The Arkansas Razorbacks released their 2022 football schedule, and to no one’s surprise, it is once again brutal.
The toughness of the conference schedule is what it is. Top 25 teams abound in this league (with a subset taking up residence in the top 10) and those on the outside looking in have rosters littered with top talent and name brand coaches. The premier conference in college football will invariably present a challenging schedule, so such is life.
The 2022 nonconference schedule has some fresh faces on it with three teams the Hogs have never played before. The Hogs open with Cincinnati, which has been one of the best Group of Five teams the last few seasons under Luke Fickell. BYU is always respectable and currently really good, and former Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze brings his faster-than-fast offensive wizardry into town in November with Liberty.
On Sept. 17, a very familiar face will be storming the opposing sideline, as the enigmatic Bobby Petrino returns to Fayetteville with his Missouri State Bears of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) level. Petrino got the Razorback football program to a level Coach Sam Pittman and Hog football fans would love to achieve in the next few years.
But then it all came crashing down (or crashing sideways for the motorcycle riders out there) in the spring of 2012 with the infamous wreck involving a much younger female football staffer.
Depending on who you ask, some wish Petrino would never have been fired, while others see his missteps as unforgivable. Whichever side of the fence you stand on regarding Bobby Petrino, one fact that is hard to argue is the dude can flat coach offensive football. And because of that, Western Kentucky, Louisville and now Missouri State all gave him another chance.
Petrino went 8-4 in his one season at WKU, then had things rolling during his second stint at Louisville with Heisman trophy winner and current NFL star Lamar Jackson at the controls of his fun-and-gun offense. The leash ended up being especially short at Louisville, as the Cardinals had dipped to 2-8 in 2018 when Petrino was fired. That team lost seven games in a row prior to his termination, and blame was placed on a locker room explosion after a close loss to Florida State where it is believed Petrino created an unfixable divide between himself and the team.
That Louisville exit is very believable as anybody paying attention to Razorback football during his era should remember his sideline tirades. Intense? Just not a nice guy? Or both? Hard to tell with Petrino, as he lacked the charisma of a Houston Nutt and the genuineness of a Sam Pittman or even the cockiness of Bret Bielema (who is 1-3 in his first year at Illinois with a win over pitiful Nebraska).
Bobby Petrino Against the Razorbacks
The game should be a runaway for the Hogs. Petrino is building a solid program up in Springfield, but the Bears should not present much of a challenge. The outcome isn’t the intrigue here but rather how Petrino will be received when he runs out of the tunnel at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium and throughout the game?
Cheers? Or jeers?
Taking a quick pulse of social media when the schedule was announced and talking with Razorback fan buddies of mine, I suspect the boo birds will be minimal.
Petrino won a lot of football games at the University of Arkansas, and a lot of time has passed since the crash and poorly attempted cover-up. Moral slip-ups or not, I suspect Arkansas fans will welcome Petrino back to town. They certainly did a couple summers ago when giving him a standing ovation at the Little Rock Touchdown Club.
There was even a decent contingency that wanted to see him return after Bielema left, and again when the Chad Morris era mercifully ended. Indeed, a petition to bring him back after Morris’ firing got more than 10,000 signatures.
Anything, anybody who could get the program out of the cellar of the SEC — and then notch eight wins over Top 20 teams — will make the win-hungry masses forget about one’s transgressions. Admittedly, the fans were that desperate as the once proud program took a nosedive at the end of Bielema and picked up downhill speed under Morris.
Realistic Ceiling for Razorbacks’ Success?
But those lovers of Petrino-era Razorback football need to go ahead and square off that Sam Pittman is the right guy at the right time. Can he win 10-11 games like Bobby? Maybe once a decade if the conference remains as strong as it is now. The league is top to bottom better than it was in Petrino’s time in Fayetteville, so that might be tough. After all we’ve been through since he left, consistently winning seven or eight games would do me just fine.
Without question, Petrino’s inability to ride a motorcycle with a long-legged blonde on the back who was not his wife pulled the proverbial rug out from under the staff, players, recruits and the fan base.
Should he have been fired? Due to how it all unfolded, yes. The trunk of the trust tree cracked beyond repair with the affair involving a staffer coupled with a cover-up. Very hard to have someone be the leader of young men or to go into a recruit’s house and convince the family or the kid that he’s a guy you can trust after all that.
Wins aren’t everything, although as bad as things have been around the football program, plenty of fans were willing to look the other way out of desperation to return to those high-flying days.
Petrino had numerous other issues that made and still make him a member of the “do not touch” list by Power Five schools:
• Track record of always looking for the next best gig, typically under the cover of darkness;
• Inability to put a dependable defense out on the field, as his entire focus is clearly on offense;
• His poor rapport with players and fans.
Maybe someday, someone desperate gives him another crack at big-time college football. At the same time, maybe he doesn’t want it and is perfectly fine doing his thing at Missouri State.
And speaking of booing…
If the man who fired Bobby Petrino somehow wandered into the stadium, I would hope the boo birds would crank it up for former Athletic Director Jeff Long.
But that’s another story for another day.
This piece first appeared on BestofArkansasSports.com.
Arkansas 2022 Football Schedule
Sept. 3 – Cincinnati
Sept. 10 – South Carolina
Sept. 17 – Missouri State
Sept. 24 – vs. Texas A&M (Arlington, Texas)
Oct. 1 – Alabama
Oct. 8 – at Mississippi State
Oct. 15 – at BYU
Oct. 22 – OPEN
Oct. 29 – at Auburn
Nov. 5 – Liberty
Nov. 12 – LSU
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 26 – at Missouri