FAYETTEVILLE – Given the Razorbacks since November, 2017 have lost 19 consecutive SEC games this now all SEC 2020 football schedule appears yet another hardship thrust upon new Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman.
Hunter Yurachek, the Arkansas athletic director last December hiring former Arkansas 2013-2015 offensive line coach Pittman as head coach, says otherwise.
“He’s relishing that opportunity to play 10 SEC games in his first year as a head coach,” Yurachek said. “Coach Pittman just wants to coach football. He wants those young men to have an opportunity to play football.”
The nationwide COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak in mid-March first shut down collegiate sports for the remainder of the spring semester and it largely increasing presence menaces the 2020 season already adjusted trying to limit coronavirus exposure.
The SEC announced Friday that the SEC teams’ original 12-game schedule with eight SEC games and four nonconference games reduces to 10 games, all within the conference.
Eliminating the four nonconference games enables, with one bye week for all teams, delaying the season’s start from the Saturday, Sept. 5 week to the Saturday, Sept. 26 week in hopes some of the COVID-19 hotspots in the 11 states housing SEC teams would by then ease.
The regular season ends Dec. 5 with the SEC Championship game between the SEC West and SEC East champions played Dec. 19 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
The SEC West Razorbacks, already set to play against all six of their West rivals plus from the SEC East hosting Tennessee and visiting Missouri, will add one at home and one on the road from an SEC East pool of Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
SEC Associate Athletic Director Mark Wommack as a neutral party revamps the schedules of all 14 SEC teams.
“We should have a model here in the next week to 10 days of what our schedule will look like,” Yurachek said.
Some dates will differ but it remains, Yurachek said, that Arkansas hosts Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Tennessee and visits Auburn, Mississippi State, Texas A&M (likely at A&M’s Kyle Field in College Station instead of the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium as originally scheduled) and Missouri (likely at Mizzou’s Faurot Field in Columbia rather than the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium as originally scheduled.)
Off the 202 table are what would have been Arkansas’ first two games, nonconference hosting Nevada, Sept. 5 and visiting historic national power Notre Dame, Sept. 12 in South Bend, Ind. and hosting its remaining two nonconference games in October and November against Charleston Southern and Louisiana-Monroe.
“We had nine really tough games on our schedule and three additional games,” Yurachek said of the original schedule now 10 games SEC strong. “We’re going to replace Notre Dame with an SEC opponent, probably somewhat equitable.”
The previous Chad Morris regime, 4-20 overall its 2018 and 2019 two years, likely would have preferred an all-SEC schedule. Better to be drubbed by good SEC teams than lose your job losing nonconference at home to San Jose State, 1-11 the previous year, and routed by North Texas and Western Kentucky.
The effective and popular Arkansas O-line coach under Bret Bielema, Pittman departing to coach Georgia’s O-line in 2016 not so coincidentally coincided with Bielema’s progressing program regressing. Bielema was fired 4-8, 1-7 in the SEC for 2017.
Pittman has done what he could to instill confidence and already through recruiting brought hope of better things to come.
But no spring practice because of COVID-19 no doubt set back progress.
With preseason practice still set to start Aug. 7 and the season’s start delayed to Sept. 26, Pittman and team and staff have time to catch up installing their offense and defense, teaching and evaluating over cramming and game-planning.
“It’ll look dramatically different from what fall camps have looked like in the past,” Yurachek said. “Our coaches will not be forced to compress six weeks of instruction and practice into three weeks.”
Yurachek said only two Razorbacks are on current COVID-19 quarantine and acknowledged none in the most recent tests recorded positive.
Yurachek was asked if the COVID-19 outbreak afflicting 17 tested among the Miami Marlins baseball team impacted the SEC decision to delay starting the football season.
“It did not impact this decision,” Yurachek said.
But he hopes it does impact that the Marlins’ outbreak, it was reported, may initially have stemmed from some players postgame venturing out of the team hotel in Atlanta.
“I think it’s another educational opportunity with our student-athletes where one bad decision can impact many,” Yurachek said. “So I think it’s an educational opportunity for all of us more than anything.”