Last week in Destin, Arkansas interim football coach John L. Smith got some national pub due to his love of adventurous challenges — running with the bulls in Pamplona, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, etc.
But Smith admitted that his toughest challenge yet will be winning the SEC West:
“The hardest one is coaching in the SEC Western Division, yeah. The toughest division in the toughest league. Not that I’m biased, but yeah, it’s pretty tough. From that standpoint, we’re going to have to be good and we’re going to have to win some games… I expect to and our kids expect to, and those are going to be the expectations that we have had and that we’re going to continue to have.
It’s tough. Every week is going to be tough, as you know. The good thing this year is that we have Alabama at home and this year we have LSU at home… So that’s good for us.”
Last season — facing both the Tide and the Tigers on the road — Arkansas was hammered 38-14 in Tuscaloosa and 41-17 in Baton Rouge. Those were the only two blemishes on the Razorbacks record in Bobby Petrino’s final go-round with the Hogs.
The year before, the games were much closer when played in the Natural State (and with Ryan Mallett at quarterback). Arkansas got nipped late by Alabama 24-20 and actually up-ended LSU 31-23 in their season finale in Little Rock. This season, the LSU matchup will be played in Fayetteville, as will the Bama game.
The home field should help Smith and his Hogs’ cause. So should the return of Knile Davis and Tyler Wilson. The question will be whether or not new coordinator Paul Haynes can cook up a championship-caliber defense in his first season at Arkansas. Doing so would go a long way toward closing the gap between the Razorbacks and their two national-title contending divisional rivals.