What if? We ask this question all the time. In our jobs, in our lottery tickets, and especially in our Razorbacks. This summer, I'll be answering the what-ifs in Razorback sports. No negatives, like 'what-if Hunter Henry doesn't make the heave,' but a few fun ones and maybe some big ones, but in a fun way.
What if Arkansas started playing Arkansas State in 2008?
This isn't a question of "should they play?" because that's not as much fun as just imagining what the outcomes might have been had they played. Frank Broyles made it pretty apparent that he was going to prevent them from playing during his 49 years in charge of either the football team or athletic department, but what if Frank Broyles retirement in 2007 signified the end of not playing in-state schools and started a new Little Rock series in 2008?
How does this work financially? Does this mean we play in Little Rock forever? Who cares? Let's just talk about what happens on the field each year.
The 2008 Razorbacks failed to make a bowl game with a 5-7 record in Bobby Petrino's first year. They beat a well-ranked Auburn team, that ultimately struggled to a 5-7 season, and beat a high powered Tulsa team with Malzahn as the offensive coordinator.
The 2008 Arkansas State team struggled to a 6-6 record despite beating BCS Texas A&M in College Station.
The two teams faced two common opponents - ULM & Alabama. Both teams went 1-1 in these games. Arkansas was outscored 42-76 (-34) while Arkansas State was outscored 37-64 (-27). It seems like something of a tossup, but it seems to me like the type of game first year head coach Bobby Petrino would pull out all the stops for, but then against playing Arkansas in War Memorial would be a big deal for every Red Wolf Player.
This almost definitely comes down to when the game is played. The Petrino era didn't start off too hot with narrow, come-from-behind wins over Western Illinois and Louisiana-Monroe. The Razorbacks got much better later in the year, beating LSU and Auburn and losing a few SEC games by very narrow margins. But if the game was played really early when Arkansas was struggling, the Red Wolves might have had a good chance. They did knock off A&M, after all.
In 2009, Arkansas went 8-5 and had a high powered passing attack led by Ryan Mallett, while Arkansas State struggled to a 4-8 record. This one seems like Arkansas would win by a wide margin, but there are no common opponents to compare directly.
More of the same, Arkansas was a BCS bowl team in 2010, while Arkansas State was again 4-8. They shared opponents in Cam Newton Auburn and Louisiana-Monroe. Arkansas outscored those two teams 74-72, despite losing by 22 to Auburn (that game probably hurts too much to ever make it in this article), while Arkansas State was outscored by 12.
The 2011 matchup maybe one of the best ones in the series, at least in terms of both teams being at close to their best. They had one shared opponent in Troy that took Arkansas a little more effort to put away in the 2nd game of the season than it did for Arkansas State to destroy in the 12th game of the season, but given the achievements of both teams, it may take some more serious consideration than that one common opponent.
Arkansas lost two games all season, both were on the road to #3 Alabama and #1 LSU who went on to play for the BCS National Championship against each other that season. The Razorbacks didn't have any problems in Fayetteville that year but did struggle on the road a bit, having to come from behind to beat bad Vanderbilt and Ole Miss teams.
Arkansas State lost two regular season games to Illinois and Virginia Tech, both on the road, and lost their bowl game to Northern Illinois.
The big wins for Arkansas included #14 Texas A&M (neutral site), #15 Auburn, #10 South Carolina, and #11 Kansas State (bowl game). Arkansas State's biggest wins were over Louisiana Lafayette, @Western Kentucky, and Florida International.
If this game is played in Jonesboro for some reason, ASU maybe keeps it competitive. But a good Arkansas team is winning this game.
No need to think about this too much.
While it's hard to say that an Arkansas State team that went to a bowl game would lose to a 3-9 Arkansas team, I think that's what I'm going to have to go with.
In shared opponents (Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette), Arkansas went 1-1 outscoring those opponents by 2, while Arkansas State lost both games and was outscored by 45.
If Brandon Allen is healthy, then Arkansas wins. If AJ Derby or injured Allen is playing then Arkansas State would have a much better chance. We'll call it with Allen healthy and say Arkansas wins.
In 2014, Bret Bielema's team won two games against top 25 teams and fielded what proved to be one of Arkansas' best defenses in recent memory. With no common opponents, the quality of the schedule has to win out. Arkansas was able to achieve the same overall record as Arkansas State against obviously a much tougher schedule. If this game is played early in the season before the Hogs were fully locked in, Arkansas State might have had a chance, but it wouldn't have been a good one.
The answer here almost fully depends on when the game was played. As we're all well aware, Arkansas really struggled early on last year, starting 1-3 with that godawful loss to Toledo. It's hard to say ASU wouldn't have had a chance if the game was played in September.
But if it's played in October or November? No way. It's a blowout.
At worst, under very specific circumstances, Arkansas would be winning the series 6-2 with the two losses coming in already historically bad years for the Hogs. The loss in 2012 would probably not have been able to damage the program more than the 2012 season did already. A 2008 loss ultimately would not have hurt the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons as Petrino already had all the pieces in motion for those seasons.