning to the Outback Bowl or to the Taxslayer, Belk, Liberty, Texas or Music City bowls, writes The Advocate’s Scott Rabalais. Not exactly music to Tiger fans’ ears.
Given what’s not at stake, it’s time Les Miles and the LSU staff maximize the develop of their record 17 true freshmen these next three games, Rabalais says. Split quarterbacking duties between the struggling Jennings and frosh Brandon Harris. Crank up the carry-o-meter for freshmen tailbacks Leonard Fournette and Darrel Williams. And “maximize the D-line rotations for the younger players like Sione Teuhema, Frank Herron, Greg Gilmore and Maquedius Bain. In the secondary, get more work for youngsters like Ed Paris and Jamal Adams and Russell Gage.”
“This season was never going to be about championships,” Rabalais adds. “It was always going to be a bridge to what the Tigers hope will be a brighter future.”
Paradoxically, this kind of talk, as well as the betting lines, may actually serve as a greater incentive to LSU players than whatever on-field consequences an Arkansas win could mean for them. Yes, of course, they want to keep the nearly 200-pound Golden Boot on campus for the fourth straight season. And what erstwhile SEC champion wouldn’t prefer a return trip to sunny Tampa to the prospect of a 56th AutoZone Liberty Bowl in Memphis?
But despite what players and coaches say in public, simple pride and retaliation for a perceived slight can sometimes be the powerful motivation of all. In public, it’s foolish for coaches to admit they pay attention to Vegas and all the media chatter. But in the privacy of their locker room, it’s smart to use any perceived disrespect as extra fuel for competitive engines that may be running on low.
LSU won’t become Arkansas’ first SEC victim of the Bret Bielema era without a nasty fight. Expect another classic finish in the conference’s most heart-stopping rivalry.
Evin’s Scale of SEC Trophy Game One-Sidededness
Before 2014*, there were five trophies circulating in and among the sweaty, intraconference climes of SEC football country. Each one represents a decades-old rivalry, with LSU-Arkansas the baby of the bunch. What their Golden Boot lacks in tradition, though, has more than been made up for in sheer entertainment value. The below scale, based on final score differences, ranks the SEC trophy rivalries on a scale from most consistently entertaining (1) to most likely to cause a re-reading of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter for lack of anything better to do (5). Winners are in parentheses.
1. LSU-Arkansas (Golden Boot)
Total Point Differential: 56
Per-Game Average: 6.2
2. LSU/Ole Miss (Magnolia Bowl)
|2013||3 (Ole Miss)|
|2009||2 (Ole Miss)|
|2008||17 (Ole Miss)|
Total Point Differential: 90
Per-Game Average: 10
3. Florida/Georgia (Okefenokee Oar)
Total Point Differential: 118
Per-Game Average: 13.1
4. Ole Miss/Mississippi State (Golden Egg)
|2012||17 (Ole Miss)|
|2008||45 (Ole Miss)|
|2006||3 (Ole Miss)|
Total Point Differential: 138
Per-Game Average: 15.3
5. Alabama/Auburn** (Foy-ODK Sportsmanship Trophy)
Total Point Differential: 149
Per-Game Average: 16.6
*The new Texas A&M-South Carolina and Missouri-South Carolina series involve trophies, too. Which is nice. But for membership in this particular club, you need to have been clashin’ man horns for at least nine years running.
** Yes, the 2010 and 2013 Iron Bowls were awesomely entertaining. But Crimson Tide routs in 2008, 2011 and 2012 have made the series’ games on the whole the least consistently compelling.