In last week’s Football Friday, I mentioned a few teams that had been positive surprises so far this year. I did not include Arkansas on that list; I was wrong to leave them off that list. To be fair, when I “omitted them” from my list of positive surprises, the Razorbacks were 3-0 but two of the three wins were against Rice (a genuinely weak team) and Georgia Southern (a team that will never be confused with Georgia). The third win was over Texas which was a surprise but running up a good score against Texas when a team is at home is not something that particularly catches my attention these days.
Well, I am now ready to say that Arkansas is a significant positive surprise for the 2021 season. Last week, the Razorbacks beat 8th ranked Texas A&M 20-10. The Aggies may not be the best team in the SEC West, but they are probably the best team in Texas and there are a lot of teams in Texas. What was impressive is how Arkansas won the game.
The Razorbacks ran the ball for 195 yards in the game. Before you jump into the comments section to tell me that is nowhere near the collegiate rushing record for a game, please consider that Texas A&M has at least two players in their defensive front seven who are considered to be first round/early round draft picks in the NFL come next April. Arkansas averaged more than 4 yards per rushing attempt on a good – not great but good – defensive unit. Running the football has been important to Arkansas this year; as of this morning, they rank 8th in the country in rushing yards per game with 261 yards per game.
About 50 years ago, Arkansas was a national power; that has not been nearly the case for the last decade; the last time Arkansas had double-digit wins was in 2011 and they have had eight losing seasons since 2000. I could not come up with the name of the coach at Arkansas who seems to be guiding this program turn-around, so I went to Google to refresh my memory. Actually, my memory did not need refreshing; the coach in Arkansas is Sam Pittman and until Google let me know about him, I was totally unfamiliar with his background in football.
Basically, Sam Pittman has been an offensive line coach for the last 20 years at a variety of schools in the Midwest and Southeast US. Before getting the job at Arkansas, he was the OL coach at Georgia for 4 years and he took over the Arkansas program in 2020 which was a chaotic time in college football and in most endeavors in the US thanks to COVID-19. Just to give you an idea of what he took over in 2020, the Razorbacks’ cumulative conference record in the SEC from 2017 through 2019 was a less than exemplary 1-23.
The upcoming schedule for Arkansas is anything but a stroll down primrose lane. Here is what they are looking at for the next 3 weeks:
- At Georgia
- At Ole Miss
- Vs. Auburn
I will be shocked if Arkansas runs that gauntlet and has a 7-0 record in the middle of October – – and late in the season they have road games against LSU and Alabama. Arkansas is not going to be part of the discussion for the CFP – but considering the state of the football program there for the last decade, the start to this season under Coach Pittman has been a hugely positive surprise.
Moving on … About two weeks ago, I mentioned here that Ben Simmons’ demand to be traded was going to be a challenge for the Sixers’ Front office execs. Simmons is an elite defender and an excellent passer, but his offensive game is close to non-existent. That alone would tend to put a ceiling on whatever value the Sixers might extract from a trading partner. However, consider the totality of the picture:
- If I have added correctly, Simmons’ contract calls for him to make $146M over the next 4 years. That is a lot of cheese for a player who does not score points.
- He managed to get completely crosswise with the Sixers – reportedly refusing to take phone calls from the coach or from teammates and then declaring that he will not report to training camp. Remember, his contract is guaranteed; so, the Sixers cannot simply release him and save the money from his contract to spend on someone who actually wants to play for and with the team.
Notwithstanding Simmons’ skills, the Sixers are probably at a point where trading Simmons for a bag of donut holes becomes addition by subtraction. The problem is that front offices around the NBA must be similarly aware of the position that the Sixers are in. Because the NBA demands that trades exchange players making similar amounts of money, the best deal the Sixers might pull off would be for another disgruntled “star player” with a big contract elsewhere. I can think of two possibilities:
- John Wall: I mentioned him a couple of weeks ago when I was talking about Simmons’ situation with the Sixers. I thought then that such a trade would be a bad one for both teams. I continue to believe that.
- Kristaps Porzingas: Simmons and Porzingas have totally different skill sets. The most common element in their careers is that neither has come close to living up to the hype they got early in their careers. Both are overpaid and unhappy; maybe a change of scenery would make them simply overpaid.
Finally, let me close today with a comment from Laurence J. Peter – the originator of the Peter Principle”
“A bore is a fellow talking who can change the subject back to his topic of conversation faster than you can change it back to yours.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………