The 2014 SEC schedule, which came out Wednesday, broke a longstanding routine for the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas and LSU will no longer duke it out on Black Friday. Texas A&M will replace Arkansas, and Arkansas will begin a rivalry beginning in 2014 with Missouri.
The LSU removal from the very bottom absolutely stinks if you are an Arkansas fan. It is a rivalry that had stood the test of time and got the average college football out of their Thanksgiving slumber to bring their eyes to the television set, but it will no longer exist for now.
But Arkansas can afford to celebrate as they are prematurely the clear winners of the schedules posted by Larry Templeton, chair of SEC transition team and his staff Wednesday. The Arkansas schedule presents a lot of firsts, full of interesting tidbits and most SEC fans love the interesting parts of the SEC business.
Arkansas starts their season at Auburn in week one, playing a league opponent in the first week for the first time since joining the SEC, and it’s their first time playing a season opener on the road in 15 years. You have to love this if you are Bret Bielema and his staff, because it allows their team the entire summer to prepare for that fast pace offense by also not having to play their style a week before or after an SEC inferior opponent like LSU or Alabama. You can develop great team chemistry early in the season and get off to a great start in the SEC. The following week, the Razorbacks begin their home schedule by hosting Nicholls State. Arkansas is playing Nicholls State for the first time in program history.
The next two weeks should boost the team’s overall resume for the College Football Playoff. They face off with Texas Tech on Sept.13. for the first time since Arkansas’ split for the nation’s finest conference, and last year’s BCS buster Northern Illinois waits in the wings on Sep. 20. The game against the Red Raiders is the first of a home-and-home series with the former Southwest conference foe. Texas Tech has a record of 2-8 against BCS automatic qualifiers at home the previous two seasons. Arkansas has owned the rivalry 28-7 but has lost the last two meetings. Northern Illinois has appeared in five straight bowl games, including the 2013 Orange Bowl. Dave Doeren, coach Bret Bielema’s disciple, left his alma mater NIU for greener pastures in N.C State at the end of 2012. Arkansas is 1-0 against the MAC and beat NIU in 1994 by a field goal.
Arkansas and Texas A&M will rekindle the Southwest Classic and continue to play at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas under an agreement lasting until 2014. The game is one of Arkansas’ eight home games in 2014 as the Razorbacks are the home team for the neutral site game.
The Razorbacks were handed a pretty nice deck for league play, receiving bye weeks before home games with division giants Alabama and LSU. In addition, Arkansas has the luxury of getting Georgia and Ole Miss at home after both of those particular games.
In 2014, Arkansas will no doubt break in new players, but right now they won’t have to replace huge contributors. Not only does Georgia, Alabama, and LSU have to replace a cream of the locker room but also their quarterbacks. Arkansas gets Alabama in between games with Ole Miss and Texas A&M, and Alabama plays LSU the week before the Golden Boot game with Arkansas. Also, Texas A&M will probably be breaking in a new quarterback on Sept. 27.
Arkansas plays on the road twice in the month of November, Mississippi State on Nov. 1 and Missouri in LSU’s usual place on Nov.29. After 2013, Missouri replaces South Carolina as Arkansas’ permanent crossover opponent. The Razorbacks and Gamecocks have squared off in every season since the programs entered the SEC in 1992. Arkansas has an 13-8 advantage over South Carolina. Missouri might be breaking in a whole new coaching staff with more than half of the offense using first year starters.
Arkansas plays three non-conference games at either Fayetteville or Little Rock. Besides Nicholls State and Northern Illinois, the Razorbacks get their first ever taste at the UAB Blazers, coached by former Hog offensive coordinator and Bobby Petrino protege, Garrick McGee.