HOOVER, Ala. • With rebuilding Ole Miss and Arkansas both trying to rise in the SEC, it’s easy to see what a massive game awaits them Week 2 in Oxford.
Neither coaches nor players are willing to discuss the Razorbacks’ visit, holding to their unshakable one-game-at-a-time approach.
The Razorbacks open Aug. 31 in Fayetteville against Portland State, the Rebels that day at Memphis.
“We want to win. We have a lot of goals, but the most important thing right now is just going into fall camp, taking it one day at a time and focusing on Portland State,” Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley said.
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke says opening with Memphis, a team that has won 45 games over the last five years, captures the Rebels’ attention for opening week.
“We’re focused on the first one. It’s very similar to last year with an opponent like Texas Tech. The guys know they have a very good team to get ready for,” Luke said.
This season’s Ole Miss-Arkansas game marks the first time the teams have met before October since 1991.
Most games in the series have been closely contested of late, the Rebels’ 37-33 win in Little Rock in 2018 snapping their four-game skid.
The two teams won seven games between them last year, two for Arkansas, five for Ole Miss, but both have been vocal at SEC Media Days about making a bowl game their goal for 2019.
“Getting this program into postseason is definitely a goal of ours,” said Arkansas coach Chad Morris, entering his second season. “It’s something we’ve talked about, and we started talking about it 235 days ago. We know it’s going to take a lot.”
There several similarities between the Razorbacks and Rebels.
Between them they signed 13 offensive linemen, seven by Ole Miss. They also worked hard to stock talent at wide receiver.
When Sept. 7 arrives, both will have a quarterback making his second start for his team.
That’s where those similarities end.
Redshirt freshman Matt Corral is firmly entrenched as the starter for the Rebels while at Arkansas there’s a wide-open competition with two of the candidates – transfers from the state of Texas – having much more game experience than Corral.
Graduate transfer quarterback Ben Hicks, who played for Morris at SMU, joined the program in January. Also in the mix is Nick Starkel, a junior who appeared in 11 games with five starts over two seasons at Texas A&M.
Morris praised the spring progress of redshirt freshman quarterback John Stephen Jones.
Whaley believes whoever emerges as the Razorbacks’ quarterback will be up to speed for Week 2 against Ole Miss.
“It’s not too difficult. Ben already knows the system. Then you have Nick coming in and he pretty much has the system already down,” he said.
Morris says he sees growth in the program.
“Offensively, our philosophy has not changed. We want to be fast-paced, hurry-up, no-huddle football team, and we’ve made tremendous strides by developing our young men on our roster, by recruiting the way we recruited and attracting the right transfers.”