The college football silly season is in full effect at Arkansas and across the country. This time of year is littered with firings, followed by the hirings with, of course, countless rumors filling the time between.
No part of the college football landscape is experiencing more upheaval than the SEC West. Among the seven teams in the division, four are either currently searching for a new coach or were doing so at some point within the past week.
Arkansas is among those four, but the turnover still presents a significant opportunity for the Razorbacks. With the right hire, this is Arkansas’ chance to potentially move up the SEC pecking order.
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Ole Miss removing the interim tag from Matt Luke isn’t exactly striking fear in the rest of the conference. The Rebels are also expected to be hit will NCAA sanctions. The fact Luke guided Ole Miss to a 6-6 season as the interim coach replacing Hugh Freeze was an impressive accomplishment. But the chances the Rebels can build on that are likely diminishing with many of Freeze’s prized recruits nearing the end of their careers.
Mississippi State just lost Dan Mullen to Florida. Hired by the Bulldogs in 2009, Mullen was the second-longest tenured coach in the conference behind Alabama’s Nick Saban. He’s also arguably the league’s second-best coach behind Saban. He certainly won’t be missed by Mississippi State’s SEC West opponents — especially the Hogs, whom he’d beaten in five of the past six meetings.
At Texas A&M, the Aggies will reportedly replace Kevin Sumlin with Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher. That’s a strong hire, but at least the Hogs won’t have to face Sumlin every year. He was undefeated against Arkansas over six seasons in College Station. Fisher also is just 8-8 in ACC play over the past two seasons despite having the conference’s best recruiting class each of the past five years.
The new Razorbacks coach will also be helped by inheriting a less treacherous schedule than in years past. Arkansas does not play a non-conference Power 5 opponent in 2018. The Hogs were originally set to play Michigan, but the Wolverines backed out of the home-and-home deal in the summer of 2016. That allowed the Hogs to receive a waiver from the SEC allowing them to forgo their responsibility of playing a Power 5 opponent out of conference.
As a result, Arkansas’ most difficult non-conference game next season will likely come at Colorado State (Sept. 8). There’s also a string of five consecutive home games throughout October and into early November.
Make no mistake, Arkansas has plenty of turmoil itself with no coach or athletic director. Only time will tell for certain which of the programs has made the right decision for success. But if the Hogs get this one right, a path closer to the top of the SEC West will likely be their reward.
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