Game Time: 2:30 p.m. ET/1:30 p.m. CT
Radio: Tiger Network || Razorback Sports Network
How to watch online: CBS Sports
Odds: Missouri -9 || Over/under 70 (via OddsShark.com)
There have been two SEC coaches fired before the season has even ended. A few more could soon join them. According to the Houston Chronicle, Kevin Sumlin could be coaching his final game at Texas A&M on Saturday. Several others could be on the move, including Gus Malzahn and Dan Mullen. But Bret Bielema seems all but certain to end his Arkansas tenure against Missouri on Friday, according to SB Nation.
It would be the end of a disappointing run in Fayetteville for the former Wisconsin coach. After a 3-9 mark in his first season, Arkansas has had winning records in each of the past three seasons. Although, none resulted in more than eight wins. Then came this year’s debacle.
The team struggled to win seemingly straight-forward games against New Mexico State, Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina. While getting blasted in several of their conference contests. Even the winnable league games often went the way of their opponent with the lone exception being the incredible rally against the Rebels.
Any chance of Bielema returning in 2018 appeared to go out the window with the surprise firing of Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long last week. The move seemed to seal the coach’s fate, but it didn’t lead to an immediate axe being dropped. However, that decision should come swiftly following Friday’s game—regardless of the result.
With the Razorbacks at 4-7 (1-6 SEC) there is no possibility of a bowl game, so Friday would mark the final game of Bielema’s season either way. It’s also appearing as though it will mark the end of his reign in Northwest Arkansas.
Will Mizzou remain motivated?
Few teams outside the upper echelon of college football are playing as well as Missouri. Over their current five-game winning streak, the Tigers have outscored their opponents by a 260-83 margin. During the run, no team has scored more than 21 points on the Mizzou defense, while the team’s offense has scored no fewer than 45 points.
That’s a level of domination nobody ever expected out of this team after their horrendous start to 2017. The five consecutive wins have the Tigers at 6-5 (3-4 SEC). With a bowl bid now secured, it’s understandable to question whether the team will let its foot off the gas. Obviously, the hope for Tigers fans would be that the momentum Missouri has—plus the lack of motivation for Arkansas—allows for even a little let off.
The Tigers’ past few SEC games have all ended up with similar scorelines despite not following the same pattern. The Florida game saw Missouri dominate throughout. A tie game at halftime ended with a 50-17 victory over Tennessee. And then last week, Mizzou used a second-quarter explosion and a few timely drives in the second half to beat Vanderbilt.
It’s hard to remember a time when the Mizzou passing attack and rushing game have been this good for this long of a period. Drew Lock continues to throw him name into the hat for best quarterback not going to school in Los Angeles. Ish Witter and Larry Rountree III have developed into one of the better backfield tandems in the country. And despite a disturbing number of drops from Emanuel Hall, the wide receiving corps has become a fairly reliable unit.
At this point, the only thing that seems like it could stop the Missouri offense is, well, the Missouri offense. Be it conservative play-calling or Lock’s decision-making, the only way the Arkansas defense will hold the Tigers under 35 points is if the Razorbacks get some help.
Hogs have nothing to play for … or do they?
The Tigers should be benefiting from facing a team with coaching turmoil for the third time in four games. After the Gators fired Jim McElwain, Florida got blasted by Missouri. Following the Volunteers’ loss, Butch Jones was finally given his release. Now, Bielema will possibly end his Arkansas era against Mizzou.
The previous two opponents didn’t put up much resistance, although Tennessee did manage to stay tied at halftime before getting whipped in the second half. On paper, it would seem the Razorbacks have little to play for on Friday. However, that might not be entirely true.
Sure, the team has a lame duck coach and no chance at a bowl game. On the other hand, it’s the final game for the Arkansas seniors. Hopefully, that means something to them. There’s also the matter of pride, which the team did show in a narrow loss to Mississippi State last time out.
At the end of the day, the game will likely come down to which team is more talented. That seems to be Mizzou. (Don’t worry the fact that it is a “rivalry game” won’t have any impact.)
So, what happens?
Like the past handful of games, it’s really difficult to predict how this game will go. Arkansas will be game, and Missouri likely won’t have the fire it has shown in most of its recent outings. It won’t matter in the end.
This has the makings of a Tennessee-esque game. The Tigers and Hogs could enter the break within a touchdown of each other. But Mizzou will pull away in the second half behind the play of Lock and the running back duo.
Bielema’s time with Arkansas will come to as quiet an ending as it could, because there won’t be many fans in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. The next question for the Hogs will be if they can lure Malzahn to The Hill.
Barry Odom and Missouri, meanwhile, will head into December with a bowl game to play and the envy of their nearest SEC neighbors.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Arkansas 21