'Swing game' not hard to identify

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, August 16, 2018
Arkansas coach Chad Morris directs his players Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andy Shupe
Arkansas coach Chad Morris directs his players Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, during practice at the university practice field on campus in Fayetteville.

LITTLE ROCK — While on hold for the host of a Fayetteville-based radio show, a guest can sometimes hear the on-air conversation and obtain a heads-up about the topic of the day.

Not last week.

Cold turkey, the question was identifying the “swing game” on Arkansas’ schedule.

Without hesitation, “Ole Miss” was the answer.

The Oct. 13 game in Little Rock fits perfectly with the personal definition of “swing game.”

To qualify for consideration, the game should be winnable vs. an opponent perceived to be slightly better and should occur at a critical point in the season.

The first point requires a decent feel for how Arkansas is going to fare in at least eight or nine games. Begin with a 4-0 record vs. non-conference opponents and 1-3 vs. SEC opponents Vanderbilt, Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M, leaving Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri eligible for the “swing game” label.

Generally, the Rebels are considered a smidge better than the Razorbacks. The sports books set the over-under on wins at 6 for Ole Miss and 5.5 for Arkansas and the media voted Ole Miss sixth in the SEC West, ahead of the UA.

Completing the argument, the game is in the middle of Arkansas’ schedule at a critical juncture for the Razorbacks.

If Ole Miss beats Texas Tech on opening weekend, the Rebels should be no worse than 4-2 going into the Arkansas game and the Razorbacks are likely to be 3-3 after a 3-0 start. With Tulsa and Vanderbilt dead ahead, a victory over Ole Miss would likely initiate a three-game winning streak (the Razorbacks follow with home games against Tulsa and Vanderbilt) that would secure a bowl bid in Chad Morris’ first year.

At this point, the Rebels’ primary advantage over the Razorbacks is the presence of three established wide receivers, a clear-cut No. 1 quarterback in Jordan Ta’amu and a likely first-round draft choice in offensive tackle Greg Little.

Last year as a sophomore, A.J. Brown caught 75 for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns, including 27 for 422 yards and 4 touchdowns from Ta’amu in the final three games of the year. There is speculation that the 225-pound Brown will enter the NFL Draft next year and his skills are so highly regarded that one online sports book posted 13.5 as the over-under for his TD receptions this year.

In addition, DK Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge totaled 80 catches last year, including 14 for touchdowns.

On the Arkansas side, Morris said this week that Ty Storey and Cole Kelley are the top quarterbacks, but that there has been no separation. Jonathan Nance is the leading returning receiver with 37 catches in 2017.

Elsewhere in the SEC West, a team’s “swing game” is not easily identified.

For example, LSU, A&M and Mississippi State are in a similar boat — either of their games against Alabama or Auburn could qualify.

Based on the dates involved, make it Auburn on Sept. 15 for LSU, Alabama on Sept. 22 for A&M, and Auburn on Oct. 6 for Mississippi State.

Favored in every game, most of the time by double digits, Alabama has no “swing game.” As for Auburn, the Tigers play three of the top five favorites to win the College Football Playoff — Washington on Sept. 1 in Atlanta, at Georgia on Nov. 10 and at Alabama on Nov. 24. The Huskies are too early in the season and the Crimson Tide is too late to be considered.

For Arkansas, the Ole Miss game also involves a subplot involving the future of Razorback football in Little Rock.

The UA’s recent commitment to use War Memorial Stadium through 2024 is merely an opportunity to make the case that games in the stadium are an integral part of Razorback football. Including the Oct. 13 contest, there are SEC games against Missouri on Thanksgiving weekend in 2019, 2021 and 2023, and three Red-White scrimmages to impress the UA hierarchy with attendance and atmosphere.

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