Tusk to Tail: An analysis of the Razorback football ‘suck’ in 2021
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Drew Magary writes an annual series of preseason NFL columns titled “Why Your Team Sucks,” first for Deadspin before moving to Defector. No team is spared as the author breaks down “what’s new that sucks, what has always sucked, and what might not suck” this season.
During this turbulent offseason in college football, I was inspired to apply the same analysis to our beloved Hogs. “What has always sucked” is easy to pinpoint. It’s practically an evergreen story by now. Arkansas is facing the toughest schedule in the country again next season, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.
The news comes after the Razorbacks’ all-SEC schedule last season was considered the hardest in college football history. I haven’t seen next year’s schedule or the year after that yet, but here is a spoiler alert: those schedules will be considered insanely difficult, too. When you are considered the bad team in an excellent division, nearly every team is expected to beat you. It’s up to Pittman and his team to prove the so-called experts wrong.
Our eternal schedule drama dovetails nicely with “what’s new that sucks” in 2021. Arkansas’ second opponent this year, the Texas Longhorns, announced they will join the SEC in 2025 along with their Big XII stablemate Oklahoma, essentially creating the first 16-team superconference.
The Longhorn’s addition to the league should only make future schedules even tougher. It also raises the stakes for the Sept. 11 matchup with our old SWC rival. It has been rumored that ESPN’s College Football Gameday is considering broadcasting live from Fayetteville that week. We will have a lot more to say about that game, plus affirmation that Texas does indeed suck in less than two weeks.
Another new facet to college sports is the ability of athletes to profit directly from their “name, image, and likeness (NIL).” Several prominent Razorbacks have already announced NIL deals with local and national sponsors.
While I support the efficiency of a free market economy, it seems this development could drive a bigger divide between the “haves” and “have-nots” of college football. For instance, Alabama quarterback Bryce Young has reportedly earned over $800,000 in NIL money before starting a game. It was recently rumored that Oregon begins brokering big deals for blue chip recruits before they sign their letter of intent. Smaller schools will lose out economically and athletically.
I’m also curious to see how extensive brand building affects the student athletes. It’s got to be hard to study or practice when you’re shooting a commercial for the local Cadillac dealership.
When looking ahead to this season, I see plenty that “might not suck” for the Hogs. I see 19 returning starters and more quality depth on the offensive and defensive lines than we have had in ages. I see a safety and a wide receiver that could both be considered their position’s Greatest Of All Time at Arkansas, a school that has churned out some really good ones. I see a team that genuinely seems to enjoy playing together and for their coach. That hasn’t happened much in the past 10 years, which we discussed here recently.
During that time, being an Arkansas fan often feels like Charlie Brown running to kick the football. We try to keep expectations low, knowing Lucy will probably snatch the ball away, but charge ahead full steam anyway. You’re not a true Hog fan if you don’t add another win or two to your expected win total every August.
This year, and truthfully just about every year in the SEC, Arkansas will go as far as our quarterback can carry us. With only two starts under his belt (neither at home), redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson remains an unknown commodity. His 68-yard touchdown pass to Treylon Burks against Missouri last year was a season highlight, and KJ has been training as the starter ever since. You have to hope offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has the right package dialed up for Jefferson and his redshirt freshman backup, Malik Hornsby.
Defensively, the Razorbacks look pretty salty at every position. Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom should have won the Broyles Award for best assistant coach last season, but was robbed by new Texas coach Steve Sarkisian. That should factor into the buildup for the epic Week 2 matchup.
We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. Take things one game at a time, as the coaches say. The Rice game Sept. 4 will be the first time Tusk to Tail has tailgated together in over 20 months.
Like Charlie Brown, we are charging ahead full steam.
Editor’s note: Now in its 10th year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.