FAYETTEVILLE – Arkansas’ chances of improving its recently abysmal SEC football fortunes took a double hit Friday.
For the SEC West Razorbacks two additional games against SEC East opponents in the now 10-games All-SEC schedule, the Razorbacks Friday were assigned this season to host the Georgia Bulldogs Fayetteville and visit the Florida Gators at the “Swamp” in Gainesville, Fla.
Inheriting a Razorbacks team that under the preceding Chad Morris regime went 2-10, 2-10 overall and 0-8, 0-8 in the SEC the last two seasons, new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman in Georgia and Florida now faces last year’s top two teams from the SEC East Georgia was 12-2 overall, 7-1 in the SEC, and Florida, 11-2, 6-2.
In the just released 2020 Coaches Preseason poll, Coach Kirby Smart’s Georgia Bulldogs, for whom Pittman coached the offensive line from 2016-2019, ranks No. 4 nationally while Coach Dan Mullen’s Gators rank No. 8 in the Coaches Preseason poll.
The Razorbacks, like all SEC teams eliminating their four nonconference games and adding two SEC games to their original 8-game SEC schedule with the season’s start delayed to Sept. 26 because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, already had four Preseason Coaches top 20 teams on the schedule hosting No. 3 Alabama and No. 5 LSU, the reigning national and SEC champion, and visiting No. 11 Auburn and No. 13 Texas A&M.
Arkansas’ road games against Mississippi State and Missouri
and home games against Ole Miss and Tennessee are its only games against opponents unranked in the Coaches poll.
Tennessee and Mississippi State did receive votes though not enough to crack the Preseason Top 25.
Pittman, Arkansas’ offensive line coach from 2013-2015 during the Bret Bielema regime, put a brave spin in Friday’s press release on facing six Top 15 Preseason teams including four in the Top 10.
“We’re excited to play this schedule,” Pittman said. “The SEC is the best and that’s where Arkansas belongs, with the best. We’ve got an incredible opportunity ahead of us as a program. Our staff can’t wait to get on the field with our team and prepare to take on the toughest schedule in the country.”
Arkansas Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek also was quoted.
““We already owned the nation’s strongest 2020 football schedule and with these additions to our SEC only schedule, we now own the most challenging schedule in the history of college football,” Yurachek said. “As Razorbacks, we have never backed down from a challenge, this year will be no different. Our focus remains on the growth of our program and supporting Coach Sam Pittman and our football student-athletes as they embrace this extraordinary opportunity.”
The dates and times when Arkansas will play these games remain to be announced.
Pittman in a Thursday Zoom press conference was asked about the what-if the Razorbacks learned Friday they would play the Georgia team whose O-line Pittman coached the last four years.
“Well, depends on where we played them,” Pittman said. “If we went to Georgia it would be nice to go back and see all the people there. They have an incredible fan base. If they came here and it was allowed they will be traveling in. I am gonna tell the Arkansas fans sell that thing out because if not it will be loaded with Georgia fans. I have fond memories of Georgia. They were good to me the entire state and of course Kirby Smart. If we played them a year earlier than what I thought we would look forward to playing them.”
Arkansas in the original SEC West vs. SEC East rotation wasn’t scheduled to play Georgia until 2021.
Going to Florida ought to be intriguing for Razorbacks quarterback Feleipe Franks, a graduate transfer from the University of Florida and the every game starter for the Gators’ 10-3 2018 team and the starter for Florida’s first three games last year with his season terminated by a broken ankle in the third game.
Also when the Razorbacks play Missouri, the only SEC East team always on their schedule, new Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom will be facing his alma mater and team he head coached from 2016-2019.