Arkansas sports: The year in preview


LITTLE ROCK — Dealing with early deadlines caused by mid-week holidays, the editor for weekly newspapers asked about the availability of year-end sports copy.

Nothing planned, he was told. Razorback football has been done to death. Looking back, the Razorbacks were bad. Looking ahead, real success will take two more years, minimum. End of story.

Twenty-four hours later, conscience kicked in and I wondered if previewing 2014 would work as well as reviewing 2013. Beggars can’t be choosers was justification for a month-by-month list of developments I hope to see:

JANUARY — A 3-2 start in SEC play by the Razorback basketball team. Such a record would indicate Arkansas is capable of a solid showing in the 14-team league and a fourth-place finish, plus a victory or two in the conference tournament, would get the Razorbacks into the NCAA Tournament. During the two weeks beginning Jan. 8, Arkansas plays three road games and home games against the best in the SEC, Florida and Kentucky.

FEBRUARY — The Arkansas-Little Rock women’s basketball make its usual run at the Sun Belt Conference title under Joe Foley, one of the best. Weaving six freshmen into the rotation, UALR lost five of its first nine games. UALR was in the NIT last year after three consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament.

MARCH — Quarterback competition open for all to see at Arkansas. Returning starter Brandon Allen was up against it all season with injuries and erratic wide receivers, among other things. At least four quarterbacks will go through spring practice, including much ballyhooed freshman Rafe Peavey.

APRIL — A rookie winning at The Masters. Fuzzy Zoeller was the last to turn the trick in 1979, but the PGA Tour has reconfigured its season to begin in the fall instead of January and Tour winners get an invite to Augusta National. Already, Jimmy Walker Chris Kirk and Harris English are in the field for the first time.

MAY — The Arkansas Derby winner repeat three weeks later in the Kentucky Derby. Smarty Jones doubled up in 2004 on his way to scaring the Triple Crown and Sunny’s Halo turned the trick in 1983. With its $1 million purse and a dirt surface similar to the one at Churchill Downs, the Arkansas Derby will attract quality on April 12.

JUNE — Citing the College Football Playoff’s emphasis on strength of schedule and TV’s demand for more quality games, the SEC announces a move to a nine-game conference schedule in 2016 at its meeting in Destin.

JULY — An Arkansas fan predicting a bowl game in Bret Bielema’s second year who can identify the SEC teams the Razorbacks will defeat and back that up with a convincing argument. All eight SEC opponents made bowl games and many return established quarterbacks.

AUGUST — Razorback linebackers or defensive backs making individual tackles on Auburn running back Tre Mason and quarterback Nick Marshall during the same series of downs. Mason had 32 carries for 168 in Fayetteville in November and scored standing up a couple of times. Marshall ran for 59 yards on nine attempts.

SEPTEMBER — Arkansas State University beating Utah State in Jonesboro. The Aggies finished first in a division of the Mountain West Conference and junior quarterback Chuckie Keeton completed 69 percent with 18 TD passes and two interceptions in six games before suffering a knee injury.

OCTOBER — No matter the Razorbacks’ record, seeing people holding up four fingers outside War Memorial Stadium two hours before the kickoff against Georgia on Oct. 18, the only Little Rock game on the Razorbacks’ schedule.

NOVEMBER — Arkansas coming off an open date in early November and needing to beat LSU, Ole Miss or Missouri to become bowl eligible. Such a scenario would mean the Razorbacks had recorded at least one conference victory, maybe two.

DECEMBER — Arkansas State University athletics director Terry Mohajir spending the month shopping for gifts instead of another new football coach.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His email address ishking@arkansasnews.com.