Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Auburn up first in 2014
Then-Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn walks along the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Dave Martin, File)
FAYETTEVILLE - Arkansas’ 2014 football schedule, released Wednesday, marks a bold departure from SEC seasons past for the Razorbacks.
Arkansas kicks off its SEC series against border rival and new permanent crossover opponent Missouri on Thanksgiving weekend as expected, but the Razorbacks also draw an Aug. 30 season opener at Auburn, which is a radical change.
The road date at Auburn will mark the first time Arkansas has opened with a conference game as an SEC member and will represent the first conference game in August in school history.
Aug. 30 at Auburn *
Sept. 6 Nicholls State
Sept. 13 at Texas Tech
Sept. 20 Northern Illinois
Sept. 27 Texas A&M *^
Oct. 11 Alabama *
Oct. 18 Georgia *
Oct. 25 UAB
Nov. 1 at Mississippi State *
Nov. 15 LSU *
Nov. 22 Mississippi *
Nov. 29 at Missouri *
^ at AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas
The Missouri game will fill the Thanksgiving weekend slot in which Arkansas played LSU every season since joining the SEC in 1992.
“It’s a different day and age in the conference,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said prior to addressing the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Wednesday, noting that Athletic Director Jeff Long fought against losing the LSU game at Thanksgiving. “There were going to be some curve balls thrown. I know that was one of them.”
Officials at LSU and Texas A&M had lobbied the SEC to match them up on Thanksgiving weekend since the Aggies were accepted into the conference prior to last season.
“I had made it clear to the SEC and my fellow ADs in the conference that it was our strong preference to maintain LSU at the end of the season, but certainly the SEC has many, many factors to take into account, especially with the expansion to 14 members,” Long said. “While we are disappointed, we’re obviously going to accept it, move on, and we’ll still play LSU.
“We’ll just play them at a different point in the season and we’ll continue to battle them for the Boot.”
The date for Arkansas’ game at Missouri is listed as Nov. 29, a Saturday, but that game is subject to being moved to Friday, as many Arkansas-LSU games were, based on broadcasting decisions.
Bielema said the game with Missouri could grow into a rivalry quickly.
“There’s going to be some natural crossover in recruiting, build something more and more, and I think that’s why the SEC went to it,” he said. “They want to build up that possibility … something at the end of the year. Those kinds of situations could lead to something great.”
Arkansas picked up a home game against Georgia on Oct. 18 as its rotating SEC East opponent and has two nicely spaced open dates Oct. 4 and Nov. 8 prior to key conference games.
“The best thing for me as a head coach is you have a bye week before Alabama and LSU,” Bielema said.
The early Auburn game would have to be considered a curveball as well, because it will be Arkansas’ first season-opening conference road game since a 23-17 loss at Texas on Sept. 1, 1980. The Razorbacks have not opened with a road game since playing SMU in Dallas in 1999.
“The advent of the SEC Network will result in conference games being played every week of the season, going forward from 2014 on,” Long said. “While this is certainly different, it will become more the norm working forward.”
The SEC Network will make its debut by airing the Texas A&M at South Carolina game Aug. 28, 2014, two days before the Razorbacks travel to Auburn.
Arkansas will play five home games at Reynolds Razorback Stadium and two home games in Little Rock, though the designations for those games is pending.
Long said UA officials were still digesting the 2014 schedule and would forward the selection of Little Rock games to Kevin Crass, the War Memorial Stadium Commission chair, as soon as possible.
“With Coach Bielema being the new coach, he has not experienced a game in Little Rock yet and won’t until we play Samford,” Long said. “So, before we make that determination, I want Coach to at least have the opportunity to play a game in War Memorial and get the sense and feel for that.”
Arkansas will not be playing South Carolina for the first time since the programs joined the SEC concurrently in 1992 and became permanent crossover opponents. The Razorbacks lead that series 13-8 heading into their Oct. 12 date in Fayetteville.
Arkansas and Texas A&M will return their series to Cowboys Stadium on Sept. 27, 2014, following a two-year stretch of playing the old Southwest Conference rival on campus sites. The Razorbacks won the first three games of the renewed rivalry from 2009-11 at Cowboys Stadium. The schools have 11 years remaining on their Arlington agreement.
“You know we were disappointed when A&M broke that contract, and we were excited when we were able to get that put back together,” Long said. “It will be 11 years in really the finest stadium in America and maybe the world.
“That will be huge for our program. It’ll be huge for our university. It provides us that great exposure in the Dallas area, which helps us recruit student-athletes and it certainly helps us recruit students.
Additionally, the Razorbacks will rekindle their old Southwest Conference rivalry with Texas Tech by beginning a two-game series with the Red Raiders on Sept. 13 in Lubbock, Texas. Arkansas also will host Alabama-Birmingham, led by former Razorback assistant coach Garrick McGee, on Oct. 25.
The Hogs’ other nonconference games will be Sept. 6 against Nicholls State of the Football Championship Subdivision and Sept. 20 against Northern Illinois. Arkansas will be playing UAB and Nicholls State for the first time each.
The Razorbacks will play two games in Texas in the same season for the first time since their final year in the Southwest Conference in 1991.
Sports, Pages 17 on 08/22/2013