King: Look at the opponents, not the Razorbacks

By: Harry King
Published: Monday, March 30, 2020
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman speaks to the crowd during a basketball game between Arkansas and Tulsa on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman speaks to the crowd during a basketball game between Arkansas and Tulsa on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019, at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville.

— Clues regarding Sam Pittman’s first Arkansas team are so scarce that a circuitous approach might yield the most realistic calculation of expectations for the Razorbacks.

In other words, employing particulars about Arkansas’ 12 opponents to arrive at a legitimate over-under total for victories by a team that has won one SEC game in the last three years makes more sense than relying on uncorroborated judgments about Razorback coaches and players.

After all:

• Pittman has no record as the head coach of a four-year school.

• There was no spring practice to showcase capabilities of new or relatively obscure athletes or illustrate a fresh enthusiasm.

• Coordinators Barry Odom and Kendal Briles are Fayetteville first-timers and the latter has no experience in the SEC.

• Proven commodities begin with running back Rakeem Boyd and wide receivers Treylon Burks and Trey Knox and reasoning that the talented receiving corps guarantees a sound passing game is understandable, but ignores the unknown identity of the quarterback and long-running questions about the offensive line.

On the other hand, some knowledge of the quality of the opposition is available.

A Nevada sports book recently distributed wagering lines for the top three or four college football games each week this fall and the list is littered with SEC teams.

Both Alabama and LSU are mentioned five times, while Auburn appears four times, and Texas A&M three times vs. West Division opponents. The point is the division is loaded — BetOnLine’s recent update on teams to make the College Football Playoff included all four at odds of 5-1 or less — and Arkansas is not going to beat any member of that foursome.

Assuming a 12-game schedule, the over-under win total for the Crimson Tide will be 11, maybe even 11.5. Both Auburn and A&M are rated dead even with defending national champion LSU in their match-ups, indicating the number will be eight, maybe nine or more, for each of those three.

Notre Dame is also among the teams at 5-1 or less to make the CFP and Tennessee will be a trendy pick to be the surprise of the SEC so coming up with an accurate over-under for Arkansas is reduced to the contests vs. three nonconference opponents and SEC members Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Missouri.

Not that long ago, 3-0 vs. Nevada, Charleston Southern and Louisiana-Monroe would be kissed off in one paragraph. No more. Not after Colorado State, North Texas, San Jose State and Western Kentucky scored a minimum of 31 each and totaled 154 in victories over the Razorbacks the last two years.

This fall, FBS members Charleston Southern and ULM, which has not had a winning record in four years under Matt Viator, are the only surefire Ws.

As for Nevada, note a preview of the Wolf Pack in which a Nevada Sportsnet reporter detailed “Things to be excited about,” beginning with quarterback Carson Strong and wide receivers. Then this little nugget: “Nevada’s nonconference schedule is easy …,” pointing out that Arkansas, two other FBS teams, and the FCS opponent were a combined 7-29.

Later, the reporter identified Arkansas and South Florida as Nevada’s “toughest games.”

Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Missouri have new head coaches and coordinators, but the athletes inherited by Mike Leach, Lane Kiffin and Eliah Drinkwitz have had some success in the SEC, while Pittman’s fourth-year players are 1-23 and his younger players have never won an SEC game. During the past three years, both MSU and Missouri were 11-13 in the league and Ole Miss was 6-18.

For whatever reason, the effort of many UA players was less than 100 percent late in the 2019 season and changing the athletes’ attitude is the No. 1 priority for Pittman and his staff. To that end, opening against a Nevada team with lofty aspirations in the Mountain West Conference could serve as a building block if the Razorbacks slow the Wolf Pack offense or come from behind to win or both.

All that said, the official over-under on Arkansas won’t be available for months, but it was 5.5 each of the past two years and the Razorbacks were so inept that a bet on the over was a loser with three games to play.

This year, the personal number for the Razorbacks is 4.5, and going over requires two victories in a league where the Razorbacks have lost 19 straight.

If required to wager, give me the minimum on the under.

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