Sometimes, I wonder if the people who vote on college football even watch the games and what standards they use to rate teams.
Imagine my surprise Sunday to see Arkansas with two points in The Associated Press (media) survey a night after allowing Ole Miss more than 700 yards. At least, the Razorbacks won the game, 42-27, on a night that with snow and huskies they could have staged the Iditarod at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Season-ticket holders, with no power over kickoff times, waited until 6:30 p.m. on what they billed as the coldest temperature (27 degrees) for a Fayetteville start. My own survival test (temps unavailable) came in the 1970 SMU game at Fayetteville, in which Bill McClard charged the crowd with a 60-yard field goal, or any of three Texas Tech games at Lubbock, where one can never pile on enough clothes or make the wind stop blowing. The 1970 season also produced a scorcher of scorchers when Arkansas met Stanford at 5 p.m. on a September Saturday in Little Rock. Quarterbacks Bill Montgomery and Jim Plunkett (that year's Heisman Trophy winner) cranking up the heat at a time suitable for ABC's tastes as national provider.
By no means did Arkansas and Ole Miss play the worst game college game Saturday, either in the Southeastern Conference or nationally. So intense has this rivalry been over the years that something short of martial law is needed on game day, usually in Fayetteville (sometimes in Little Rock, at least once in Memphis) or Oxford. Arkansas newspaper historian Orville Henry compared scheduling between these teams like negotiating a Bosnian cease-fire. So nauseous did Razorback athletic director John Barnhill become, said Henry, that he suspended the series after the 1961 game in Jackson, letting Magnolia State fans have a last look at Arkansas import Lance Alworth, albeit in a 16-0 Arkansas defeat.
Covering this game for so long, knowing so much history, I endured more grief from these teams than I would allow others. This is one series that I heard plenty about in childhood, Preston Carpenter catching the pass from Buddy Bob Benson on the Powder River Play in 1954, Preston running to the north end zone (and immortality) at War Memorial Stadium. At the south end zone in 1960, Ole Miss kicker Allen Green launched the field goal that Razorback fans swear not only went wide of the post but might have shanked to the Little Rock Zoo. A Glenwood man told another that the kick was no good because his son, not situated between the goal posts that day, caught the ball.
Any of those games provided more aesthetic pleasure than the one Saturday. No better did Ole Miss play and so unconventionally did Arkansas win that it bears repeating the Rebels never seemed out of a game that (down 35-6 at halftime) they were never in.
Whatever blemishes were exposed, Arkansas people should have left the stadium proud of their team, and not for the first time in a 6-5 season. These were the Razorbacks of our dreams in September, up to the moments that Texas A&M, once down 14-0, pulled off a scoop-and-score touchdown before halftime and the Aggies survived when Cam Little's bid for a winning field goal clanged off the post late.
KJ Jefferson, for whom it has been a painful season after living a charmed life at quarterback last year, was healthy enough to find Matt Landers with two early TD passes and frustrate Ole Miss on the ground. Rocket Sanders took it from there, running for 232 yards and three touchdowns, rekindling memories of the 1997 South Carolina game on the same field when another Razorback wearing No. 5 ran wild for a team coached by Houston Nutt. In what would be his last game with the Razorbacks, Nutt told the ESPN guys, after his team won a triple-overtime classic over LSU in Baton Rouge, that the Heisman voters were missing a bet by not championing the cause of Darren McFadden.
They didn't listen, of course, giving Tim Tebow the award after the same electorate erred 10 years before by not awarding another Southern quarterback, Peyton Manning.
Manning played for Tennessee, which saw its 2022 season crash under the lights on the road at Williams-Brice Stadium. In ex-Oklahoma star Spencer Rattler's coming-out party for the Gamecocks, South Carolina hung 63 points on the Vols, who curiously led the first College Playoff Committee vote but have since gone off track and must finish without their newest Heisman hopeful, injured (ACL) quarterback Hendon Hooker.
Not sure what TCU is doing in the championship mix or how long it can last, but the Horned Frogs conjure up memories of the old Southwest Conference. Only wish that famous alum Dan Jenkins, the Sports Illustrated wordsmith, were around to tell the tale.
Let's see. The Egg Bowl, Ole Miss vs. Mississippi State Thursday night in Oxford, has lost some of its glitter, leaving neutrals with the choice of taking sides between Lane Kiffin and Mike Leach. LSU at Texas A&M on Saturday night follows Auburn at Alabama, and neither game has the appeal of past years. Vanderbilt can win its third in a row and send Tennessee into outer darkness while Georgia Tech has been known to play an inspiring game against Georgia, currently No. 1 in the polls.
Arkansas is favored by four points at Missouri, where it seldom plays well, and nothing would get the fans steaming like losing to the Tigers on Friday. Arkansas can make that series a growing concern only, it seems, with a string of defeats. Another such setback and the Hogs, at 6-6, won't be "receiving votes" in next week's AP poll.