story by Chris Rushing
Follow me on Twitter: @rushicw
Wednesday, the 2012 Arkansas Razorbacks will report to Fayetteville and begin preseason preparations for the season that is fast approaching.
Today, we will take a look at the four non-conference opponents the Hogs will line up against inside the friendly confines of Razorback Stadium and AT&T Field this fall.
The 2012 campaign kicks off against Jacksonville State on Sept. 1, a team that has made a habit of filling its roster in recent years with castoffs from various Bowl Championship Series-level institutions. Jack Crowe returns to Arkansas, where he served as the head coach of the Razorbacks from 1990-1992. Crowe resigned after a single game into the 1992 season and has coached the Gamecock program since 2000.
In 2010, JSU went to Oxford, Miss., and stunned the Ole Miss Rebels and another former UA head coach in Houston Nutt. Many pointed to this loss as the beginning of Nutt’s downfall in favor with the UM administration, although I’d be more inclined to point out the 2009 loss to Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl as the turning point in his four-year tenure at Ole Miss.
Last season, the small-town school from Jacksonville, Ala., posted a 7-4 showing with a 6-2 record within conference play.
The Gamecocks return six starters on offense, only four on defense and three of four specialists in 2012. It’s the perfect type of opponent to start things off for Arkansas and get things heading in a positive direction as Hog Coach John L. Smith makes his case to be the long-term head coach of the program. It all gets started at 6 p.m. CT from Fayetteville and will be televised on a pay-per-view basis only.
A week later, while others around the league open up the Southeastern Conference portion of their respective schedules, the Hogs will take on the Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock. In one of the more odd scheduling quirks in college football, ULM begins the season with a bye and will open up against Arkansas on Sept. 8.
Todd Berry’s squad will face just two SEC schools this year, with both coming in the first two contests against Arkansas and Auburn. Fifteen of 26 starters return from a squad that had a 4-8 overall mark a year ago, and there’s not much reason to believe that the former Northeast Louisiana Indians will pose a threat to Arkansas beginning the season 2-0 before Alabama comes to town on Sept. 15.
In the third of four non-conference tilts, Arkansas opens a home-and-home schedule with Rutgers on Sept. 22, the state school of New Jersey. After holding onto Greg Schiano much longer than anyone could have imagined following the magical run the Scarlet Knights put together in 2007, the RU football program found itself in all kinds of disarray and dysfunction just days leading up to National Signing Day when Schiano bolted to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Enter Kyle Flood, a 7-year assistant to Schiano at RU. It marked the first time since 1973 that Rutgers had promoted an assistant coach on staff to head coach in football.
This was the final addition to the 2012 schedule for Jeff Long and the Arkansas football program as Long searched for a BCS opponent to fill that remaining slot. Rutgers returns eight first-teamers on a defense that ranked among the Big East’s best in 2011 as well as six on the offensive side.
UA cannot afford to have a hangover following the Alabama game (good or bad) in order to maintain a perfect mark in non-SEC contests.
In the fourth and final non-conference game, Tulsa travels to Fayetteville for homecoming on Nov. 3. A perennial favorite in Conference USA, the Golden Hurricane has posted 73 wins in the last nine seasons, which has prompted coaches like Todd Graham to move onto bigger and better things at the BCS level after posting winning marks at UT. In the last five seasons, Tulsa has posted the 21st-best overall mark in college football’s bowl subdivision at 44-22.
Bill Blakenship is beginning his second year in charge of the program, and his roster is littered with returning starters on both sides of the ball (six on offense, seven on defense). In his initial campaign, Blakenship directed the Golden Hurricane to an 8-5 overall showing, with a 7-1 mark in C-USA.
This year’s meeting is the 72nd overall between Arkansas and Tulsa and first since 2008. The Razorbacks hold a 52-16-3 advantage in the series, and I see no reason to believe that UA won’t notch its 53rd triumph over the Golden Hurricane in November.
In August, we’ll examine the eight schools that make up the SEC slate for the Hogs.