Imagining a World Where the Big, Bad Wolves Take on the State’s Top Hogs: Image courtesy of Sync magazine
Rivalry week gripped the college football world last Saturday.
In states with populations or areas similar to Arkansas – Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Carolina – longtime intrastate foes squared off for annual bragging rights.
The University of Arkansas doesn’t schedule in-state competition, so nothing like Ole Miss-Mississippi State or Clemson-South Carolina erupts here. It’s widely believed the state’s other FBS program, Arkansas State, couldn’t beat Arkansas often enough for an authentic rivalry to flourish. The numbers support this: since 2001, UA and ASU have played the same opponent 21 times within the same season. Only four times did ASU lose to that opponent by an equal or smaller margin.
And not until this season did ASU beat an opponent that had, or would, defeat Arkansas. In September, Louisiana-Monroe beat Arkansas 34-31 in Little Rock. In November, ULM lost to ASU 45-23 in Jonesboro.
Breathe easy, Hog fan. I won’t indulge in wonky transitive property logic. I know that with enough if-thens, even an insane argument like Arkansas Baptist College-Is-Better-Than- Texas A&M looks rational.
Besides, injuries affected both games. Arkansas lost quarterback Tyler Wilson for the second half of the ULM loss. Then, three of ULM’s defensive starters missed the ASU game, along with four offensive starters – including star quarterback Kolton Browning. “I’m not making excuses,” says ULM head coach Todd Berry. But “obviously that affected our game plan. We still threw the ball around decent and moved the ball, but there was that extra dimension they didn’t have to prepare for.”
ASU’s ULM win, along with ranking ahead of Arkansas in national polls, don’t necessarily prove ASU is better than Arkansas this season. Instead, these events simply make speculating about a hypothetical showdown all the more fun.
Especially if it happened at War Memorial Stadium. “I think it would be great for the state,” ASU head coach Gus Malzahn said last week. “I think it would create a lot of excitement.”
Below is a prediction of how the game would have transpired if these programs played last week, with staffs and injury statuses as they were at season’s end.
UA Offense vs. ASU Defense
Tyler Wilson picks apart the Red Wolves with pinpoint passing. His main target is Cobi Hamilton, who has a field day against smaller ASU defensive backs like Chaz Scales and Don Jones, who plays only half the game because of a suspension.
ASU starts off blitzing Wilson often but slows down after it is shredded a few times on short slants with Hamilton and wheel routes with Knile Davis. The Hogs’ offensive linemen, who average 303 pounds, consistently open holes against ASU defensive linemen who average about 280 pounds. Hog running back Dennis Johnson uses these to get to the defense’s second line, where the stout senior has a few epic collisions with ace linebacker Nathan Herrold.
As always, lack of consistent focus and turnovers plague Arkansas. RB Jonathan Williams makes a spectacular 36-yard run on a promising drive at the end of the first quarter, only to cough it up at the end. In the third quarter, Arkansas’ Mekale McKay catches a 40-yard pass and appears headed for the endzone when safety Sterling Young strips him on a blindside hit.
There aren’t many blank spots on longtime NBA player Derek Fisher’s resume: five world titles, an AAU National Championship, a high school state championship, six years as National Basketball Players Association President. On every big stage the Little Rock native has played, he has left his mark.
Yet there’s the stage he never played on.
It doesn’t matter how many big-time events Fisher has been a part of in his 16-year pro career. Nothing will erase the memory of how close he got as a college senior to making his sport’s most dramatic competition: the NCAA Tournament. His University of Arkansas at Little Rock Trojans were up 56-55 in the 1996 Sun Belt Conference Championship game with four seconds left.
The University of New Orleans had the ball. Fisher closed out quickly on the opposing guard with the ball, but he spun past Fisher’s outstretched arms and drove to the basket, lofting a teardrop shot that resulted in an upset win.
Despite a 23-6 record, UALR would be left out on the doorstep on Selection Sunday. Fisher’s final shot at the Big Dance was gone.
It could have been much, much different.
What if instead of leading UALR, Fish had helped steer the Razorbacks? “I think he could have played at Arkansas, but coming out of high school, he just wasn’t ready,” said Razorback All-American Corliss Williamson, also one of Fisher’s best friends. There’s a strong chance Fisher was ready for Arkansas halfway through his college career, though, and he was closer to making that jump than many people realize.
See the rest of the story at Sync magazine.
PS – This concludes what has apparently become my blog’s Of(Fish)al Derek Fisher Week.
How Trey Biddy, Richard Davenport, Otis Kirk & Dudley Dawson became Arkansas’ recruiting news gatekeepersPosted: January 31, 2012
With signing day on Wednesday, recruiting news is bigger than ever – especially in DGB-crazed Arkansas. But who are the men bringing us all this nonstop recruiting info? What draws them to this recruiting news niche? And why has the field grow so fast? Finally, how do the recruits and their families under the microscope feel about the process? I spoke with the father of Razorback commit Deatrich Wise, Jr. and found some of his statements remarkably candid (for more, read “The Recruit” section below) Get all this background and more from the following piece, originally published in the September issue of Arkansas Life:
One of the fastest growing sports news beats is recruiting, where millions of fans want to know what hundreds of top high school athletes have to say about their favorite program. In Arkansas, the prime gatekeepers of this information power some of the state’s biggest sports sites. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s recruiting blog had 700,000 views in a month. Hawgsports.com, which covers all aspects of Razorbacks sports with a focus on recruiting, topped five million page views in January 2010, the month before National Signing Day on February 3rd.
These recruiting gurus constantly interview the athletes and churn out articles hitting on basics – weight, height, bench press, vertical jumps, 40-yard dash, schools visited, impressions made by coaches. Eight times out of ten, it seems, you can bank on a kid giving props to the UA business school and/or football team’s weight room.
The content may seem redundant, but there’s more at play. This is a trade built on dreams. When the recruit picks up the phone, he hopes his words bring a scholarship, a degree and career.
For the ever-hopeful Arkansas fan, though, these words can evoke something far more visceral: visions of an entire state wrapped in cardinal red, the last seconds of a dream season ticking away, all those goose-bumped arms slowly rising, falling, while one “Woo Pig Sooie” atop another cascades across the Ozarks, ringing into the night.
The last time Razorback fans saw safety Kenoy Kennedy in an Arkansas uniform, he was camping out in the Texas Longhorns’ backfield during the 2000 Cotton Bowl, clearing out the sinuses of anything wearing orange.
In that game, Kennedy led a defense which racked up eight sacks while holding Texas to minus-27 yards, an all-time low. Both Longhorn quarterbacks – Major Applewhite and Chris Sims – were injured.
It was one of the finest defensive performances in Cotton Bowl history.
On Thursday, the good folks from “The Zone” at Buzz 103.7 sat down with Dallas native Kennedy, who was drafted in the second round of the 2000 NFL Draft and played seven years in total with the Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions.
He’s going to attend the Cotton Bowl: “I’m kind of fired up about it. I was online and somehow my mouse got to clicking and I ended up on a Kansas State blog. And man, they talk so bad about us. I was in my office just sweating. My fists was balled up. I had to remind myself these are only words. I had to shut my computer down and had to walk out.”
Here are other highlights from that interview:
1. PROPER TACKLING IN NFL: Kenoy says it’s near impossible to practice proper form tackling. “Guys are so big and strong and when they’re running that fast and the ball’s coming in as fast as they are, you just try to put whatever you can on the guy. You can teach proper form, but when everything’s happening so fast, no body hardly makes the perfect tackle. You try to get the guy on the ground anyway you can or you won’t be able to play long.”
2. KIDDING AROUND: His wife attended U of Texas. “We’re not going to hold that against her,” Kenoy says. They have two sons, ages six and three. The children haven’t been playing pee-wee football, but the oldest one does play soccer. “He’s got to get his footwork right,” Kenoy says.
3. AFTER HE WAS RELEASED FOUR YEARS AGO: “Once I was done, I was done. I stopped playing Madden games. I didn’t want none of it.” Slowly, his love of NFL football is returning, though. He plays fantasy football, and is trying to watch more.
4. NO OFFENSE TAKEN: Texas A&M, Kansas and Baylor were some of the schools recruiting him as an offensive player out of high school. Only Arkansas wanted him to play defense.
5. WILL TIM TEBOW GET BACK HIS MOJO?: “It’s gonna be hard to win on a constant basis, especially when you get to the playoffs. You have to be able to throw the ball, and throwing the ball for 50-60 yards a game, that’s not gonna win in the playoffs.
Listen to The Zone’s interview with Kennedy in its entirety here. At 20 min., Kennedy’s anectode about a ferocious hit he made in college is hilarious.
Later, in the NFL, he’d get in trouble for such hits:
October, 2002 - Denver Broncos safety Kenoy Kennedy (Arkansas Razorbacks) was suspended without pay for one game for a helmet-to- helmet hit that left Miami Dolphins receiver Chris Chambers with a concussion.
Chambers was hurt in the second quarter of the Dolphins’ 24- 22 victory Sunday, when he reached for a pass from quarterback Jay Fiedler and was hit in the head by Kennedy.
Kennedy receives $430,000 in base salary and will lose one game check, equivalent to $26,875.
Kennedy was called for a personal foul. Chambers lay on the ground for several minutes and needed help leaving the field.
It wasn’t the first time Kennedy was disciplined by the league this season.The Broncos’ strong safety was fined $7,500 for a hit on the St. Louis Rams’ Isaac Bruce on Sept. 8 and another $10,000 last week for a hit on San Diego Chargers running back Fred McCrary. The league warned Kennedy that future hits similar to the one on McCrary could lead to a suspension. – from Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Press Services
So, to shake things up, I’ve imagined delving into the future to find some of the most provocative stories of the year 2020, and I examined what 2011 events led to them.
In brief, I found what in nine years will turn out to be the biggest stories of 2011.
Here are a few highlights from my tour of Cowboys Stadium, the world’s largest domed structure, a month before the Cotton Bowl.
This stadium’s roof is as tall as the top of the Statue of Liberty’s torch.
In Texas, it is said everything is bigger. The Cotton Bowl’s executive staff, which includes 48 people whose titles include the words “president,” “owner,” “CEO,” “director” or “chairman,” is no exception. Nor is the Cotton Bowl’s trophy, which weighs in at 62.5 pounds, and is constructed by the same folks who trophies for the Oscar’s. The Super Bowl’s trophy, by comparison, is a waif-like seven pounds, the tour guide informed us.
Arkansas, which is 3-7-1 all-time in the Cotton Bowl, has its stateprints all over Cowboys Stadium.
Between 1977 and 1999, the Hogs played twice in the Cotton Bowl. They lost both games, including this one in which they fell 31-27:
Willy’s World extended to the gridiron, too. Through former Razorbacks Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson, he sampled the glory of the Cowboys’ 1990s dynasty.Dear wife Susan, I only entered because I didn’t want to make my tour guide mad.
In ESPN analysis of Arkansas-Kansas State Cotton Bowl, question of Oklahoma State’s exclusion from title game arisesPosted: December 5, 2011
Below is a video of ESPN’s first analysis of the upcoming Cotton Bowl featuring Arkansas and Kansas. I found it to get really interesting around 1:40, when the game is discussed as a possible litmus test of the worthiness of No. 1 LSU’s opponent in the BCS National Championship game.
That is, which team was more worthy of being selected as that foe – Alabama or Oklahoma State? Alabama, of course, won out, and ESPN pointed to strength of schedule as one of the reasons. Although Oklahoma State had more win over Top 25 teams, Alabama was perceived on the whole to have beaten better teams.
ESPN deemed Arkansas as Alabama’s most impressive win of the season, while calling Kansas State as Oklahoma State’s most impressive win of the season.
So, it goes to reason, that if Arkansas beats Kansas State, the SEC’s strength is further justified and Alabama fans should feel even more justified. But an Arkansas loss would give Oklahoma State fans even more milk to spill in regards to their spurned national title hopes.
Four years ago, Bobby Petrino arrived in Fayetteville and started proving himself from the start. Arkansas’ new coach promised to unite a fan base that had been fractured in the months preceding Houston Nutt’s ignominious departure, and started fulfilling that with a 5-7 season throughout which the team markedly improved. Ryan Mallett came aboard the next season and began smashing every passing record in sight on the way to an 8-5 finish and a Liberty Bowl win. In 2010, Arkansas rose yet another level with 10 wins while losing to defending national champion Alabama and eventual national champion Auburn in fairly tight games. Yes, the Hogs lost to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, but reaching a BCS bowl was another sign things were pointing up. Anything seemed possible for Petrino, who’d done the near-miraculous in three years.
Now, this season.
10-2 should be a great record. It should represent consistent excellence. Yet something doesn’t sit well.
When it comes to rivalry games involving boot booty, Arkansas-LSU stomps all over Wyoming-Colorado StatePosted: November 25, 2011
Turns out a rivalry game trophy involving a very heavy boot representation isn’t the sole domain of Arkansas and LSU, who have clashed for the above-pictured piece of hardware since 1996. Border rivals Wyoming and Colorado State have been battling for a bronze boot all their own since 1968.
That, of course, was at the height of the Vietnam war and unsurprisingly this Bronze Boot has martial origins:
In 1968, the ROTC detachments of the respective schools initiated the Bronze Boot, a traveling trophy awarded to the winner of the “Border War” each year. The boot was worn in the Vietnam War by Cpt. Dan J. Romero, an Adams State College graduate and Army ROTC instructor at CSU between 1967 and 1969. Each year leading up to the Wyoming–Colorado State game, the game ball is carried in a running shuttle relay by the ROTC detachment of the visiting team down US 287 to the Wyoming-Colorado state border, where the home team’s ROTC detachment receives it and runs the game ball to the stadium hosting the game. The trophy is guarded by the ROTC unit of the past year’s winning school during the game.
I have to admit, if what wikipedia is telling me is true, this ritual sounds pretty sweet.
Still, my guess is very few people outside of Wyoming and a slice of Colorado ever get short of breath talking about this rivalry. A far cry from the national implications of today’s No. 3 Arkansas vs. No. 1 LSU game.
Let’s get this out of the way first: as far as similarities between Houston and Arkansas go, the majority of the programs’ fans care most about one thing these days – the possibility that either elite college football team could make a BCS bowl in the immediate future.
But those following the programs’ basketball teams so far this early season will find plenty of other similarities – young, athletic, guard-oriented teams intent on running the other side off the court. And, as I dove into the programs’ histories for a Sync magazine piece previewing Friday’s UA-Houston basketball game, I was somewhat surprised by the number of parallels between the Hogs and Cougars. The teams shared 16 years battling each other in the old Southwest Conference, and much more …
UA: 1 (1994)
Final Four Appearances
UA: 6 (1941, 1945, 1978, 1990, 1994, 1995)
Houston: 5 (1967, 1868, 1982, 1983, 1984)
*Houston started its athletic programs in 1946.
NCAA Tournament appearances
Houston: 19 [one (2010) since 1992]
Consensus or First Team All-American Selections since 1946
UA: 8 [Martin Terry (1973), Sidney Moncrief (1978, 1979), Ron Brewer (1978), Todd Day (1991, 1992), Corliss Williamson (1994, 1995)]
Houston: 6 [Elvin Hayes (1966, 1967, 1968), Otis Birdsong (1977), Clyde Drexler (1983), Hakeem Olajuwon (1984)]
First or Second Round NBA Draft Picks
Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers
Houston: 3 (Olajuwon, Hayes, Drexler)
*Arkansas’ Sidney Moncrief is a possible future inductee, as is Joe Johnson with a couple more All-Star level seasons.
* Houston, along with North Carolina and LSU, are the only three programs to have three players voted to the NBA’s Top 50 Players of All Time List in 1996.
All numbers taken from media guides
Nowadays, Arkansas plays in a superior conference with superior facilities. Still, Houston’s glorious 1960s-1980s’ run still allows it to be considered one of the nation’s top programs in terms of prestige. Bleacher Report ranked the Cougars as the 22nd best program of all-time, while pegging Arkansas at No. 17.
But, as Top 25 rankings go, this season’s is the one mattering most to the coaches of these two undefeated teams. Whichever side wins tonight gets a head start in cracking it early on.