FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas is headed to Houston to celebrate New Year’s Eve in the Mercari Texas Bowl against TCU.
Sam Pittman takes the Razorbacks to a bowl game in his first season. He was a member of the coaching staff that won the 2014 Texas Bowl 31-7 over the Longhorns. The bowl game not only rewards the players for the season, but allows the team to get in extra practices they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise.
“The first one, we’ve had two practices,” Pittman said. “We had finals obviously. We didn’t schedule a practice until the last final, which for pretty much the entire team was Thursday by 12:15. So we had a practice on Thursday and one on Friday. Next week, we’ll practice tomorrow, we’ll practice Tuesday and we’ll practice Wednesday. And then we’ll come back on Sunday and take our COVID test. Then we’ll practice Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and do the walk on Thursday. So, we’ll get nine practices in.”
Since you didn’t have spring practice will these practices be beneficial to the team?
“Honestly, it already has (been beneficial),” Pittman said. “Thursday and Friday, we worked our older guys and did individual and things of that nature for about 40 minutes. Then we scrimmaged tackle to the ground inside run. Scrimmaged the first day 20 minute running clock. The second day it was 30 plays with the young guys. You can’t really see all together what you have until you get them live, live. We haven’t been in games where we’ve been able to get the younger kids in the game this year. That was really beneficial for us the last two days.”
Arkansas finished the season 3-7 against an all-SEC schedule. Pittman is pleased to see his players rewarded with another game against a very quality opponent in TCU who finished 6-4.
“Happy to be invited to play in the Texas Bowl against a very, very good TCU football team, coached by in my opinion, one of the top head coaches in the country in Gary Patterson,” Pittman said. “His team plays extremely, extremely hard. Obviously we’ve tried to get a head start on watching film on them and they’re so well coached and play extremely hard. I’ve had an opportunity to play TCU a couple of times, once when I was at Northern Illinois several years back. And most recently in the Liberty Bowl when we were at Georgia. It’s exactly what you think. They’re going to run around and hit you and they’re going to be well coached. They’re a physical football team. But, at the same time we’re excited to go down to Houston and play in this game.”
Pittman is aware some may question the Razorbacks going to a bowl game with the record they have, but he sees it as a good experience for his team.
“I think it’s real valuable,”Pittman said. “We’ll always have folks who will say we were 3-7 and things of that nature. If you look at our schedule and look – obviously we played 10 SEC games, certainly played four I think of the top nine teams in the country, let alone with the other guys. I feel like if nothing else because of our schedule we’ve earned a bowl situation you know. Our guys, like I said, it’s a big deal. And to be honest with you I believe we’ve earned it and so we’ll see what happens.”
Playing in Houston also will allow the Hogs to play in a fertile recruiting area as well.
“Well, I think so,” Pittman said. “You take the Hog brand down there and I think Arkansas is well received in Houston and for that matter in the state of Texas. Obvously you help yourself more in recruiting if you win the game you know. And so certainly we’ll put all our efforts into doing that. We know how good TCU is. We know it’ll take great effort by us. We’re certainly going to try to get our program back on the map. How you do that is go to bowl games and ultimately win the game.”
Entering the 2020 season, Arkansas had won one SEC game in the past three seasons. So Pittman looks at the three wins as an accomplishment for his group of players.
“Well, I’m happy for the kids,” Pittman said. “We’ve only got two or three kids that – they didn’t play in the last bowl here but they got to go on the trip. I think there was two, maybe three guys in there. So I think it’s exciting for our players that they get a reward for at least the three wins that we had and … if we had a regular season, would we have won six games, I don’t know. I’m arguing that we would have. So I think this: That to go to that fine Texas Bowl. We went when I was here at Arkansas before and we played the University of Texas. And it was such a great bowl, great venue. So we’re really excited to go back down there and be a part of that bowl once again.”
If the Razorbacks had played the original 12-game schedule they wouldn’t have faced Georgia and Florida, both losses. They would have faced the other eight SEC schools, Notre Dame, ULM, Nevada and Charleston Southern. Pittman looks at that schedule and feels they would have won at least six games and thus been bowl eligible. The Hogs did get in a 10-game schedule when many predicted college football might not even have a season.
““Really proud of that,” Pittman said. “You know the only problem was we kind of limped into the end of the year, but I felt like we had a few close games that we couldn’t close out that maybe earlier in the year we might have. I don’t know that, but I’m really glad that we were able to get this schedule in. I’m glad we played it. You got hit early with Georgia and Florida and then the two neutral games were no longer neutral anymore. You had to go to College Station, you had to go to Columbia. And then the COVID and all that. With all that said, to be where we’re at to be invited to the Texas Bowl at this point with a healthy football team, I’m just really proud with everybody involved with the way that we got through the 10 games.”
Facing TCU in the bowl game that kicks off at 8 p.m. means the Razorbacks will play the last game of 2020. Pittman offered up his thoughts on that.
“The thing is that being the last game, it’s going to be pretty cool,” Pittman said. “There might be a lot of people in the second half that it might be blurry to them and all that kind of stuff, but it should be…I remember watching the game, you know, it’s the last game, you’re going to have a large audience. It’s going to be kind of neat.”
The game will be televised on ESPN. Due to limited capacity at NRG Stadium, tickets will not be available through the Razorback Ticket Center. Fans interested in attending the Texas Bowl can visit MercariTexasBowl.com/Tickets or call 832-667-2390 for ticket information.