Razorbacks set to find out bowl path

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Sunday, December 4, 2022
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown during a game against Missouri on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Columbia, Mo.
( Hank Layton, NWA Democrat-Gazette )
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman is shown during a game against Missouri on Friday, Nov. 25, 2022, in Columbia, Mo.

FAYETTEVILLE — After a week of roster flux, highlighted by quarterback KJ Jefferson’s decision to return for his senior season, the University of Arkansas football team will learn its bowl fate today.

The most likely scenarios appear to be the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on Dec. 28 at 4:30 p.m. or the Texas Bowl in Houston later that day at 8 p.m. Both of those games feature SEC against Big 12 matchups.

Whether the Razorbacks will have defensive coordinator Barry Odom for their postseason game is in question after a report out of Oklahoma early Saturday identified him as a leading candidate for the vacant head coaching position at Tulsa.

KJRH-TV in Tulsa reported that former Texas Tech Coach Matt Wells has withdrawn his name from consideration for the job and that Odom “appears to be the favorite” to replace the fired Phillip Montgomery for the Golden Hurricane. Odom interviewed for the position with Tulsa Athletic Director Rick Dickson via Zoom on Wednesday, according to KWTV-TV of Oklahoma City.

Odom, who has been a close confidante to third-year Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman since his hiring in December 2019, was in attendance at the Shiloh Christian-Little Rock Parkview Class 5A state championship game on Saturday afternoon in support of his son, linebacker JT Odom.

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Arkansas and Tulsa entered into a three-game contract for football games in the summer of 2019, with the Razorbacks having home games in 2026 and 2029 and Tulsa hosting the Hogs in 2027.

The Razorbacks are most likely to be chosen among the pool of six bowls, which are the Liberty, Texas, ReliaQuest, Gator, Music City and Las Vegas.

The least likely of those for Arkansas is the ReliaQuest, formerly the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla., which ostensibly takes the first pick among those bowls and last year chose the Razorbacks, who downed Penn State 24-10 on Jan. 1.

Brett McMurphy of The Action Network projected the Razorbacks to face Kansas in the Liberty Bowl after he reported on Friday that Missouri passed on a chance to be matched with the Jayhawks, their Border War rival, in the postseason.

However, the official Missouri football Twitter account responded with “not true” to McMurphy’s report, and Tigers Coach Eli Drinkwitz posted a message on social media with a picture of the Liberty Bowl with the line, “Ain’t scared to play here — there — or anywhere.”

Arkansas has also been linked to the Texas Bowl, which invited the Razorbacks during the 2020 season before covid-19 issues within the TCU program scuttled the game.

The current Razorbacks were on the edge of having a similar year to their breakthrough 9-4 2021 season. However, they lost four games decided by three or fewer points, including all three of their trophy games against Texas A&M (23-21), LSU (13-10) and Missouri (29-27). Their other narrow loss came by a 21-19 score against Liberty, coached by Hugh Freeze, who is now back in the SEC West with Auburn.

Jefferson and defensive end Jordan Domineck have been two big “keeps” for the Razorbacks and Coach Sam Pittman, who conducted exit interviews through the first four days last week to get a read on both his postseason roster and the makings of his 2023 club.

Pittman and Arkansas coaches have spent the weekend recruiting and will do the same next weekend. Bowl practices are scheduled to begin on Friday.

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The Razorbacks have played in the Liberty Bowl five times and have a 2-3 record there, including a two-game winning streak. They have won their last two games in Memphis: A 20-17 decision in overtime against East Carolina after the 2009 season and a 45-23 whipping of Kansas State after the 2015 season.

Prior to that, the Razorbacks lost three tightly contested Liberty Bowl games to SEC teams: 14-13 against Tennessee in 1971; 21-15 to Auburn in 1984; and 20-17 to Georgia in 1987.

Harold Graeter, the associate executive director of the Liberty Bowl, has attended Razorback games this season, including the finale on Nov. 25 at Missouri.

The Razorbacks have been invited to two Texas Bowls and have played in one. Arkansas destroyed Texas 31-7 on Dec. 29, 2014.

If Arkansas is invited to the Las Vegas Bowl, the turnaround will be swift and the Hogs will not get close to the 15 allowed practices. That game, which will pit an SEC team against a Pac-12 team, will be played Dec. 17 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas.

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