FAYETTEVILLE – Sam Pittman Tuesday night watched the College Football Playoff Committee announcing its first Top 25 poll hoping his Razorbacks would be included.
They weren’t. Arkansas’ next opponent was.
Though not included in Sunday’s released week’s AP and Coaches Top 25 but getting some votes as did Arkansas, the Mississippi State Bulldogs ranked 17th in Tuesday CFP poll whose last poll in December selects the four teams playing for the national championship and sets much of the stage for the remaining bowl games.
Mississippi State, 5-3 overall and 3-2 in the SEC with wins over nationally ranked North Carolina State nonconference and Texas A&M and Kentucky within the SEC, and Arkansas, 5-3, 1-3 with a nonconference triumph over then ranked Texas and a SEC success over Texas A&M, clash at 3 p.m. in Saturday’s SEC Network televised SEC West game at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
“I watched it last night hoping that we would have an opportunity to get in the top 25,” Pittman said on his Wednesday afternoon Zoom press conference with Arkansas media after his morning session on the SEC Coaches/Media teleconference. “Obviously, we haven’t won enough games, haven’t won enough power-ranking games to get that done, like Mississippi State.”
Pittman said that without rancor but for now indisputable fact.
“I saw that they were 17th,” Pittman said. “I think they deserve it. They beat three ranked teams. I believe three of the teams that were in the rankings last night. So even though we have identical records, they’ve beaten a few better teams than we have. I thought it was fair of the rankings. I vote each week myself, and it seems like they got it pretty close to right. It will all shake out in the end anyway.”
Yes, it will, Mississippi State Coach Mike Leach said on Wednesday’s teleconference keeping perspective amid the biggest poll’s big vote of Bulldogs confidence.
“Sure, we’re happy and stuff,” Leach said Wednesday. “I didn’t know until later at night. People texted me. It’s fun for now, but we’ve got to play well and go up there and compete this weekend.”
Mississippi State surges into Fayetteville off dominating then AP 12th-ranked Kentucky, 31-17 last Saturday in Starkville while the Razorbacks, injury wracked from eight games in eight weeks, enjoyed their annual during the season bye week.
Arkansas last played on Oct. 23 in a 45-3 nonconference romp in Little Rock over Arkansas-Pine Bluff after four tough SEC games beating then No. 7 Texas A&M at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium then losing, 37-0 at unanimous o No. 1 Georgia, 52-51 at No. 16 (College Football Playoff poll) Ole Miss and 38-23 in Fayetteville to Auburn (13th in the CFP).
Previously injured Razorbacks right offensive tackle Dalton Wagner, defensive tackle Markell Utsey and tight end Trey Knox among others healed during the two-week break, Pittman said.
Others who have played banged up, including starting quarterback KJ Jefferson, returned to this week’s practices obviously refreshed, Pittman said.
“Monday was as good a day as he’s had,” Pittman said. “Really in the 9-on-9 part of it, he really stepped up around the rush game and made some great throws. On Sunday, in the two-minute drill he made a nice throw for a touchdown. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Pittman and staff got to scrimmage some of the younger, seldom-used reserves last week and at least one of them advanced from the work.
Bryce Stephens of Oklahoma City joins fellow true freshman Ketron Jackson, 3 catches for 44 yards with a touchdown, in the receivers rotation behind junior Preseason All-American Treylon Burks, a team-leading 42 catches for 717 yards and seven touchdowns; Helena native Tyson Morris, 14 catches, 236 yards and two touchdowns; Warren Thompson, 13 for 206 and two touchdowns; and De’Vion Warren, 10 catches for 152 yards.
“”I think Bryce is a freshman coming on,” Pittman said. He’s starting to understand the offense. He’s starting to play a little bit faster. We’ve got some different little things in for him that he’s looked good doing this week. He’s definitely the No. 2 slot at this point.”
Miffed that his offensive staff didn’t insert running back Dominique Johnson until the second quarter for his 6 carries for 91 yards against UAPB, Pittman insures his 6-1, 240 sophomore will start with more opportunities Saturday by starting Johnson against Mississippi State.
“He’s earned the right to start for us and we anticipate him having another good game even though we know how talented and how good Mississippi State has done against the run,” Pittman said.
Asked if he hoped for Johnson to log 15 carries Saturday, Pittman replied, “I think that number 15 is probably closer to a minimum than maximum.”