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The Week That Will Be : 4th and 3

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The plot lines change. But Texas and Arkansas does not.

NCAA Football: UL Lafayette at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Last Week: 3-3 ATS 4-2 SU

For the Year: 3-3 (.500) (-$30) ATS 4-2 (.667) SU

We’re going to do this a little differently this year. Instead of re-capping six games four days after they are played and three days after you have read everything about them, I’m going to give you my best and worst moments of the previous week.

Chalk:

Which of the 2 rushing yards Clemson put up against Georgia last week was your favorite? Reports out of fall camp for Clemson were that D.J. Uiagalelei was not looking good, and that certainly carried over to Saturday night when he looked like Butterbean back there in the pocket, getting sacked 7 times. Clemson has a cupcake schedule the rest of the way, but it will be interesting to monitor Uiagalelei.

Bad Beat:

Quit betting against Nick Saban in Week 1 games. The Tide are now 11-0 in these neutral site openers where Saban has 7 months to prepare. They have outscored opponents 425-141 in those games.


Thump thump thump thump.

The rhythmic cadence of the helicopters reverberated off the forested hills of the Ozarks. The blades cut through the icy fog with ease, but the dreary conditions raise the trepidation on an already taut morning.

The downtown buildings rattle. Pedestrians stare at the skies, mouth agape. The shadows of the blades whirl over a closed hamburger shop with a simple sign out front:

“Closed. Gone to Texas’s Funeral”.

As the Arkansas Razorbacks break their defensive huddle, five helicopters descend from the colorless sky, their descent only blocked by the view of the Longhorns’ offense approaching the line of scrimmage.

“‘Wow, man, he really is coming,’” Arkansas defensive lineman Bruce James recalls thinking – but he continues: “But then reality sets in again. Because they break their huddle. And you’re fixing to get hit.”

President Nixon is here. But more importantly Texas is breaking their huddle.

It is hard to overstate the importance of the 1969 matchup between the #1 Texas Longhorns and #2 Arkansas Razorbacks. it was a made-for-TV matchup before made-for-TV matchups were even fashionable.

They of course were already scheduled to meet that season as Southwest Conference foes, but looking to capitalize on the 100th birthday of college football, television executives wanted a big splash, and in the 1960’s college football, it didn’t get much better than the Longhorns (80-18-2 that decade) and the Razorbacks (80-19-1). So their October matchup was moved to the first weekend of December, where it would be the only college football game played that day.

How important was this game? Arkansas installed artificial turf so that the stadium would look better on TV. And for good reason, the game earned a 52.1 share, meaning more than half of the television sets in America were tuned to this game.

And yes, it was so important that the President himself wanted to attend. He even decided to sit in the stands, much to the chagrin of one Arkansas ticket holder.

“If I get moved one-fourth of an inch closer to the end zone ‘cause of Nixon,” a salesman warned, “I’ll vote Democrat the rest of my life.”

National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger accompanied Nixon. As did Texas congressman George H.W. Bush. Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright was there. The list goes on.

But only Nixon would be handing the plaque declaring the national champion to the winner.

4th and 3, a national championship on the line.

53 Veer Pass.

Many were surprised that Nixon made the trip at all. The nation was at the end of an extremely turbulent decade and was now embroiled in an extremely unpopular war. Protest signs were visible to Nixon but not to ABC cameras, who also didn’t mention any unrest on the television broadcast.

The first draft lottery was held just five days prior to kickoff. Merry Christmas to those unlucky few.

Closer to home, Fayetteville was a cauldron of unrest, as black students were protesting the playing of “Dixie” by the school band. They threatened to storm the field if the song was played during the Texas game if the song was played — thoroughly embarrassing the school and Nixon and possibly starting a riot if other students took offense — but that was averted when it was announced at a pep rally the night prior that the song would not be played.

A black student was shot and wounded after the rally in response.

Fifty plus years later, Arkansas is trying to pull itself out of a dreadful decade while Texas is trying to pull itself out of a mediocre decade.

That much has changed.

The civil unrest has not.

It was delightful to see college football stadiums full again this weekend. For all the troubles in this world there is always football, just like there was 52 years ago.

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the downing of a flight in rural Pennsylvania. The whole fabric of the world changed on that day. It is hard to forget.

But I also remember the sports. President George W. Bush taking the mound in Yankee Stadium and throwing the cleanest strike you have seen in your life. I remember vividly the North Carolina Cole Pittman game three days before the attacks, the first game back in Houston and the first home game against Texas Tech, where we all looked to the skies nervously every time a plane flew overhead.

There are a lot more important matters than football going on in the world right now.

There always has been.

But those will be there in time.

Right now, we have Texas & Arkansas.


Washington @ Michigan -6.5:

Michigan has already accomplished in 2021 what they could not do in all of 2020.

Win a game at Michigan Stadium.

With all of the craziness of 2020, it is easy to forget that Michigan went 2-4 last season with home losses to Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin and Penn State mixed in there.

After allowing 34.5 points per game last season, defensive coordinator Don Brown was shown the door and in came Mike Macdonald, a long time defensive assistant for….the Baltimore Ravens. Figure out the connection there.

Macdonald saw results in his first game, only allowing 310 yards to always prolific Western Michigan in a 45-17 Michigan win. It wasn’t all roses, however, as Michigan lost wide receiver Ronnie Bell for the year to injury. Bell was Michigan’s leading receiver the last two years and had a 76-yard touchdown on his lone reception last week.

You have to be concerned about their ability to stretch the field with Washington coming to town, who did lose to, wait who….Montana last week, becoming only the fifth ranked FBS team to lose to a FCS team this century.

Coming into the season Washington was seen as a team that would certainly compete for the Pac-12 North and could win the conference. Now that is a mystery as their offense really left a lot to be desired in that loss last week. The Huskies had a weird year last season as well, as they only played four times in 2020, all at home.

If they played last week, I think Michigan might be favored by closer to 1 or 2 points. The Huskies are certainly not as bad as they looked last week on offense as they return their starting quarterback, all offensive linemen, tight end and running back. Combine that with a stout defense and they’ll have a much better showing this week.

Michigan 24 Washington 21


Colorado vs. Texas A&M -17 (Denver):

The good news for Texas A&M is that their running game picked up right where it left off in 2020 as they had two backs rush for 100 yards (Isiah Spiller 113 yards, Devon Achane 124 yards) and their pass defense looked very stout against a Kent State team that led the nation in scoring offense and were near the top of most offensive categories.

The bad news is that new quarterback Haynes King threw three interceptions against….Kent State, who doesn’t exactly have SEC defensive coordinators firing up their gametape to see their exotic defensive coverages. The Aggies also allowed 226 rushing yards to the Golden Flashes...

Which leads us to this week’s opponent, the Colorado Buffaloes. Colorado had an easy win in their opener against Northern Colorado, a game that saw them rush for 281 yards on 5.7 yards per carry.

Colorado hasn’t beaten a Top 10 team since 2007, and seeing as how they had 12 penalties last week, I’m not certain they are disciplined enough to defeat the Aggies.

But 17 points seems like a lot. The Aggies have been favored by this many points away from College Station just once since 2014.

Texas A&M 38 Colorado 24


Oregon @ Ohio State -14.5:

A rematch of a recent past national championship features Oregon having to travel across the country and play a game at 9:00 AM their time. What could go wrong?

Superstar Oregon defensive end (and possible #1 pick) Kayvon Thibodeaux may not play in this one due to injury. That would be devastating for the chances of the Ducks, who are relying on their defense to help prop up their offense.

That offense is led by Boston College transfer Anthony Brown, who saved the day last week with a 30+ yard touchdown run. But Brown needs to be more explosive to win in Columbus. Brown only averaged 7.2 yards per attempt last week against Fresno State, and then was held to 5.3 yards per attempt his freshman season and then 7.4 his sophomore season.

Ohio State quarterback C.J. Stroud finished with impressive numbers but if you watched the game last week against Minnesota you saw a quarterback struggling a bit, as evidenced by 140 of his 294 passing yards coming on passes 10 yards or less from the line of scrimmage and his 0/1 with an interception passing line with throws between the hash marks.

The Ohio State defense will have some issues this season, but I’m not sure Oregon is the team to expose them enough.

Ohio State 45 Oregon 23


California @ TCU -11:

These teams have met once before, that hideous Cheez-Itz Bowl that featured six first half interceptions. Cal was only projected to win 5 games this year and one of those was last week’s match-up with Nevada, a game in which they quickly jumped up 14-0 only to lose 22-17.

TCU should win this one handily.

TCU 38 Cal 23


Iowa @ Iowa State -4.5:

The first ever meeting where both of these teams are ranked promises to be a good one...well it likely promises to be a close one.

Iowa owns a five-game winning streak in this series, and oddly enough Iowa State hasn’t won in Ames since 2011. With the eyes of the college football world and College Gameday in town, you have to wonder if Matt Campbell starts to get “yeah but” added to his resume.

Last week the Cyclones continued their annual tradition of barely holding off Northern Iowa as they defeated the Panthers 16-10. Breece Hall only contributed 3 yards per carry on 23 carries while Brock Purdy threw for just 199 yards on 7.7 yards per attempt.

Iowa had one of those games that you see on ESPN’s bottom line while at the tailgate or at home and it looks impressive, but when you start delving into that 34-6 win over Indiana, you see that they only had 303 total yards, a paltry 5.2 yards per pass attempt and turned it over twice. Add to that Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was clearly still feeling the effects of an injury and you get less impressed by that victory.

The under is probably the safe wager here, as it is 13-2 the last 15 matchups of these two teams.

Iowa State 20 Iowa 17


Texas -7 @ Arkansas:

We can talk about Hudson Card or Bijan Robinson or a defense that looked more sound or Jordan Whittington, but the thing that stood out to me the most in last week’s Texas win over Louisiana was the fact that once again, for the first time in quite a while, Texas has a coach that can outscheme the other coaching staff.

No more relying on Sam Ehlinger to cowboy his way to another victory. Much like we have seen Lincoln Riley in the Cotton Bowl scheme CeeDee Lamb with enough space between him and the defender for Evil Knievel to jump over, we have a coach that can get Bijan Robinson in space (how many times did we scream into the void for us to do the same with D.J. Monroe and Daje Johnson?).

And for that reason alone, I like the coach who can do that over the coach that in his Monday press conference told the world that they need to prepare for Bijan Robinson to return kicks.

There was much celebration last season when Arkansas ended their 20-game SEC losing streak. During the midst of that streak they lost at home to North Texas (by nearly 30 points in 2018), and at home to Western Kentucky (by nearly 30 points in 2019).

So you can forgive the Razorback faithful when you remember last season being celebrated in those parts and then you look up their record and it was 3-7.

Gone is quarterback Felipe Franks, replaced by redshirt sophomore K.J. Jefferson, a 6’3” 245 Cam Newton starter kit. Jefferson failed to complete 50% of his passes in spot duty the last two seasons and didn’t impress much against Rice last week, at least throwing the football (12/21 128 1 TD 1 INT). He can run on you, as demonstrated by his 9 rushes for 89 yards and 2 TDs, including a 34-yard scamper to open the scoring on Saturday.

Arkansas does return all five starters on the offensive line, and has talent at running back in Trelon Smith (who has rushed for 100 yards in 3 out of his last 5 games) and wide receiver Treylon Burks, who is getting mentions for first round mock drafts and certainly has All-American potential.

Pete Kwiatkowski has success against running quarterbacks going back to this days in the Pac-12 and last week against Levi Lewis, when the Horns were content on letting the Ragin Cajuns take their chances at driving down the field in 10-15 plays rather than taking big chunks with explosive plays from the quarterback.

Get them to third down and you have them right where you want them, as Arkansas converted an absurdly low 34% on third down last season and only converted 3/11 against Rice last week.

Defensively the Razorbacks have an All-American safety in Jalen Catalon but up front they struggle to sack the quarterback (only 14 all of last season) and struggle to defend the run, as Auburn, Ole Miss, Florida, LSU, Missouri and Alabama all rushed for more than 200 yards on them last season, and Tennessee and Texas A&M broke 180.

And their best defender besides Catalon, linebacker Bumper Pool (yes, it is) must sit out the first half after a targeting call against Rice.

The path to victory is clear for the Horns. Run the football, sapping the energy out of the Razorbacks but more importantly the crowd, and keep K.J. Jefferson in front of you, making them drive the ball instead of relying on explosive plays. This team committed 13 penalties last week, 8 of those on defense. They will hang themselves if you give them enough rope.

The Horns haven’t lost in Fayetteville to 1981. Why start now?

Texas 34 Arkansas 21

For entertainment purposes only. Save your money for gas before you cross the Arkansas border.

“Don’t get the impression that you arouse my anger. You see, one can only be angry with those he respects.” Richard M. Nixon