GBH: Question 1: How did it come to this?
Doc Harper: If you’d have told me as recently as the last Southwest Classic that these two programs are where they currently are just two years later, I’d have never believed you. But A&M’s made a series of great moves, beginning with moving to the SEC and landed what surprisingly turned out to be the best player in the country, while Bobby Petrino’s last few recruiting classes weren’t good (because, golly gee, people don’t seem to like him) and took the bike ride, throw on the John L disaster, and here we are. All of a sudden, Arkansas was the program needing an overhaul.
BVC: Longhorn greed, Frank Broyles's foresight, Roy Kramer's brilliance, the evil genius of Bobby Petrino, more Longhorn greed, Arkansas Highway 16, Bobby Joe Manziel's business sense, Bret Bielema's fondness for blackjack, and a Scooby Doo Halloween costume. More or less.
GBH: What are your thoughts on the agreement to play at JerryWorld?
Doc Harper: Despite Arkansas’ 4-0 record in the Dome (wink), I hate it. Games on campus are so much more fun. I’m the type of fan who likes to travel to road games and I hate that we won’t be playing in College Station maybe ever again. My only real hope is that the A&M admin want to fill up that big fancy new stadium y’all are building as much as possible and don’t renew the JerryDome contract. People around here say it’s for the money guarantee and recruiting, but I haven’t seen any noticeable improvements to anything from the first three years we played there. A&M turning Texas into SEC country is much more beneficial for Arkansas’ long-term recruiting than just playing a game there, which is why Frank Broyles always said he’d crawl to Texas to get A&M in the SEC.
BVC: I think fans will tire of the trip and the expensive tickets long before we get eleven more games there completed. Arkansas certainly seems to benefit more from the game being played there than A&M, though, so I can't bitch too much. Given the Hogs' long history of recruiting Texas football players hard, and the University's recent obsession with recruiting Texas students hard, I guess that I have to begrudgingly approve of the agreement, even if it's unpalatable to me. Squaring the agreement with two scheduled games a year in Little Rock (at least until 2016) presents another uniquely Razorback dilemma as well, although one that would undoubtedly bore A&M fans to tears.
GBH: Do you think Bielema gives you a chance to get back to a BCS bowl, and what is the time frame most of your fanbase is willing to give him if that's the ultimate goal?
Doc Harper: Eventually, sure. Since they’re changing the two-teams-per-conference rules for BCS-level games after this season I think it will be much easier for SEC teams to get into those games. There’s been a few years where Arkansas may have gotten in if not for that rule, so it’s definitely possible. I don’t know that there’s any sort of timeframe like "within 3,4, or 5 years he has to be in a BCS bowl". I think right now fans just want to see growth and improvement, good recruiting, beating the teams they’re supposed to beat (Rutgers results won’t be tolerated for long) and be competitive with the top teams in the conference. Never be a double-digit home underdog. Once you get to the elite level of college football, there’s so much luck and politics that dictate who goes to which bowl, and with the new era beginning next year, we’ll have to see how that system works before giving Bielema a BCS deadline.
BVC: Bret has had three of his teams make one, so it's very hard to say he has no chance. He has put together a top notch staff, received the assurance he never had at Wisconsin that he'll be able to keep it in tact, and has recruited players that are already creating a buzz. Everything is dependent upon winning, but as long as his teams show improvement, I think he will get a full five years. Fans won't soon forget just how bad 2012 was.
GBH: Given the coaching controversy, the injuries, and everything else...how hard was it to get your piss hot last season?
Doc Harper: Not hard at all to get it hot with rage, particularly in September. But it was pretty lukewarm by mid November.
BVC: 2012 really freaking sucked. I had very foolishly held Paul Petrino in very high regard coming into the season, and was confident in his ability to fill his brother's shoes. I was so wrong. ULM followed by the embarrassments against Alabama, A&M, and Rutgers was the ultimate kick in the boys. After that, I really started to explore the space liquor-wise. By Thanksgiving weekend against LSU I was almost back in my old collegiate form.
GBH: Jen Bielema... What are your thoughts? And the whole #karma thing?
Doc Harper: Jen’s just a 28-year-old young woman, doing things people like her do. Just enjoying life, and why not? She’s blessed to have the means to be able to take those trips and do all those things.
But #karma wasn’t smart. I get her being frustrated with the people who’ve said really nasty things to her on Twitter for so long, but she just can’t do that. Especially when Arkansas’ schedule is what it is and knowing we wouldn’t be undefeated for long. I’d like to think we won’t see much of that type of tweeting from her anymore. I’m sure she’s either forced herself to ignore her twitter account, make it private, or may delete it in the future.
BVC: I think it is awesome that she is out and engaged and taking ownership in the program that is paying her bills. I doubt very seriously that Arkansas will lose a single recruit or donation dollar because she talks shit on Twitter. Conversely, I am absolutely certain her fine self will help bring both in. Besides, Wisconsin started it.
GBH: What's been the worst thing to happen to Arkansas football over the past few years? Bobby Petrino or gradient numbers?
Doc Harper: The gradient numbers were pretty awful, but I can see why no one at the time realized how bad those would look from a distance. Petrino’s mess has proved much more complicated to fix.
BVC: Gradient numbers without a doubt. They were awful, as is the gradient on the helmets that unfortunately survived. Bobby Petrino was a narcissistic egomaniac who got what was coming to him, but good grief were his teams fun to watch. Hogs went 11-2, won the Cotton Bowl, and finished in the Top 5 in 2011. Pretty much the exact season A&M just completed. Didn't it feel good to matter again, Ags?
GBH: Both Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were dominant in the first three games, but were relatively quiet last week. Our rush defense has proven to be far worse than that of Rutgers. What types of days do you see each of these players having on Saturday?
Doc Harper: If AJ Derby can be a competent passer, then they should return to the form of the first few games. They struggled at Rutgers because they didn’t respect Derby’s ability to pass, and by the time Derby settled in the second half, Arkansas had the bigger lead and the play-calling became more conservative, so Rutgers continued to stuff the box. But if Derby comes out really badly again, A&M won’t even have to guard the Razorback receivers. The DBs should just stand about 5-10 yards behind them and wait for interceptions to fall from the sky while everyone else crowds the line of scrimmage waiting for Collins and Williams.
BVC: With the unfortunate news that AJ Derby is once again the likely starter, I see no reason to expect anything other than a repeat of the Rutgers game. Williams is a good SEC running back, and Collins has the potential to be record-setting, but neither can run effectively against eight or nine in the box every play. Unless Jim Chaney gets creative in figuring out a way to keep the A&M back seven off the line of scrimmage at least some of the time, I foresee a lot of short possessions for the Hogs.
GBH: People are treating your loss to Rutgers as a sign that you aren't ready to present a challenge to any top ranked SEC teams. Do you believe this is a fair characterization of the team at this point?
Doc Harper: It depends how much weight you give the quarterback situation. There are a lot of people who felt like if Brandon Allen had played, Arkansas would have won easily, and that may be true. I don’t think we really know what Brandon Allen can do yet, or when he’ll come back for that matter. Allen had a B+ game the first week, a C- game the second week, and that’s really about all we’ve got to go with at this point.
Typically, this Arkansas team has a really strong running game, defensive line, and kicking game, and two of those things failed at Rutgers. If those things go back to where they normally are, I think Arkansas has a shot at an upset this year with Florida and South Carolina as the most likely candidates.
BVC: It's absolutely fair. 2013 was to be a rebuilding year anyway. Doubly so with a completely new system being installed. Now that it appears a backup quarterback may be relied upon for a significant portion of the season, there are very few reasons to be optimistic about the Hogs ability to be competitive against the best of the SEC. I'll be in the upper deck Saturday looking for effort and growth and players who will make a difference in the coming seasons.
GBH: Do you know which condo on Lake Hamilton belongs to the Bielemas? Asking for a friend.
Doc Harper: Just drive to the lake and listen for the Party Rockin. You’ll hear it before you see it. And when you see it, you’ll know. It’ll be the one with the four batsignal-like spotlights and each one has a single letter, spelling out "B" "E" "R" "T" in the clouds. It also has the biggest bug zapper in the county.
BVC: Just follow her on Instagram and wait for the next bikini shot. She geotags them. Or, uh, so I've heard.
Thanks again to Doc and BVC for their time, and thanks to this week's panelists Hypno-Toad, TelcoAg, blumby, rcb05, spadilly, Lucas Jackson, and doug.keegan.