Monday, August 24, 2015

From the Bench

Five Thoughts on the Razorbacks as Preseason Winds Down

Robert Shields

Scott Faldon, the former sports editor the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith who Rick Schaeffer once claimed on Drive Time Sports never to have heard of, used to have a brilliant weekly feature called Faldon’s Five Thoughts before he took his talents to the world of marketing. In the spirit of Faldon, From the Bench offers five items surfacing as key issues for Razorback football as the preseason winds down. However, unlike Faldon’s feature, there will be no endorsement of gambling at the end by using a magic eight ball to make an erroneous prediction.

So without further adieu, here goes From the Bench’s Five Things:

1. Ricky Town

The big star quarterback formerly from USC has decided to ditch the drunken coach and dancing Song Girls to transfer to Arkansas. This was a big pick-up for Bret Bielema because the reality is that it’s highly unlikely in the normal recruiting process that Bielema could land a quarterback of this caliber. I’m sure while Bielema is trying to recruit quarterbacks they hear from other coaches that if they go to Arkansas all they are going to do is hand the ball off. Probably not a fair assessment, but the recruiting game is anything but fair.

In fairness to Bielema, it has also been difficult for any Razorback coach to land such a quarterback. Even the great Ryan Mallet initially did not come to Arkansas, he was a transfer. The greatest quarterback ever recruited by Arkansas (according to those recruiting rankings) was Mitch Mustain, who they almost lost to Notre Dame. Houston Nutt was fortunate he was in the Razorbacks’ backyard, and even then they had to hire the kid’s high-school coach to help land him.

2. Alex Collins

Alex Collins was one of Bielema’s biggest recruits in his first class. He is now a junior, and whether he wants it or not, the mantle of leadership is now thrust upon him. He is now faced with a new burden -- he is the new No. 1 back. He has to set the tempo and lead by example. He has to be the role model. It’s always easier being in the wings as the No. 2 guy, but it’s different when you are the go-to guy. Collins is now that guy. If he doesn’t step up to the task, the forecast is even worse with the loss of Williams.

3. Jonathan Williams

The loss of your No. 1 running back for any team is huge. It changes assignments. Williams was the top back for a reason. He also may have been the first player off this team taken by the NFL next year. Besides running the ball, he did other things well. He was a good blocker in the backfield. He is a team captain for a reason. He will be missed as everyone hopes he has a speedy and complete recovery.

4. Change of Pace

Many have tried to color the loss of Williams as “something good might come out of it.” They point to the fact that Kody Walker and Raleigh Williams are different types of backs compared to Collins. Yeah, that category is called “not as good.”

Walker is a larger bruising back who can get a tough yard. Raleigh Williams is more of a speed back. Some think this change of pace will be good for the offense and bad for opposing defenses because Jonathan Williams and Collins were very interchangeable, and to some degree that was very true.

But, people, if this was a plus, Bielema would have come with it regardless of Williams’ injury.

5. AP Poll

The Razorbacks start off the football season at No. 18. This is a fair spot for the Hogs considering they were never in the top 25 last season and had to snap its longest losing streak in school history. But what a difference the team was by the end of last year.

When the Razorbacks had a healthy Brandon Allen, they may have been the best team in the SEC. In the bowl season, the Razorbacks were the pride of the SEC after shellacking the Texas Longhorns and after so many SEC West teams struggled in their bowl games. (Thanks, Auburn, an overtime victory over Wisconsin would have made things look a little better.)

At the end of the season, the Razorbacks had the best defense in the SEC -- and the team that has the best defense in the SEC is usually the best team in the SEC.




Send your five thoughts to fromthebench@yahoo.com

Friday, August 21, 2015

From the Bench

Uncommon Quarterback May Lead Razorbacks to Uncommon Season

Robert Shields

I start this by saying that I am sorry to Brandon Allen.

The senior quarterback starts this football season as the centerpiece of the Razorback football team’s hopes for a fantastic season. The reality is that if he gets injured then the season will probably turn into something much different. I say this because Brandon Allen is, to borrow a word the football program loves using and now and has all over its website, uncommon.

The kid has endured a lot from his car being burned to being egged. He has endured the longest losing streak in Razorback football history and was part of a team that went a season without winning an SEC game. This was very uncommon territory for Razorback fans. In fact, it was completely uncharted territory.

Allen now labors under his fourth coach in about as many years -- Bobby Petrino, Taver Johnson in the spring after the motorcycle accident, John L. Smith, and now, finally, Bret Bielema. Not many could have survived that and become better. Through it all, he was nothing but magnanimous. This makes him uncommon.

I never criticized the kid. I was hard on the team back in 2013 and especially the coach. Although I did write one column saying that it was wrong to use the players as the scapegoat as there were much bigger problems, I never mentioned Allen by name.

Yet, in person, when people asked me what I thought about Allen, my answer was simple: “He has his limitations.” He did not have the physical presence of a Peyton Manning or Ryan Mallett. He was not as physically powerful as recent SEC quarterbacks such as a Dak Prescott or Nick Marshall.

One of the great Razorback quarterbacks that played in the SEC was Clint Stoerner, a one-time linebacker in his football career. Allen will never be mistaken for a linebacker. He’s an uncommon SEC quarterback.

Yet, he did accomplish what only a few Razorback quarterbacks have done in the modern era and that is beat Texas, which helps him join the ranks of guys like Ferguson, Scanlon, Stoerner, Taylor, and Jones to name a few. This also makes him uncommon.

He also has to play with his brother, the quarterback in waiting, who may have more athletic ability.

I’m not sure many Razorback quarterbacks have had to endure as much as he has. Some of the sports radio jockeys have also not been kind to him during his college career (the exception being Bo Mattingly who predicted that by the time Allen leaves Arkansas he would be a better quarterback than Connor Shaw at South Carolina). I can’t remember a quarterback taking such ridicule and keeping his job. It’s uncommon.

What Allen is –in a word, resilient. He has proven to be tough both mentally and physically. I don’t know of many quarterbacks who could have survived or played through the pain he did in the Missouri game last year.

Then he took that cheap shot from the Missouri player on Arkansas’ last drive that probably would have put most of us out. He got back up and staggered back to his teammates in obvious pain. Yet, he did not surrender. As a thanks, all most fans did was complain about his brother not getting the chance to play instead.

What he also is? Quick. He is quick of foot and of mind. He often has that little step that gets him out of a lot of trouble. He is intuitive and as every game passes this become sharper. It goes without saying transitioning from a Petrino offense to a Bielema offense is the difference between night and day philosophically. Not many could be that adaptable, which again makes him uncommon.

With all that said, and with a healthy uncommon quarterback, maybe the Razorback will have a very uncommon season.



Send your apology to Brandon Allen to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, August 10, 2015

From the Bench

Preseason Predictions Say Bielema Wins SEC in Third Season With Razorbacks

Robert Shields

With less than a month before the Razorbacks kickoff the 2015 football season, the expectations continue to grow. As is typical this time of year from the callers on the sports radio shows, the team’s record gets better and better the closer we get to kickoff of the first game. So with that in mind, I turn on the crystal ball and let the preseason predictions roll on Bret Bielema’s third season to see what is really going to happen game by game this season.

Sept. 5 – UTEP in Fayetteville
The Razorbacks get through two-a-days intact and reports from preseason say that the newcomers developed quickly. The Razorbacks open the season by fumbling the ball on its opening drive and UTEP goes up early 7-0. But it’s the last time the Miners score that day. The Razorbacks score on their next five possessions and go on to win 49-7. UTEP mascot Paydirt Pete is spotted at Bottom’s Up after the game and is revealed by police to be Mike Price.

Sept. 12 -- Toledo in Little Rock
The day is hot and the War Memorial golf course is packed with many speculating it’s one of the last times to engage in tailgating on it. The defense struggles and the game is closer than it should be at the half as the Hogs are tied 14-14. The third quarter remains tight, but then in the fourth quarter the Razorbacks go on back-to-back time consuming drives to put the game away. Bielema wears the windbreaker throughout the game and rumors break the next day he had to be given an IV afterward thanks to a heat index of 130? Razorbacks win 31-21.

Sept. 19 -- Texas Tech in Fayetteville
After the beat down the Razorbacks put on the Red Raiders last season, many are expecting a repeat performance. They are not left disappointed as the defense comes up with three interceptions and five sacks. The Razorbacks also rush for more than 400 yards, and the kicker puts one through the uprights from 55 yards. Everyone has a fun night on Dickson Street as the Razorback celebrate a 45-21 win – even Kliff Kingsbury who misses the team flight home after “getting lost” on sorority row.

Sept. 26 -- Texas A&M in Arlington
After losing three in a row including an overtime loss the previous season where they let a big fourth quarter lead evaporate, the Razorbacks want this victory over the Aggies. It doesn’t come easy. The new defensive coordinator for the Aggies has them ready to stop the rushing attack of the Razorbacks and it turns into a defensive struggle. The score is 17-17 in the fourth quarter when Brandon Allen completes a couple of passes to get a drive going. On a busted play inside the Aggie 20-yard line, he scrambles for the go-ahead touchdown. The Razorback defense in the last minute has to defend its end zone as the Aggies are throwing. Four consecutive incompletes later, the Razorbacks storm the field celebrating a 24-17 victory. A special message from Jerry Jones telling A&M to “suck it” runs on the big screen afterward by accident.

Oct.3 -- Tennessee in Knoxville
The Razorbacks have reached No. 12 in the polls, but most prognosticators have the Razorback on the road as an underdog in this game. The Razorbacks have success early in the game running the ball. Alex Collins breaks a long run and the Razorbacks go up 21-10 at the half. The yards get tougher in the second half, but Jonathan Williams is up to the task as the Razorbacks try to control the clock and keep Volunteer quarterback Joshua Dobbs on the sideline. The Razorbacks’ last drive stalls as they cling to a 28-24 lead. Similar to the A&M game, the defense is backed up against its end zone defending it for the win. On third down, Dobbs throws into traffic and D.J. Dean intercepts it to end the game. As the clock runs out, Clint Stoerner appears out of nowhere and runs around the field to the end zone as he is being chased by police and Smokey X.

Oct. 10 -- Alabama in Tuscaloosa
It’s the Razorbacks third game in a row on the road. ESPN College GameDay is in Tuscaloosa as it is a matchup of Top 10 teams and a game to decide who will lead the SEC West. The Alabama quarterback struggles early. The Razorback running game has mixed success as it turns into a low-scoring game. The score is tied at 14 late in the fourth quarter. Dominique Reed has been mixing it up all day with the Alabama defensive back. On a fourth and one around midfield, Bielema decides to go for it. Reed fakes the block, but then breaks free and beats the defender down the field. Brandon Allen makes the easy toss and Reed goes the remaining distance for the win. Razorbacks win 21-14.

Oct. 24 -- Auburn in Fayetteville
The Razorbacks return home for the first time in more than a month. The team has climbed all the way to No. 5. Surprisingly, the game is not close. Auburn has difficulty stopping the Razorback rushing attack, and the Razorbacks control the game throughout. Arkansas wins 38-28. Throughout the game, a maniacal Houston Nutt is spotted piloting a plane over the stadium with a banner that reads “Gus Bus My A…”

Oct. 31 -- Tennessee-Martin in Fayetteville
It’s homecoming and Halloween all in one. The team comes out in surprise uniforms with orange and black trim. A strange moon rises in the sky, but those are the only memorable things about the game as it turns sloppy. The Razorbacks have a season high three turnovers. Still, the Razorbacks roll 42-14. Brandon Allen throws for more than 300 yards and ESPN puts him in their Heisman watch. To increase revenue, each member of the homecoming court is sponsored by Act II Popcorn.

Nov. 7 -- Ole Miss in Oxford
Many speculate with the Razorbacks now ranked at No. 3 that this is a trap game. It turns out to be exactly that as the game goes into overtime. Ole Miss scores on its first possession. Then the Razorback offense stalls on its first possession of overtime. On fourth down at the 20-yard line, Brandon Allen misses a wide open Keon Hatcher. The Ole Miss fans storm the field. It’s a heartbreaking loss. It’s Bielema’s third overtime loss as the Razorback head coach, and on Arkansas call-in radio shows fans complain about the offense not being dynamic enough for overtime. Forrest City Joe calls for a new plan in the athletic department to address this issue. Hogs lose 28-21.

Nov. 14 -- LSU in Baton Rouge
Les Miles is on the hot seat as the Tigers have already lost two games in the season and trail the Razorbacks and Alabama for the lead in the SEC West. The LSU defense is up for the challenge, but the Tiger offense struggles. The Razorbacks shake off the first-half hangover from the previous week’s emotional loss. In the fourth quarter, Keon Hatcher takes a misdirection toss sweep and breaks for a long run to the Tigers’ goal line. With time running out, the coaches call a running play and Jonathan Williams ploughs into the end zone for the 27-21 win. Bazzel leads the players in carrying the Boot to midfield and they all do the “stank leg” around it.

Nov. 21 -- Mississippi State in Fayetteville
The Bulldogs have no answer for the Razorback rushing attack as the offense clicks on all cylinders. After three losses in a row to Mississippi State, the Razorbacks make it look easy this time with a 41-21 win. Alcohol consumption in the luxury suites is said to reach a record high as fans with enough money to buy the privilege to drink at football games celebrate the victory.

Nov.27 -- Missouri in Fayetteville
The Razorbacks recall the fourth-quarter collapse to the Tigers in the previous season, and it doesn’t happen again at Fayetteville. Bitterly cold weather is predicted for the game. At halftime, snow starts to fall and fans start to leave. The Razorbacks smash the Missouri defense, and the Tiger defense looks exhausted. It’s senior day and when Brandon Allen leaves the game he is greeted by a loud standing ovation. The Razorbacks win 56-24 and take whatever fake rivalry trophy has been created.

Dec. 5 -- Georgia in SEC Championship Game
Why is this game always played in Atlanta? It’s the question asked by every Razorback fan as it seems unfair when other places are available such as New Orleans and Arlington that are all closer to SEC West schools and not in Georgia’s backyard. The Razorbacks struggle to control Nick Chubb, but Brandon Allen has his best game as a Razorback as he again throws for more than 300 yards. Jared Collins has a game-changing pick six that turns the tide. Razorbacks win 36-35.

Now the questions begin. Does a 12-1 Razorback team make it into the college football playoff to face off against Ohio State? Some scenarios can’t play out in a crystal ball.



Send your predictions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, August 03, 2015

From the Bench

Razorback Foundation Should Move to Help Players Find Life After Football

Robert Shields

The Razorback Foundation has been exceptional at stockpiling money, coming up with buyouts to fire coaches, and helping you get enough parking passes to cover all the vehicles in your season-ticket plan, but what if it could follow the lead of some other colleges and do something that actually helped the players who put the product on the field?

I ask this after reading Sync Weekly’s article this past week on former Razorback football players. The story mostly focused on the great running back trio from 1999 of Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley, and Chrys Chukwuma.

All had aspirations to be successful NFL players, but NFL success, if the college player even gets the chance, is fleeting. Then after a short stint trying to make it in the pros, they have to figure out what they’re going to do the rest of their lives.

Colleges do a poor job preparing these kids for life after football. Often these kids are led toward degrees that will never help them in the long run but will achieve the college’s goal of keeping them eligible. The hard reality is that many of these players may be better suited learning a trade than pursuing a kinesiology degree.

With all the talk of paying college players, I firmly believe it would just be money squandered and many of these kids would still end up in the same place in life after football, which in some cases we’ve seen has meant jail.

The article mentioned that Alabama and Nebraska have non-profit organizations to help former players find their way after a life of football. Instead of paying players, it would be money better spent setting up such an organization that actually has the player’s best interest in mind.

It’s a great opportunity right now for the University of Arkansas to become the third school to have such an organization. It also might not be a bad recruiting tool. Many kids can’t think that far ahead and lack perspective, but some of their parents will see the value of a school that is thinking ahead for them.

The Razorback Foundation is currently in the position of having to go find a new leader, and maybe it’s time at this crossroads to also find a person with a broader vision to lead an organization that helps players with life after football.

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Preseason Hype Growing Expectations

August is here and that means the beginning of preseason football. Several months ago, I wrote that the Texas A&M game was the most important one on the Razorbacks’ schedule. I am revising that as each day goes by my expectations for the coming season keep growing.

I think the A&M game is a win. This means that I expect that the Razorbacks will be 4-0 heading to Knoxville to play the Volunteers on Oct. 3. The game against Tennessee will set the path to either a good or great season. How do I think that game will play out? You will have to wait until next week when I give my annual game-by-game prediction.

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Ohio State Has Another Easy Road to Playoffs

Many pundits are picking Ohio State to repeat as the national champion in the second year of the college football playoff. Ohio State caught lightning in a bottle last year. They are a very talented team so they have the ability to do that from time to time.

Last year, the pieces just came together. It helped them immensely that they ended up with their third-string quarterback for their playoff games. He was a superior athlete, but nobody had any film on him. Alabama essentially had to play him cold. It was also an Alabama defense that was young and depleted.

Then the quarterback caught an Oregon team that had no receivers in the championship game, and it mattered. Next season there will be film on Cardale Jones, and I expect teams will defend him better much like they did Johnny Manziel from his first to his second season playing in the SEC.

The problem, though, and most of the prognosticators know this, is that Ohio State will play nobody until they reach the championship playoff games.



Send your preseason predictions to fromthebench@yahoo.com.



Monday, July 27, 2015

From the Bench

Gauging the State of the SEC From Way Down on the Redneck Riviera

Robert Shields

Every summer about this time I take a trip to the Redneck Riviera to gauge the state of the SEC by talking to fans from across the region. But after more than 15 years of checking the pulse of the conference down at Orange Beach, Ala., a new site chosen was along scenic 30A in the area between Destin and Panama City Beach.

I was stationed this time just west of Rosemary Beach. If this is still considered the Redneck Riviera, then it is more like the redneck version of Martha’s Vineyard where everyone rides a bike to wherever they are going.

I made a few forays into nearby Seaside, the iconic setting of “The Truman Show.” The gumbo at the Shrimp Shack was excellent, but the Cubano sandwich was something that I could have made at my mother’s house in 30 seconds with some prepackaged deli meat. The view from the deck overlooking Seaside’s beach, though, was awesome.

Orange Beach has always been loaded with SEC tents and fans sporting their team colors and mascots in past summers when I visited. This was not as evident in the 30A area. Maybe being a little closer to the old stomping Panama City Beach grounds of David Bazzel, who has said that section is Florida State territory, the area may be decidedly more ACC, which doesn’t worry about football until it’s actually football season. For affirmation, I saw tons of Florida State junk for sale and limited SEC stuff.

Conversely, Orange Beach in Alabama holds the SEC Beach Bash every year around the infamous Hangout. It is, I guess, the top vacation destination on the Gulf coast for SEC fans.

I was guilty of being the standard 30A tourist riding my bike everywhere. I enjoyed the Hub with its musical acts. The food though was just average. Rosemary Beach was quaint and I visited it often, but as one person framed it, the place looked like it belonged in Disney World Resort, so gauge that for yourself if that is good or bad at the beach.

If one school stood out with its colors flying at the beach, it was Auburn. I think this occurs for two reasons. One, the area is close to their home. Two, I think many are expecting a good year and an improved defense with the arrival of Will Muschamp. The Auburn defense collapsed frequently toward the end of the season and could not protect its end zone against an offense that seemed to cannibalize it. They think the new defensive coordinator will change things.

Always a measure of the health of the brand in the far Southern corner of the state, the Razorback sign is still looking good in Holly Ridge around Eudora. But I found it sad that the high school that Anthony Lucas probably graduated from in Tallulah was closed and boarded up. The charter school of mobile home trailers seems to be what replaced it.

Tallulah, being the birthplace of Delta Airlines and the first place to have an indoor shopping mall, once had the nickname of “A City on the Move,” yet today it is anything but. It might start being time for me to take the Yazoo City route to the beach.

I had a good discussion with Tennessee fans. They remember the Razorback game of 1998 quite well and most of its details. What they did not remember was that if Arkansas would have taken care of business the next week after the loss to the Volunteers, it would have been a rematch in the SEC championship game.

They were very glad that did not happen as they said the Mississippi State game was a tough enough out in the SEC championship game, and they fully admitted they should have lost the game to the Razorbacks in 1998 and a rematch probably would have turned out differently.

They praised Bret Bielema with almost jealousy and compared him to Phil Fulmer. To fans outside of the Vol nation, not such a big compliment, but from their perspective it was high praise. They say the way Bielema plays ball was similar and they liked it.

Fulmer put a high emphasis on linemen and a bruising running game with great backs. They said they saw the same similarity in Arkansas and were looking forward to the match-up this year. In their own arrogance, they think they are the surprise favorite in the East and said the roster has been completely turned over and is ready for the season.

I also ran into a Vandy fan. I told him I thought Vandy was a baseball school. He laughed. He said he doesn’t think their current coach is going to be able to do it. He also said it was time for the previous coach, James Franklin, to go. The Vol fan and I said he was the best coach they ever had and probably took them to heights they will never see again and was the reason for the demise of the SEC East.

What was eerie was there was no showing of Alabama fans, which is odd. They were rather silent, and the last time that I remember that happening they won the national title. When they are mouthy, I don’t worry about them as much. When they go to ground, it’s usually a sign that they are much more talented than people think.

But, I like the Hogs chances if for no other reason than when I went to the Red Bar in Grayton Beach. In the men’s bathroom above the stall there was an Arkansas license plate with the Razorback logo and RZRBKS as its letters. Someone had taken a sharpie pen and wrote on the corner of the plate, “Woo Pig.”

If that wasn’t enough, when I was walking out of the restroom, Arkansas native Johnny Cash was on the door giving me the finger, and I can only assume he was trying to tell me the Hogs are No. 1.



Send your stories of drunk Auburn fans you encountered at the beach this summer to fromthebench@yahoo.com.


Monday, July 13, 2015

From the Bench

Summertime Rumors Point to Oklahoma in the SEC

Robert Shields

During the summer, rumors and gossip run rampant as everyone is waiting for SEC media days and something real to talk about. The hot rumor of late is that the Oklahoma Sooners would like to start attending SEC media days. Whether Oklahoma really wants to be part of the SEC is unknown, but the scuttlebutt is red hot.

Most conferences have huge buyouts for schools to leave. You can leave the SEC when you want, but the reality is that it’s such a great conference nobody is going to leave. In addition to its members, almost every coach of any worth wants to end up in the SEC as do most players. It’s the college version of the big time.

Some say the big wheels in Oklahoma were not happy the last time conference expansion was taking place and missed out on a golden opportunity to leave and that they should have gone to the SEC with Texas A&M instead of Missouri. Oklahoma is not selling season tickets as easily as it once did, and in this entertainment environment it’s a tough sell when your big game of the year is now TCU.

How exciting is it when one of your big conference games is Iowa State? Let’s face it, even playing Vanderbilt is a lot more exciting on the gridiron. I am sure Oklahoma would see the value of having Alabama, LSU, Florida, and Georgia on its schedule. Those are easy tickets to sell.

Missouri has fared well in the diminished SEC East going to the SEC championship game in back-to-back years. I am sure Oklahoma Sooner arrogance thinks that since Missouri has made it so quickly that they in turn will come in and dominate the conference. Plus, in a recent in a bowl game they dominated Alabama, so they probably think they will rule the winner’s circle.

I think this rumor has legs, but if it will happen or not is questionable. Oklahoma will bring enough TV sets to the SEC package to make it an interesting addition to the SEC. The question is, who will be the other team to balance the divisions?

If you want a super conference with maximum TV appeal, the logical choice is Notre Dame, which has had a strident position that it will not join a conference in football. But that stance seems to have softened as they have entered a deal with the ACC to play a set amount of games with their members in football and their basketball team and other sports have been in conferences for years.

The fact that Notre Dame has also dropped its longtime rival Michigan tells me that they have no interest in joining the Big Ten. They want larger appeal outside of the Midwest. Notre Dame would also balance out the SEC West and East if Oklahoma joined.

It would be interesting to see the Oklahoma Sooners make that trip to Fayetteville and maybe even more interesting seeing the Fighting Irish make that first trip to Razorback Stadium and get to hear the Hog call.

Two more teams will join the SEC. The only questions are who and when.



Send your conference realignment plan to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, July 06, 2015

From the Bench

Thanks to Bielema, Hog Fans Returning to Preseason Normalcy

Robert Shields

As SEC media days approach, which is the unofficial start of the college football season, all you as a Razorback fan have had to worry about is football. And this is true for the first time in a long time. What a luxury.

Recently, Clay Travis of Fox Sports and OutkicktheCoverage.com wrote one of his famous drive-by pieces explaining that Razorback fans are dumb and listing them at No. 8 as worst fans in the country.

“The Arkansas Razorbacks, the only fan base in America that could also double as a militia, are like the family with the worst house in a rich neighborhood,” Travis wrote. “They should be happy with what they've got, but instead they spend most of the time looking around them wondering why they don't have what everyone else in their neighborhood has.”

Football is a barbaric sport, so anyone pretending it is some highbrow form of entertainment is being disingenuous. And it’s even more ridiculous to start pointing out that one fan base is dumber than another. It’s a sport and now a form of entertainment that plays to our base primal instinct -- nothing more and nothing less.

Now with that out of the way, I do believe Razorback fans are some of the craziest around. How could they not be? After a decade of shenanigans by their head coaches and the abrupt departures and hirings, how could any fans base be normal in this environment?

By my count, the Razorback football team has had six different coaches since 2008 – that is almost approaching a new one every year. It is the opposite of stability. The team played a full year of SEC football under a coach that had the word “interim” before his title. My list runs like this: Houston Nutt, Reggie Herring, Bobby Petrino, Taver Johnson, John L. Smith, and now Bret Bielema.

The drama during this past decade is legendary and was highlighted by the campaign against Nutt from the segment of the fan base who hated him with a passion that led to his leaving with golden handcuffs and then of course Bobby Petrino wrecking a motorcycle with his female employee on the back. It’s been nothing but a circus. All we could do is “smile.”

The Razorback Program for better or worse, actually it’s for worse, has had an entire generation grow up with nothing but drama off the field. They don’t know how a normal football program operates.

Enter Bret Bielema, and I will discount his first year with some of the things he said and say it was smoke and mirrors to take the limelight off his struggling team, which in itself may have been genius.

If nothing else, Bielema has brought stability and normalcy that this Program has not seen in over a decade -- maybe something the Program has not seen since the era of Frank Broyles. Even Ken Hatfield had people spitting at him.

But now, maybe for once in a few generations, the fan base is not split on the coach.

I think after last season most now see what he is trying to accomplish and everyone got a taste of it at the end of the season shutting out LSU and Ole Miss and then going to a bowl game and curb stomping Texas.

For the first time in a long time, as we head toward media days, Razorback fans can talk about normal football things such as what formations will the team use to maximize all its great tight ends or who will replace SEC leading tackler Martrell Spaight or will the defense be as good?

These are normal questions most fans of most teams think about instead of what the coach is doing.

For a change, the focus is on the team and not on the coach, and so this is not a sign of a fan base that is football dumb, but a fan base that is recovering from the addiction of coaching drama.




Send your favorite Razorback football drama to fromthebench@yahoo.com

Monday, June 29, 2015

From the Bench

This is the Year for Razorbacks to be in National Championship Picture With a Few Breaks

Robert Shields

It was year three when Bobby Petrino had his best team at Arkansas. His first year was a catastrophe. His second year was better with a bowl victory in freezing conditions at the Liberty Bowl where Alex Tejada hit a field goal in overtime. Then Petrino got to his third season and had Ryan Mallett as a more mature quarterback to work the offense.

In Petrino’s third season, his best team in my estimation, the Razorbacks let a fourth-quarter lead slip away in Fayetteville against Alabama. It was a game the Razorbacks should have won. Then later in the season they dropped a game to Auburn on the road. The Razorbacks fought hard against a team many felt had some questionable players on it. Mallett was knocked out of the Auburn game yet the Hogs hung tough until the end even after getting a few screwy calls from the refs and replay officials. That Auburn team went on to win the national title.

That Razorback team went on to the Sugar Bowl and should have beaten Ohio State even though they had to play a Buckeye team that was loaded with ineligible players. Ohio State later had to forfeit, vacate, or whatever you want to call it. The Ohio State coach was relieved of his duties.

If that Razorback team would have gotten a break or two, maybe it would have played for the national championship. But that’s what happens. Regardless, it was a very talented team and Petrino was able to do it in three years.

All that is to ask, will history repeat itself in 2015?

This is Bret Bielema’s third season, and his trajectory right now looks very similar to that of Petrino’s. For instance, Bielema’s first season was also a disaster. As a matter of fact, it was a record-setting disaster. His second season looked much differently even in losses, and the team rallied to make a bowl game and beat longtime rival Texas.

Bielema begins his third season with a veteran quarterback of Brandon Allen much like Petrino had with a more mature and developed Mallett. No doubt the two quarterbacks are of a different style, but each fit what their coach wants them to do in their system.

This Razorback team is loaded on offense with two 1,000-yard rushers, an offensive line built for the NFL (with returning names of Kirkland, Skipper, Tretola, and Smothers), the aforementioned veteran quarterback, prime-time tight ends in Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle, and a cast of receivers.

The defense that ended last year as maybe the best in the SEC will have to be rebuilt some, yet it should be good. The linebackers will have to grow up fast, but in other spots the defense should have enough bodies to get the job done.

The team should win its four non-conference games, which leaves it with its eight conference games. Looking ahead, you can easily argue they are all toss-ups. None of those eight conference games will be easy. But, I think this is going to be a magical season, so I’m putting a win in the book for now against Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee, and Missouri.

This leaves the three teams that will be the most talented the Hogs will face in Alabama, LSU, and Auburn. Two of those three are on the road with Auburn being the lone home game of that trio. So, it’s a tough schedule against the tougher teams.

You can hope Gus Malzahn’s comet has peaked and that it comes crashing down to earth this season and the Hogs are the benefactor of such a collapse. You can also hope that neither Alabama nor LSU find a quarterback. If these and other breaks go the Razorbacks’ way, Arkansas will be in the national championship discussion on every ESPN show discussing playoff scenarios.



Send your prophecies on the coming season to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, June 22, 2015

From the Bench

Ways to Improve the Game-Day Experience at Razorback Stadium

Robert Shields

With the coming season should come new ideas. Even though the Paleolithic Razorback offense loves to just grind other teams up, that does not mean that your game-day experience should also be from generations gone by.

Since tickets are so expensive these days (and by saying that I will get a message from somebody well above the poverty line pointing out to me that Razorback tickets are not the most expensive in the SEC), fans should get the opportunity for the maximum added value for your buck for being a loyal Razorback consumer, which is what the UA athletic department thinks of you as.

So here are my suggestions to the UA to help improve your game-day experience.

• First, the end zone needs to be the “play zone” for the hot games in September with a waterslide from the top deck down to the field like they do at Atlantis. You land at the bottom into a big pool, and from there you get into your tube and float back around the stadium in the lazy river to get you back to the gates where you pay the Razorback Foundation again to use the slide.

• When a touchdown is scored, all the cheerleaders have to go down the slide in celebration. This will be an added feature to go along with the fireworks. The pom squad has to go on the third touchdown scored, which should be an inducement to the fans to cheer louder as the game goes on.

• In the other end zone, there will be a large Ferris wheel, but tickets to it will only be given to fans who are at the Broyles-Matthews platinum level in the Razorback Foundation. This way you can claim, “Yeah, I was on the Ferris wheel when that winning touchdown was scored.”

• The skyboxes should be converted into living quarters so people can stay there all the time. I like the idea of the UofA entering into an agreement with Bluegreen time share where they sell points to fans and you can use your points to book stays in the skyboxes. Of course, game weekends will take a premium amount of points.

• After the game, Bret Bielema would no longer hold his post-game press conference. The press would be given the equipment manager to listen to as he reads a prepared statement and then takes no questions. For large donors, you could buy a ticket to an exclusive meeting with Bielema and 100 of the other best Razorback fans who get to ask him questions for one hour. Needless to say, no question would be off limits, but you would have to sign an affidavit of non-disclosure subjecting you to enormous penalties if you revealed any of the discussions with the head coach.

• Before the game, there would always be a concert inside the stadium by groups such as Sawyer Brown or 38 Special. Before the season, ticket holders would get to go online and vote who they want to perform.

• For the October games, fans could pay to enter a chili cook-off on the Broyles Athletic Complex side of the stadium. Jeff Long would be the ceremonial judge. If you win, you get to go to dinner with Long and his entourage, a treat for any fan for sure.

• Not to leave the students out even though they don’t really contribute much to fund the program other than being enrolled in the school, there would be a polar plunge for the cold games where those daring souls could go down the slide in the end zone raising money for the favorite charity – The Razorback Foundation.

All these ideas I propose to help enhance your Razorback experience. Or we can just keep going with endless ads and loud music at every opportunity.


Send your game-day experiences to fromthebench@yahoo.com.

Monday, June 08, 2015

From the Bench

How Do I Know It’s Summer in Arkansas?

Robert Shields

During the summer in the land of the Razorbacks, the sports call-in shows get slow and the topics get bizarre. Soon the Razorback baseball run will be over, and hosts, callers, and columnists alike will be left scrambling to find a good topic to discuss for the next two months.

When there is nothing to talk about in Razorback land, this is how you know it is summer in Arkansas. If you are looking for entertaining sports talk, now should be your favorite time of the year.

So here goes my elementary list of how I know it’s summer in Arkansas.

How do I know it’s summer? When Drive Time Sports has a caller who wants to discuss soccer and the topic is punted to another sport like NASCAR and then ends with Schaeffer talking about what a beautiful day it is in northwest Arkansas.

How do I know it’s summer? When some know-it-all Notre Dame fan calls into Drive Time Sports to explain to Schaeffer and Rainwater how Knute Rockne actually pronounced his name and stays on the air for 20 minutes. Oh wait, Rainwater is hardly ever on his show during the summer so it would be some other lame host.

You also know it’s summer? When Randy asks the caller when they go to the break if he wants to hold or fold (this is Randy nomenclature for staying on the line). This means there is nothing else to talk about right now in this Razorbacks-only state except how to pronounce names, so please hold so we can fill more time before Gentle Ben calls into the show.

How do I know it’s summer? Wally Hall will write a column about some guest speaker speaking somewhere at some charity event. All for a good cause, but the chance of it being written about during the season is less likely.

How do I know it’s summer? Matt Jones’ playlist on his iPhone that is used for bumper music will have 50-percent more reggae.

How do I know it’s summer? The scouting report from T. Biddy will be about some kid in the seventh grade. You will also get a call from some relative of a high-school player touting the kid like they don’t know him explaining he is some super athlete and asking Biddy if he has heard of him. Biddy will then say he will look into it. Then the caller immediately gives the relative’s high-light reel website address that they probably paid some outfit a bundle to produce.

How do I know it’s summer? Some people are awaiting the arrival of Hooten’s annual football magazine like it is the biggest day of the year. I halfway expect a marching band to lead every delivery of the magazines to Walmart. (This would actually be a good PR idea for the first delivery, Hootens.)

How do I know it’s summer? Someone will bring up Arkansas and Arkansas State playing each other. During the season, this question gets dumped on the radio shows quickly. But it will get air time in the summer, and the hosts of call-in shows will tackle this issue with vigor from both sides ending with Schaeffer incredulously declaring that “nobody wants to see this game, Randy.”

How do I know it’s summer? When Bo Mattingly has someone on from Auburn on his radio show. I mean, Auburn? Oh wait, I can’t hear Bo Mattingly in Central Arkansas.

How do I know it’s summer? The coach of the Petit Coat Dragons will be interviewed for three hours on Friday and it will be filled with gaffes and jokes. Wait, that happens during football season also.

How do I know it’s summer? The hosts on the call-in shows take off frequently leaving you with guest hosts. This typically leads to a lot of yucking it up with the remaining regular host and the guest host that should have been handled before the “on air” light went on.

How do I know it is summer? When someone calls into a call-in radio show and explains how he played out the college football season on his PS2 and predicts that TCU or Boise State will win it all.

How do I know it’s summer? At least every other caller is going to chime in with their prediction of how the Hogs are going to do. Right now, my unscientific survey seems to indicate it will be 9-3 from callers. My hunch is that is just the starting bid as expectations will grow by the first game in September.



How do you know it’s summer? Send your ideas to fromthebench@yahoo.com and I just might make a column out of your mail, which is another sign it’s summer.