FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Razorbacks jumped six spots on Sunday to reach 10th place in the Associated Press Top 25 rankings after a 44-30 win over South Carolina in their conference opener.
The University of Arkansas (2-0) is ranked in the top 10 in consecutive years for the first time since 2011-12. The first of those seasons, the Razorbacks were coached by Bobby Petrino, who will bring his team from Missouri State to Fayetteville for Saturday’s game at 6 p.m. The Bears (2-0) are No. 5 in the latest FCS rankings.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette uses the AP rankings as its official poll until late October, when the college football playoff rankings are released.
Arkansas’ highest ranking this week is No. 9 in the Football Writers Association of America’s Super 16 poll, where it jumped four spots to its highest spot on that ranking, which made its debut in 2014.
Third-year coach Sam Pittman touted the impact of starting with a win in a conference game.
“Winning SEC games has everything to do with rankings, bowl possibilities, playoff possibilities, everything,” Pittman said Saturday. “I think it’s a big deal every time we win an SEC game. It’s a big deal no matter who the team is. South Carolina was a hot team.”
South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler touted the Razorbacks on Saturday.
“They’re a good team,” Rattler said. “It’s a top 20, top 15 team and we just played each other. So, you know, we have the respect of the people, and we’re going to keep fighting.”
The Razorbacks are No. 11 in the USA Today Coaches poll, just behind No. 10 Kentucky. They improved six spots in this poll, tying Ole Miss for the fourth-highest jump behind Brigham Young, who improved 11 spots after a 26-20 two-overtime win over Baylor, Kentucky (10) and Tennessee (10) .
The Razorbacks peaked in 8th place in the AP poll last season after a 4-0 start that culminated in a 20-10 win over then-No. 7 Texas A&M in Arlington, TX.
They were No. 5 in the final AP rankings of the 2011 season after a 29-16 win over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl to cap an 11-2 year, Petrino’s fourth and final as head coach.
Arkansas was No. 10 in the 2012 preseason standings and the Hogs moved up to No. 8 after a season opener win, but fell apart after a surprise 34-31 loss to Louisiana-Monroe in overtime.
Over the next decade, the Razorbacks were ranked just eight times, twice in 2015 and six in 2015, before coach Sam Pittman took over.
Arkansas was in the AP 10-week rankings last year and in all three ranking series this year, starting with a preseason snap No. 19.
Linebacker Drew Sanders was recognized as National Defensive Player of the Week by the Walter Camp Football Foundation on Sunday.
Sanders, a junior from Denton, Texas, recorded 11 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a pass breakup and a haste in the Razorbacks’ win over South Carolina.
“I felt comfortable and confident with what our defense made us do,” Sanders said. “It just put me in a great position to make plays and I just did my best to do my job.”
Safety Simeon Blair said Sanders did a great job against the Gamecocks.
“We’ve been harassing him since he got here,” Blair said. “We love him. He’s a hard worker. He won’t say much, but he’ll always do what he’s supposed to do.”
Sanders is the fifth Arkansas player to win Walter Camp’s Player of the Week honor since 2004 and the first since Hayden Henry did it last year after a 40-21 win over Texas.
The Razorbacks and South Carolina went one game without a turnover until the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, Latavious Brini forced a fumble which was recovered by Hudson Clark, Dwight McGlothern intercepted Spencer Rattler in the end zone and Chris Paul recovered a forced fumble by Jayden Johnson on the penultimate play of the match.
The Razorbacks now have a 5-1 takeaway advantage on the season, a plus-two-per-game margin that leads the SEC and is tied for eighth in the nation.
Arkansas leads opponents 21-3 in points scored on turnovers, with a 14-3 margin against Cincinnati and a 7-0 advantage against South Carolina.
The Razorbacks have 28 interceptions in 25 games since Barry Odom’s debut as defensive coordinator in 2020, the most in the SEC during that span.
The Razorbacks continued to show different ways to get the ball into the hands of their point guards in Kendal Briles’ offense as they racked up 295 yards on 65 carries, with 7 10-plus yards.
The 65 carries were their most in a game since Arkansas rushed 68 times for 438 yards and 7 touchdowns in a 49-28 rout at Texas Tech on Sept. 13, 2014.
Seven different players helped generate the 295 yards rushing against South Carolina, including wide Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers and quarterback Malik Hornsby, who had 8 and 9 yards on consecutive plays, on one pass and the other on a run.
Raheim Sanders did the heavy lifting with a career-high 156 rushing yards on 24 carries, while KJ Jefferson added 67 yards on 19 attempts.
Outside the escape
Bumper Pool perfectly lined up South Carolina kicker Mitch Jeter’s kick with no defenders in front of him midway through the fourth quarter with Arkansas ahead 35-24.
Pool charged for the end zone but was caught by Gamecocks at the 9-yard line with 6:00 remaining.
Safety Simeon Blair had a humorous take on both sides of the coin.
“I loved it, because I had to block the biggest guy in the line,” Blair said. “So when he had [the ball], everyone stopped. It was great for me.”
Blair then said: “If he had had a bit more speed he would have scored”, prompting laughter from reporters and his teammates. “We’ll keep that to ourselves.”
The Heisman hype
KJ Jefferson entered the top seven in the latest Heisman Trophy betting odds published by SportsBetting.ag on Sunday.
Jefferson, who has 385 passing yards on 76.6 percent passing, 129 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns, was rated 33-1 to win college football’s most outstanding individual award.
The redshirt junior follows Ohio State quarterback CJ Stroud (5-2), USC quarterback Caleb Williams (3-1), Alabama quarterback Bryce Young ( 11-2), Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett (16-1), Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (20-1) and Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker (20-1), and is just ahead of Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (40-1) and USC wide receiver Jordon Addison (40-1).
On the bears
Missouri State, led by former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino, improved to 2-0 with a 35-30 win over Tennessee-Martin last week. The Bears, No. 5 in the last FCS rankings, got some revenge, as UT-Martin knocked them out of last year’s FCS playoffs.
Missouri State played each of the first two weeks on Thursday, with a 27-14 win over the University of Central Arkansas at Conway in their season opener Sept. 1.
Play was halted for about three minutes on South Carolina’s first possession due to a problem with the placement of the chains. The Gamecocks were about to run a 3rd and 4th play from Arkansas 43 when officials noticed the sidelines showed the line to win was Arkansas 41. Fans booed as the game was paused for the issue to be resolved. The Gamecocks were eventually penalized 15 yards for an illegal handball to the face and pitched incomplete on 3rd and 19th.