FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — A lot of conversation around Saturday’s game between Arkansas and South Carolina hinges on whether the Razorbacks can make a bowl game. The game is seen as a “must-win” for Arkansas if it hopes to qualify for a fourth straight postseason.
Two words about that: Who cares?
That’s the general consensus around Razorbacks Nation regarding their favorite team. Sure, they prefer a good team to a bad one, but living life at .500 is purgatory. A 7-5 season, which is the likeliest scenario if Arkansas beats South Carolina, excites no one and probably keeps the Bret Bielema era going for that much longer.
Realistically, that isn’t a bad thing. Bielema has, as written in this space several times before, been a boon for athletic director Jeff Long, the athletic department and, frankly, the entire university. The Razorbacks are talked about with regularity on the national scene. Maybe it isn’t always because of what’s done on the field, but it often is. Heck, they’ve been a “team on the rise” for two years.
And there’s the rub. Teams on the rise don’t go 7-6, 8-5, 7-6 then either one of those in Year 4. That’s plateauing. It’s better than Arkansas has been most of this generation (yes, we know, Petrino Lovers, not as good as those great seasons of his), but not good enough to satisfy a hungry fan base.
That’s the wild thing about it. Look across the SEC. Arkansas fans were livid after losing an overtime game to Texas A&M. In the minds of some, Bielema was the coach most deserving to be fired anywhere in the SEC. Never mind that there is zero truth to that. The thinking was Bielema ought to be let go sooner than Butch Jones at Tennessee, Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M or Ed Orgeron at LSU.
No one is satisfied, it seems, with competence. That isn’t good enough. Texas A&M has been competent. LSU and Tennessee competent.
I can hear it now. “Are you serious, Bolin? LSU stinks! Tennessee stinks!” If you’re taking a micro-level approach, yeah, they’ve both been pretty rough this season. Are we forgetting, though, that Tennessee is coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons? LSU has been 10-3, 8-5, 9-3, 8-4.
Tell me Arkansas fans wouldn’t love to have those seasons. Tell me Bielema would be on the “hot seat” if the Razorbacks were coming off back-to-back 9-4 seasons.
Instead, Arkansas may beat South Carolina on Saturday and get to 3-2. No one will be picking the Razorbacks to beat Auburn or Alabama, their two subsequent opponents. So, come Oct. 22, the day after the Crimson Tide likely stomp a mud hole in Bielema’s bunch, the buzzards will be back out, correctly or not.
Ole Miss will be another “must-win” game. Only, it won’t be. By that point, Arkansas will have lost four games and be sitting with a losing record. The Razorbacks could win out from that point and finish 8-4, but would anyone — already jaded with the season — expect or predict that to happen? Not a chance. Yet doing that is the only way this season ends on a happy note.
Or you could believe Arkansas pulls out a miracle against one or both of the Alabama schools. That might change things. That might call off the fans. But I know one thing — a 7-5 season won’t. Another trip to Memphis for the Liberty Bowl isn’t going to make anyone happier.
It might not be fair, but it’s life in college football nowadays.
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