Wally Hall is the managing sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock after an honorable discharge from the U.S. Air Force, he is a past president and member of the Football Writers Association of America, member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, past president and current executive committee and board member of the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame, and voter for the Heisman Trophy.
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Arkansas sneaks into opener covered in 3-9
Arkansas football coach Bret Bielema answers questions for the media Tuesday, Aug. 19, 2014 before speaking at the opening week of the Little Rock Touchdown Club.
As the old saying goes, the hay is in the barn.
It is game week, finally, after a long summer when soccer became popular and television political ads redundant.
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Starting Thursday night when Texas A&M goes to South Carolina for its first loss of the season, until long months from now, college football is back. Oh sure, for the majority the NFL is the No. 1 game in the country. But in Arkansas, there is only one top team, the Razorbacks.
That's not to say the Arkansas State Red Wolves are not a program that has ascended to winning ways, and if they make it back to Mobile, Ala., for a fourth consecutive year, that bowl should be renamed Go Red Wolves Bowl, sponsored by Go Daddy.
Still, it is the Hogs who can put 72,000 sweating behinds in the stands on a hot and humid day, and regardless of what anyone says, they have been focused on two things since the start of spring practice.
Getting better and beating Auburn.
No doubt every Auburn player would tell you they are focused on this Saturday's game against Arkansas. But the truth is the Razorbacks are unranked and under-the-radar and when you are an Auburn Tiger, there is always room in your mind for Alabama and LSU.
Arkansas mirrors the Auburn team of a year ago in some ways.
Auburn was coming off a 3-9 record heading into last season and the only talk about it on TV and national radio was would it be lucky enough to get to 6-6 and a bowl.
Auburn, though, has had better recruiting, well-documented luck -- some of it they made-- and got to the biggest and best bowl of all, the BCS Championship, where it ran out of time after Florida State scored the go-ahead touchdown with 13 seconds to play in a 34-31 victory.
Luck for Auburn came in the form of a deflected Hail Mary pass that Georgia appeared to have defended, but Auburn receiver Ricardo Louis kept his focus, found the ball, made the catch and raced into the end zone for the 73-yard touchdown with 25 seconds to play.
The Tigers had faced fourth-and-18 on the play that led to the 43-38 victory.
Against Alabama, Coach Gus Malzahn called for Chris Davis to return the Crimson Tide's 57-yard field goal attempt with 1 second remaining if it came up short. It did, and Alabama Coach Nick Saban failed to warn his team the Tigers could return the attempt. That's making your own luck and a 34-28 victory.
Luck is something the Razorbacks have not had a lot of the past two seasons, and partly because they didn't make any luck by causing timely turnovers or converting on third downs.
Last year, it took the Tigers a few games to get back on the Gus Bus after a year of him being gone. But when they did, luck and success followed.
Now the Razorbacks have had more than a year to get to know Bret Bielema and vice versa.
Players decided to get up close and personal with his system during the summer by holding players-only meetings. The meetings occurred two, sometimes three times a week, and there were sessions where execution was the primary discussion.
Now, they are quietly confident and comfortably under the radar.
Auburn is the hunted this season and must go on the road to Georgia and Alabama, plus it is never easy to beat Bill Snyder at Kansas State.
Arkansas has 10 bowl teams on its schedule, but it has had the luxury of months of focusing on one opponent, the Auburn Tigers. The only thing the Hogs are defending is something they want to get rid of and that's being the cellar dweller of the West.
College football is here this week, and while the first SEC game is Thursday, the conference game of the week may be taking place down on the Plains.
Sports on 08/26/2014