Jim’s Notebook: TV Dictates 2014 Razorback Schedule; Hogs Receiving Corps Hurt

The 2013 college football season has yet to kick off, but on Wednesday the Southeastern Conference had everyone talking about 2014. The league released its conference schedule for 2014, and Arkansas later followed suit by sending out the 2014 Razorback schedule complete with nonconference foes and dates.

All that was missing from the UA press release on the schedule was the location of in-state games — specifically which teams would be Hog opponents at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium.

The surprise was seeing Auburn not only listed as the Razorbacks’ first SEC game of the season in 2014, but the first game period. The Hogs and Tigers will play in Auburn on Aug. 30. Two nights earlier, South Carolina and Texas A&M are scheduled to kick off the college football season in Columbia, S.C., on the new SEC Network.

All this is being dictated by the new TV agreements with ESPN, which now operates the SEC Network, and with CBS for national broadcasts. The networks preferred league matchups on all playing dates rather than weak nonconference games dominating SEC schedules in first two weeks of the season.

Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said he had pushed for the Big Ten to play more high-profile league games earlier in the season while he was at Wisconsin. “I think it’s a great thing, it builds awareness and obviously it builds the brand of our league,” he said of putting marquee matchups on the front end during a press conference before his address to the Little Rock Touchdown Club.

What was not a surprise for anyone who had followed the speculation on the future of the Arkansas-LSU rivalry was seeing the usual Thanksgiving weekend game for Arkansas changed to a yearly tussle with SEC Eastern Division member Missouri. The LSU game moves up earlier in November, and the Tigers become Texas A&M’s Thanksgiving rival, which for about a century was longtime rival Texas.

Arkansas and LSU were regular-season ending opponents since Arkansas joined the league for football in 1992. LSU and Arkansas also staged nonconference, regular-season-ending games in the 1950s until the schools ended the series and Texas Tech came into the old Southwest Conference as the league’s eighth team and the Hogs’ traditional finale.

Speaking of Texas Tech, the Red Raiders return to the Hogs’ schedule for the first time since Arkansas left the SWC with a Sept. 13 date in Lubbock, Texas.

Arkansas also returns to the Dallas area to resume an every-year date with SEC West rival Texas A&M at Jerry Jones’ AT&T (formerly Cowboys) Stadium. When the series began, A&M was in the Big 12. Texas A&M will be the designated home team in 2014, and the programs are contracted to play in the stadium through 2024 (11 seasons beginning in 2014).

Missouri becomes Arkansas’ permanent cross-division rival, replacing South Carolina. The Gamecocks gained the Aggies as their permanent rival after playing Arkansas annually since 1992 (Arkansas leads the all-time series with South Carolina 13-8, by the way).

“Obviously there will be some natural crossover in recruiting that will build something more and more,” Bielema said of the potential rivalry with Mizzou. “I think that’s why the SEC went to it, they want to build up that possibility. We’re not going to try to pick a fight with them, but it’s definitely something at the end of the year that those kinds of situations can lead to something great.”

In sticking with its 6-1-1 schedule format (one permanent cross-division rival and one alternating one, plus six intradivision games), other cross-division games for all league teams will change each season. Arkansas drew Georgia for a matchup in Fayetteville in 2014. The Hogs are traveling to Florida this fall.

NONCONFERENCE LOOK: Arkansas has Alabama-Birmingham, Northern Illinois and Football Championship Subdivision program Nicholls State on the 2014 schedule. Nicholls State competes with Central Arkansas in the Southland Conference.

UAB is coached by former Razorback offensive coordinator Garrick McGee, who was on Bobby Petrino’s staff. With league games spread from the opening weekend to the 14th playing date, Arkansas had spots left to fill later in the season between conference matchups. UAB will fall in the Oct. 25 date, after Arkansas has played four SEC games. The Hogs have open dates that precede home matchups with Alabama on Oct. 11 and LSU on Nov. 15.

TOUGH STRETCHES: On paper, it doesn’t appear that the Hogs will face quite the same gauntlet that awaits them this season beginning Sept. 28, when Arkansas plays Texas A&M and then sees Florida, South Carolina and Alabama in succession.

But a pair of two-week stretches stand out in 2014, and both are scheduled to be played in state. Alabama and Georgia are on the slate for Oct. 11 and Oct. 18; LSU and Ole Miss are back to back on Nov. 15 and Nov. 22.

Ole Miss replaced LSU as Arkansas’ opponent for Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium in 2012. The Hogs are contracted to play two games annually in Little Rock through 2016, with one game to be an conference matchup.

Here is a link to video of Jim discussing the schedule with KTHV’s Mark Edwards.

TWO RECEIVERS DOWN: Arkansas is down to six scholarship receivers for the season opener with Louisiana-Lafayette after losing two potential starters in the past 10 days.

Senior Demetrius Wilson — “a kid that’s been awesome since we got there,” Bret Bielema said — tore an anterior cruciate ligament in light contact during a red zone drill and was lost for the season. Wilson, however, has a redshirt season available and can come back next year.

Then on Wednesday, Bielema revealed that sophomore D’Arthur Cowan had broken a bone in a foot taking a bad step during a punt return drill before practice, requiring surgery on Monday to implant a screw to help the bone heal. He’ll be out 6-8 weeks. Cowan also has a redshirt season available if the coaching staff decides to hold him out.

The injuries have provided the freshmen more opportunity, Bielema said. Drew Morgan “has done a tremendous job,” the coach said of the former Greenwood star receiver, while speedy Longview, Texas, product Eric Hawkins, who missed spring drills after a redshirt first year, has been impressive in recent days. Seniors Javontee Herndon and Julian Horton “will have to step up their roles,” the coach said.

Bielema also said that both Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle, two tall and lanky tight ends — Henry is a true freshman and Sprinkle is a redshirt freshman — could be used in certain situations as wide receivers.

SPAIGHTED: While most of the Hog injuries have been “a freak little deal,” Bielema confessed to the media before the Touchdown Club luncheon that junior college transfer linebacker Martrell Spaight from North Little Rock may have been responsible for tight end Austin Tate’s broken collarbone with a crushing hit in an earlier practice. Tate will be sidelined up to eight weeks.

About the time the head coach was talking about Spaight with the media in an off room in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Little Rock, a crash of plates and metal could be heard in a nearby kitchen.

“I think somebody got ‘Spaighted’ back there,” Bielema cracked. “I didn’t know we took him on the plane today.”

Later, Bielema marveled at Spaight’s enthusiasm at practice and his hitting ability to the 700-plus attendees at the Touchdown Club. He said the staff considered putting a green jersey on Spaight — usually given to quarterbacks so the defense won’t tackle them in practice — “so that he wouldn’t hit anyone.”

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