Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Razorbacks, fans shouldn’t overlook business at hand
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema watches Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, during practice at the university's practice field in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Florida A&M just offered first-game prudent perspective to an Arkansas Razorbacks team constantly told by fans, media and likely among themselves the looming importance of their season’s second and third games. Better tend to business now than scathingly get the business because you peered toward new business instead of the business at hand.
Florida A&M’s Rattlers of the lower division MEAC (Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference) open the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville’s season at 7 p.m. Thursday on the SEC Network at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.
They come to Little Rock already victorious, 29-7 over the Texas Southern Tigers last Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla.
Texas Southern also hails from a lower division conference, the SWAC, and only went 4-7 last year.
The Rattlers under now third-year Coach Alex Wood, the Razorbacks’ quarterbacks coach in 2006 and receivers coach in 2007 under former Arkansas Coach Houston Nutt, also were 4-7 last year. Obviously they have improved. They led Texas Southern 29-0 before the Tigers tallied on Rattlers reserves in the fourth quarter.
Media and fans have long frosted Florida A&M as a cupcake in Arkansas’ win column. They anticipate the next two games — TCU on Sept. 9 in Fayetteville and the Sept. 23 SEC opener against the Texas A&M Aggies at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas — not only as Arkansas’ biggest in September but among Arkansas’ biggest for the season.
TCU of the Big 12 and a former Arkansas Southwest Conference rival that Arkansas outlasted last year, 41-38 in a double-overtime thriller in Fort Worth, on reputation by far ranks as Arkansas’ biggest nonconference game for 2017.
Texas A&M, also a former Arkansas Southwest Conference rival, stands 5-0 above the Hogs since the Aggies in 2012 joined Arkansas in the SEC West.
That’s no Aggie joke to Arkansas fans back from Southwest Conference days accustomed to quipping at the Aggies’ expense.
No wonder Arkansas’ fan base looks ahead. And even less wonder their rage if surprised from behind.
Whether Coach Jack Crowe, fired the next day after his 1992 Razorbacks lost their season opener in Fayetteville to The Citadel, or John L. Smith, his interim title unofficially but thoroughly becoming lame duck two games into 2012 after the 30-points favored Hogs lost to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, the Arkansas program can be uncompromisingly unforgiving about gagging on cupcakes.
Everyone’s patience, especially Coach Bret Bielema’s, got stretched to the max in Arkansas’ 2016 season-closing second-half meltdowns. Arkansas squandered 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads into 28-24 and 35-24 losses to Missouri and Virginia Tech.
Regardless Thursday’s first half score, Bielema vows relentless Razorbacks in Thursday’s second half.
“I think this group has focused on the last half of everything they’ve done since January,” Bielema said. “The last half of workouts, the last half of practice. The last half of everything should be fun to watch.”
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