It is time once again for our weekly “Ask Mike” segment where our veteran analyst Mike Irwin answers your questions about Arkansas Athletics.
Q. Okay let’s start things off with our weekly Covid-19 update.
A. Bad news for the Hogs basketball team. They’ve lost Isaiah Joe to the NBA draft because of the uncertainly over whether college basketball will be played with the announcement that fall sports have been canceled in two Power Five conferences.
Some good news today. There’s been a huge possible break through, announced over the weekend, for allowing athletes to be safe. Really it applies to all of us. The FDA had approved a saliva test for detecting COVID-19. It’s cheap. Four dollars a test. The results are available in a couple of hours. This means that football players could be tested every day. Before every workout. Before every game. You do that and it’s hard to imagine a player spreading COVID. You can’t spread it if you don’t have it. As a precaution, because this is so ears to do I could see double testing for to prevent a false negative.
The big concern right now is the effect that the return of students for fall classes will have on athletes who have been doing a good job the last couple of months of putting themselves in a voluntary bubble. Staying away from normal off campus social outlets. There have been reports on some teams of an increase of positive tests as student begin that return. So that is concerning. Former Razorback Colin Clay, who now plays for Oklahoma State tweeted out a video of students on the strip on Stillwater in close contact on sidewalks many of them not wearing masks. He added the sarcastic remark, You want us to play? Sure.
Sam Pittman addressed in a Zoom after last Thursday’s final walk-through practice. He said he told his players, the situation on campus (meaning the return of students) is about to change. You can’t change. I suspect that some teams will do a better job of this that others but the three power five conferences that are still committed to playing football this fall have to understand that what affect one team affects all of them.
But again, this saliva test needs to be given to students as well. I’d think they would want to test themselves weekly at least. For four bucks why not?
Full scale preseason workouts start this afternoon. This is where, as they use to say when I was young, the rubber meets the road.
Q. Our first question comes from Lanny who asks: As things stand right now do you think we’ll have college football this fall?
A. I’m optimistic. Especially with this saliva test breakthrough. It’s been approved by the FDA which has tested it so I’m going to assume it works. What we just talked about is still somewhat unpredictable. Avoiding COVID outbreaks on campuses and within teams will be the deciding factor for playing football games. Let’s talk about this mask business because I think it’s huge. You see a lot of pushback on Facebook about wearing masks. A lot of stuff about it doesn’t help prevent the spread of COVID and it’s actually dangerous. A really good extensive study on masks has just been made public. Different masks a are more effective than others. But all of them do one thing. They help reduce the viral load that an infected individual gives off and how much people next to them receive. Masks are way more important indoors than outdoors because data shows that most infections occur indoors and it happens over time. Like five minutes or more. So I’m not as concerned about students not wearing masks outdoors on sidewalks as I am when they are in bars, clubs and restaurants. Finding a bar or club with outdoor seating would be much safer.
As far as players spreading to each other in games or practices there is a new type mask that Sam Pittman talked about last Thursday. Basically it’s a type of cloth barrier that goes across a facemask and it limits the amount of stuff coming out of your nose and mouth and directly into the face of somebody in front of you. Pittman likes it because it doesn’t limit air intake. The players seem to be getting plenty of air while wearing this. So we’ll see if that can be another safety protocol for use during games.
Q. Razorback Red Neck wants to know: I’ve read some stuff about parents of players in the Big 10 pushing back against the decision to postpone the fall football season until next spring. Do you think anything will come of that?
A. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields has made the biggest splash. He’s started an online petition backed by Herschel Walker that has gone viral. As you mentioned parents of players are bombarding Big Ten ADs and other officials with demands that they reconsider their decision. It none of that works I think if the SEC, ACC and Big 12 start playing games with no issues you might see the Big 10 reverse that decision and start up games in October. There’s also another approach I’ve heard about. Parents or players getting lawyers involved to challenge the NCAA’s decision to eliminate the COVID liability wavers for college players that want to play football. The NCAA made that decision under pressure from congress. I have no idea how courts would rule on something like that. But the biggest question right now, how soon will this new saliva testing begin and will it be a game changer for the Big 10 and Pac 12?
Q. Blood Red Hog asks: What medical information does the Big 10 and Pac 12 have that the SEC doesn’t that merits a decision to cancel now? Why not delay the start of the season and continue to watch the COVID data.
A. Supposedly the final decision was made because a few of the athletes in he Big 10 that had contracted COVID was showing heart inflammations in their medical check coming out of quarantine. There’s no way of know if this is a permanent condition so they decided it wasn’t worth the risk. Of course athletes face the same risk if their not playing football. It’s a small risk but it’s there. I think this boiled down to liability. The risk of getting sued at any point in the future by one of these players that showed these symptoms or developed them later.
Q. #HammerDown wants to know: In your opinion, which player currently on the Razorback football team has the most NFL potential?
A. I’d go with Treylon Burks. Supposedly the pro scouts can’t wait for this guy to enter the NFL draft. He’s big and physical. He’s got really good speed but I’m also told that he’s got one of the biggest pair of hands in college football. So big that he needs custom sized gloves. If you look at video of some of the catches he made last year you see the value of big hands in a receiver. For whatever reason Arkansas quarterbacks didn’t tend to throw to him as much as some of the other receivers but the words is Feleipe Franks loves Burks. Is sounds like he’s gonna have a big sophomore season.
Q. parallaxpig says: No one is talking about it but aren’t the conferences who have canceled fall sports basically canceled basketball also
A. Technically they’re moving fall sports to the spring. Basketball is a winter sport that begins in the fall. My guess is that they might delay the start of basketball until January but they’ll play it then with a shortened season. But look that is months ahead. A lot can change by then. As I’ve said I think it’s possible that they will reconsider the fall ban if the COVID situations improves greatly in the next month.
Q. DeltaBoy asks: How well is the o-line jelling?
A. In last Friday’s Zoom interview with the media both Sam Pittman and Kendal Briles had good things to say about the offensive line. They’ve gotten bigger. This is a more experienced group that the last two. It looks like they’ve have a lot more depth. But they haven’t see these guys defend against a pass rush. They haven’t had to open holes for running backs. All of that start happening today. We should hear from the coaches later in the week. They’re a straight shooting bunch so if there are issues I’m sure we’ll hear about it,.
Q. Dark Helmet Hog says: ESPN had an article that indicated some SEC coaches expressed discontent over this season’s schedule additions in a recent conference call. If a pattern emerges in officiating that reflects the same bias as the scheduling, how do you think the coaches will react?
A. That’s a really good question. Yes I think some for these coaches are going to start the season in a bad mood over what they perceive as as bias on the past of the conference office. So it could be a worse year than normal when it comes to coaches going after referees. I don’t think the anger over this schedule is going to go away anytime soon. The SEC office is has some damage to repair.
Q. AlabamaHog asks: What do you see as the greatest issues the Razorbacks need to resolve during fall practice?
A. Forget what I think. Let’s go with what the coaches said last Friday. Kendal Briles says he wants to see how the quarterbacks perform under pressure. All they’ve had to date is mental preparation and walk throughs. A lot of what the quarterbacks do is dependent on the offensive line. It’s bigger. It’s more experienced. It’s deeper but can these guys protect the quarterback. For Barry Odom he wants to see how physical and mentally prepared they are. Can they limited the gouge plays that have been so damaging to Arkansas defense over he past several years,. But Odom says the mental aspect is huge too. He wants to see how they bounce back from giving up a big play. Can they be more consistent. They’re not going to scrimmage a lot over the next five weeks but you can see these things even when they’re not scrimmaging if you know what to look for,
Q. Hogfanrjh wants to know: Did I hear that Coach Briles has installed roughly 75% of his offense or did I miss hear him??? I didn’t think it was possible to get over 30% in 2 years let alone one off season.
A. Obvious sarcasm in that question in reference to some of the things Chad Morris kept saying over the past two years. I think it’s obvious that one of the reasons Arkansas was never able to go left lane hammer down in those two years was because the offense was too complicated. Kendal Briles offense is supposedly much simpler. Easier to learn. He likes to get the ball back in play quickly between plays too and it’s easier to do that if you don’t have offensive players all over the field asking themselves, what do I do on this play? We’ll have to see this offense in person to know for sure but it looks to be polar opposite from what we’ve seen,
Q. nuttless hog asks: Do you think with the tv money that ESPN pays the SEC gives them to much influence over the way the conference is governed by the home office, such as schedule and other preferences as in bowl placement?
A. Too much influence? That depends on your point of view. The fact is TV money from any source is not going to come without strings attached. ESPN is not there to lose money or break even. If they pay big bucks they want big TV ratings. So they don’t just influence he SEC. They influence he NCAA. Remember when Ohio State’s quarterback should have been suspended for selling school issued merchandise before the 2010 Sugar Bowl. But the NCAA allowed that suspension to carry over to the next season so he and a few others could play in that game against Arkansas? So Ohio State wins that game when there’s probably no way they win it with that QB and some other key players suspended. But what else is new? Networks ware not going to play the money they do for game rights if they have no say in situations like this.
Q. HangTenHog says: You’ve covered the Hogs for quite some time and have witnessed some real ups and downs. If you were to pick the highest high (any sport) and the lowest low, from the perspective of what you witnessed behind the scenes in the Athletic Department, what would they be?
A. The behind the scenes part is interesting. I’m gonna go with the hiring of Nolan Richardson. It was controversial at the time. There were those who said a black head coach in a major sport would never fly at Arkansas. Frank Broyles know that, decided to hired Nolan anyway and while those two ended up in conflict for most of that time the decision was the highest of the highs in terms of what it eventually produced.
The lowest of the low was former chancellor John White long term effort to get rid of Broyles. For the first time in his career Frank had to rely on powerful boosters to keep him in that job, Those boosters hatched a plan to prevent While from hiring his won choice as AD when Frank did retire and that plan involved bringing in Gus Malzahn, eventually making him the head coach and having Houston Nutt move up to AD. That plan was a disaster. In 2006 and 2007 the fan base split in half. People within families took different sides and were mad at each other. The media was split and fighting. It was awful.
Q. peakhog asks: With an all SEC schedule and the Hogs at the bottom of the pecking order, how many 11:00 AM games do you see us getting?
A. The full schedule will be out later this afternoon. The times for most games will remain flexible based on what the TV people want each week. My guess is there will be a lot of 11 am games for the Hogs but if they surprise us they could become a big story this season and that would limit the number of early games they’d play. The best answer I can give you is, stay tuned.