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Petrino, Freeze, and the Future Big 12: Your Guide to Arkansas’ Non-Conference Opponents

Missouri v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

As talking season heats up, it is time to take a more in-depth look at the schedule for the upcoming season. Of course, we know what to expect from the demanding SEC schedule, but the non-conference lineup also offers a lot of intrigues. Last season’s non-conference schedule featured old rivalries renewed, headlined by the matchup with that team in burnt orange. But this season offers something entirely new. Each non-conference opponent offers a first-time matchup for the Razorbacks. While a trip out west looms in October, the Hogs welcome a couple of familiar faces and the first College Football Playoff team out of the Group of Five to DWRRS. So, let’s look at each non-con opponent on the schedule for Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks.

Cincinnati (September 3 - Fayetteville, AR)

Head Coach: Luke Fickell

Current Conference: AAC (Has accepted invitation to join Big 12)

No Previous Matchups

The Razorbacks kick off the 2022 campaign with a clash against the Bearcats in Fayetteville. Cincinnati is fresh off its best season in program history, ending in a College Football Playoff berth. While the Bearcats will be a much different team than last year, Arkansas fans can expect to see a well-coached group in Cincinnati. Since accepting the job in 2016, Fickell has transformed the Bearcats into a prominent program. Cincinnati has exceeded ten wins in three seasons since Fickell’s arrival, hoisting the Bearcats to a College Football Playoff appearance and an invitation to join the Big 12 in 2024.

Cincinnati is tasked with replacing nine players selected in April’s NFL Draft. Amongst the draftees was star quarterback Desmond Ridder. Evan Prater is the likely replacement for Ridder in 2022. Prater spent the two previous seasons in the Bearcat system but saw limited action. Ben Bryant, a graduate transfer from Eastern Michigan who began his career at Cincinnati, will challenge Prater for the starting job during fall camp. The Razorbacks may see both Prater and Bryant in the opener. Regardless, both quarterbacks will have confidence in their protection as the Bearcat offensive line returns from last season. The veteran offensive line will also ease the pressure as the Bearcats look to replace last season’s leaders in receiving and rushing. Defensively, the Bearcats lost an elite tandem of cornerbacks to the NFL draft in Ahmad Gardner and Coby Bryant.

The 2:30 pm broadcast on ESPN between the Razorbacks and Bearcats is the biggest opening game for Arkansas in quite a while. Arkansas rests as the favorite against Cincinnati, but this game is no cupcake. It will take a solid effort from the Razorbacks to begin the season with a win.

Missouri State (September 17 - Fayetteville, AR)

Head Coach: Bobby Petrino

Current Conference: Missouri Valley Football Conference

No Previous Matchups

Bobby Petrino’s return to Fayetteville provides more excitement for this contest than the actual game. The week leading up to the matchup will refuel some long-forgotten resentment, while others will enjoy a trip down memory lane. They say time heals all wounds, and we will see if that is the case in Razorback country when Missouri State comes to town. DWRRS will be filled with grateful folks for the successful years under Petrino. However, the rest of the crowd will likely feature neck braces and detailed makeup jobs. Regardless, the Razorbacks will need to take advantage of this game as the heavy favorite, as the western conference gauntlet begins the following week. It should be a fun night when the new generation of Hogs welcomes Bobby P back to The Hill.

BYU (October 15 - Provo, Utah)

Head Coach: Kalani Sitake

Conference: Independent (Has accepted invitation to join Big 12)

No Previous Matchup

A trip to Provo, Utah, for the Razorbacks is stuck in the middle of a strenuous conference schedule. Amidst the other storylines, this game has not received as much attention leading up to the season. But make no mistake, this matchup will be a tough test for Sam Pittman and the Razorbacks.

BYU is coming off a 10-3 season. However, the Cougars’ 2021 schedule featured several struggling Pac-12 teams and ended in a loss to UAB in the Independence Bowl. In 2022, BYU will return 18 of 22 starters, including quarterback Jaren Hall. Hall is predicted to hear his name called early in next year’s NFL Draft. The Cougars will benefit from an abundance of returning talent but will have to replace the production of star running back Tyler Allgeier.

The status of each roster on October 15 will go a long way in determining the victor of this matchup. Both teams struggled with critical injuries during the final stages of last season. It should be a slugfest out west if both teams are healthy. Arkansas will travel to Provo after consecutive clashes with Texas A&M, Alabama, and Mississippi State. On the other hand, BYU will be coming off a game with Notre Dame in South Bend. Arkansas’ bye week comes after the BYU game before heading to Auburn.

Liberty (November 5 - Fayetteville, AR)

Head Coach: Hugh Freeze

Conference: Independent (Has accepted invitation to join C-USA)

No Previous Matchups

The Flames visit Fayetteville on homecoming in an early November contest that should allow the Razorbacks to catch their breath. Arkansas is all too familiar with Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze after his days at Ole Miss, where he lost three out of five contests to the Razorbacks. The Flames will be well coached and excited for this matchup, but the Hogs will need to take advantage of this mismatch before starting the final stretch of the season.

Freeze has elevated football in Lynchburg, guiding Liberty through its best stretch in program history. Liberty is 26-11 under Freeze and experienced a fantastic season in 2021, thanks to quarterback Malik Willis. However, Willis is now a Tennessee Titan, and Freeze is tasked with replacing elite quarterback play this season. The Flames also lost key contributors on the defensive line and at linebacker. Liberty welcomes BYU a week before traveling to Fayetteville, which should offer the Hogs a good look at Freeze’s group ahead of the matchup.

We are just under 50 days from gameday, Hog fans. WPS!