I blinked, and 10 years of half-cocked Hog football prognostication just came and went.
My first Pearls About Swine dates back to 2011, when I broke down what ended up being the most successful Arkansas team I’d end up analyzing. Those Hogs —affectionately dubbed “The Last of the Petrinos” — largely honored my preseason projections and went 11-2, winning a Cotton Bowl as punctuation.
I’ve had to be a little less sunnier in preseasons since, and whiffed badly at times when I’ve dared be optimistic. If I started out Norman Vincent Peale, I had turned Cormac McCarthy by the end of the teens.
I’m pleased to say that all hells of the world notwithstanding, I write from a more balanced position every August now. Sam Pittman’s level-headed and right for the job, but he’s facing the ever-long odds of a beastly schedule and a roster that’s always a couple of blue-chips shy of national creditworthiness. That’s the storyline in 2021 as Arkansas brings a reassembled and improving roster to the field, but the toughest slate of games in the free world changes the gradient of our expectations a bit.
Without further ado:
Rice (Sept. 4) – The old SWC foe was a bit of an afterthought then, and now plays the role of appetizer. The Owls’ COVID-curtailed 2020 slate gave them only five games to show their progress under head coach Mike Bloomgren. They won two, including a shocking road shutout of No. 15 Marshall in December, and competed well otherwise. But there’s just not enough firepower for Rice in a blazing-hot opener in Fayetteville, and fatigue and wear set in for the Owls in the third quarter as they give up a run of 24 consecutive points to a Hog offense carried by Trelon Smith’s three scores. Arkansas 43, Rice 22
Texas (Sept. 11) – No one seems to care about this one?! Just kidding. LOL. Etc. Fayetteville will be an early epicenter for the college football world as an admittedly historically one-sided rivalry not only renews, but presumably on an annual basis with the Longhorns joining the Great Geographically Amorphous Thing that the new SEC will be. The Horns are indoctrinating new QBs, a new head coach and an overhauled recruiting approach. It won’t be an easy game for them after they’ve had to deal with Billy Napier’s customarily disciplined Louisiana team has been to Austin. Texas wins this one, but it is a damned fine battle on the Hill until a fourth-quarter long TD run for the Longhorns vanquishes a game Hog team paced by Treylon Burks’ Heisman statement game. Texas 37, Arkansas 27
Georgia Southern (Sept. 18) — Unfazed by the late faltering in the upset bid against Texas, the Hogs play inspired ball against the Eagles in a rare third consecutive game in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The supportive crowd helps get the Hogs off to a fast start with a De’Vion Warren kick return for a score, and freshman tailbacks A.J. Green and Javion Hunt both get long TD runs in extended looks. Jefferson and Hornsby each throw a TD pass, and the Hogs roll their Sun Belt foe to warm up for SEC competition. Arkansas 47, Georgia Southern 24
Texas A&M (at Arlington, Sept. 25) — The Aggies’ stout running game smacks the Hog defense around a bit early en route to a 21-3 lead by halftime. The Hogs’ offense awakens out of the locker room for a Smith touchdown and then another score to make it competitive. But the Southwest Classic again goes to the College Station nemesis, and the Ags run their record to a frustratingly clean 10-0 against the Hogs in SEC games. Nonetheless, again the final margin draws the attention of national pundits who respect the Hog defense responding and clamping down on Isaiah Spiller in the second half. Texas A&M 31, Arkansas 20
At Georgia (October 2) — Arkansas’s debilitating early slate continues with a true road game at Athens. Kirby Smart’s talented squad erupts for two first-quarter scores and smells a rout, but the Hogs respond quietly with a late second quarter TD pass from Jefferson to Hudson Henry. The Hogs threaten again to start the second half but settle for a Cam Liftle field goal to get within 17-10, and it’s as close as they’ll get. Georgia wears the Razorback front down with a fourth quarter flourish to run away with the game late. The bright spot for the Hogs is a big 20-tackle, two-sack game from Grant Morgan. Georgia 34, Arkansas 17
At Ole Miss (October 9) — Ole Miss, eager to put aside a ghastly 2020 loss to the Hogs, scores a quick TD on Matt Corral’s scoring run. Yet the Hogs, shockingly fresh for a team that’s been through five tough games in five weeks, suddenly emerge on offense as Jefferson and Hornsby continue to make plays with their legs and arms. The two-headed monster produces five total TDs and Smith is the beneficiary of a career-high 35 touches for over 200 total yards. Evening their record at 3-3 and winning the first SEC game of the season buoys the Hogs for a big second half of the year, which of course I’m gonna cliffhang my way into the second half of the season prediction next week. Arkansas 41, Ole Miss 27