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Ranking Arkansas’ 2016 Games Based On Schedule Manipulation

Colin Cowherd says Arkansas structured their schedule to give them some advantages. Well, yeah. Is that a bad thing? Or even unusual?

NCAA Football: Liberty Bowl-Kansas State vs Arkansas Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Radio host Colin Cowherd caused a mini outrage last week when he accused Alabama and Arkansas of manipulating their schedules. He probably would have gone through the entire SEC if he wanted to spend that much time on it. Here’s the clip:

My reaction was pretty simple. You’re damn right we do! And so does Alabama and so does every other school and conference in the country. Every school has a certain amount of control over their non-conference games and schedules those games in whatever is their best interest.

Cowherd’s implication, however, is that the Alabama and Arkansas schedules are somehow easier, which is silly nonsense.

The only thing the SEC does that’s unusual among the major conferences is allow several conference teams to schedule a non-conference opponent in the November weekend before Thanksgiving week rivalry games. It’s always a bad look for the league that week to play so many weak opponents, but no one complains when the SEC is playing conference games in the first three weeks of the season to make up for it.

And as we all know, Arkansas is not one of the teams playing a non-conference game that week. The Razorbacks have played Mississippi State that week for as long as I can remember (save 2014).

So I thought it might be fun to rank Arkansas’ 12 games based on how well manipulated they are. Remember, the SEC sets the league schedule (with some input from the schools, like how Arkansas always play Texas A&M in late September or early October), and the schools schedule non-conference games.

  1. Texas State - This is the most boring game on Arkansas’ schedule. It’s Week 3 after the opener and the big TCU game, so by this point everyone will be aching to get into the meat of the SEC schedule, but we take a relatively unnecessary breather to play Texas State. It should be an easy, boring win. Complete manipulation here.
  2. Louisiana Tech - It’s always fine to play a weak non-conference game in Week 1. Everyone’s excited to see the team play in Week 1 since there hasn’t been a real game in eight months, so there’s no real reason to waste a “big” opponent this week. I’m always against that. It seems Arkansas doesn’t have a great history against major opponents in Week 1, at least they don’t in recent history. A lot of people are saying Louisiana Tech isn’t a pushover because they’ve been pretty decent the last couple of years, and if their starting quarterback and running back were returning this year, they’d be right, but they’re gone. This is a good use of schedule manipulation.
  3. Alcorn State - The FCS game normally would go #1 on this list but this game is in Little Rock, and at the very least, it’s questionable how well the team will play in War Memorial. We’ve established that Bret Bielema’s teams have not played well there. I’m not saying the game is in question, but I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the game is sloppier than it should be.
  4. Florida - No SEC game sets up better for Arkansas than the Florida game. The Razorbacks will be at home and coming off a bye while the Gators will be coming off their rivalry game against Georgia. And if Arkansas is lucky, it will be a really cold day (or night) in November like the 2014 LSU game as the Gators infamously like to play their games as close to their state borders as possible.
  5. Texas A&M - This game continues to be set up as perfectly as Arkansas wants it. It’s in the location Arkansas wants (and is much more enthusiastic about than the Aggies) and they’ve put weak non-conference games in the weekends both before and after. The Razorbacks manipulated the schedule in a way they can fully circle this game. We’ll see if they can finally take advantage of it this year.
  6. Alabama - We’re nearing the middle of this list when the advantage starts to disappear. Arkansas does play Alcorn State the weekend before, and if the Hogs do what they’re supposed to do, the starters should be able to get a little rest that week to prepare for the Tide. Alabama could be looking ahead to what is expected to be one of the league’s biggest games of the year against Tennessee the following week.
  7. LSU - Arkansas will be coming off a physical game against Florida, but the built in advantages to playing LSU this week will continue. It’s coming off the LSU/Alabama game, and LSU has struggled to regain its form after losing to Alabama the last few years. Plus, it’s in mid-November and the Hogs were certainly able to take advantage of a bitterly cold night in Fayetteville two years ago. If those circumstances fall into place again, it could play into Arkansas’ hands. But if LSU breaks through against Alabama this year, it’s much more of an unknown.
  8. Mississippi State - This game just never sets up well for Arkansas. It’s late in the season on the road coming off two big games against Florida and LSU. The Razorbacks don’t usually play well in Starkville even when the Hogs win there, which hasn’t happened since 2010.
  9. Missouri - Arkansas is expected to be favored in this game just because Arkansas is supposed to be a better team, but it is the end of back-to-back road games in a short week that includes a major holiday. It’s far from an ideal set-up, especially in Week 13 when you’d like to have as much rest and as few distractions as possible.
  10. TCU - This is completely a result of Arkansas’ own choices. In this era of major neutral site games, it seems few schools play a quality non-conference game as a true road game. Plus, it’s Week 2 when the Hogs may need a little time for the new offensive line to gel and for inexperienced running backs some more reps. And we all know Arkansas’ reputation under Bielema as a slow-starting team.
  11. Ole Miss - This game set up perfectly for Arkansas last year. Ole Miss was playing its 10th straight game and Arkansas had as close as a bye as you can get after playing UT-Martin. This year, the script is flipped. Ole Miss will be coming off a bye week and Arkansas will be playing its seventh straight game, plus coming directly off the Alabama game. Ugh.
  12. Auburn - Basically the same summary as Ole Miss except it’s a week later and on the road.

So, are there some built in advantages in Arkansas’ schedule? Sure, in some of the games. But there are also some big disadvantages in a few places. I think it’s a pretty normal schedule as far as manipulation is concerned. It’s fine.