ESPN ranking the Missouri Tigers the No. 6 team in the country going into the 2022 season was such a no-brainer.
The dominance shown by this team over the past several years makes it easy to see why they’re considered a legitimate challenger to take down the juggernauts at Georgia and Alabama. With recruits often coming into sports consciousness around age 9, it’s easy to see how the Tigers have lined up top-tier talent that has been an unstoppable freight train these past eight seasons.
What the Tigers put together last season made it impossible to deny them such a high ranking to start the year.
Some of you are probably confused. I can only hope you were creative in your criticism of me and didn’t utter any four-letter words in front of children.
Hang onto that indignation you felt as I described Missouri in a way that would justify the Tigers starting out No. 6. Think about the anger and frustration you felt because you knew the facts were nowhere near what was described.
You probably couldn’t even make yourself say the words No. 6 Missouri out loud because it processed as easily as the idea of an Oscar Award winning Johnny Knoxville movie.
What many of you probably know is that the Texas Longhorns actually occupy that spot, meaning Steve Sarkisian joins the Arkansas Razorbacks' Sam Pittman as the two coaches most unfairly saddled with Top 10 projections from preseason polls that cross well beyond that line where asinine begins. Although, it’s at least easier to see how pollsters made the ill-advised leap on the Hogs.
Missouri and Texas have almost the exact same results over the past 8 years, which does span the length of sports consciousness for current recruits. The Longhorns technically have one more win than Missouri over that time, but Missouri is coming off a better season than Texas with a better record, a bowl appearance, players who were actually taken in the NFL draft, and not having given up more points than any other team in the country in a home loss to a Kansas team whose only other win was a nail-biter against an FCS South Dakota team.
So, why is Texas, a traditional doormat when seen through the life experience of current recruits, being thrown into a No. 6 ranking by ESPN when it belongs a spot or two below Missouri when context and evidence is taken into account? The answer isn’t recruiting class because Texas always has a high recruiting class before ruining the potential of those players with the worst culture in college football regardless of which coach is making his short run through Austin.
It appears Sarkisian is being unfairly set up to be viewed as a total failure for one reason only – Alabama.
ESPN had to figure out how to sell people on the idea that when Alabama and Texas meet up in Week 2, the network is serving up an equivalent to Alabama vs. Ohio St. instead of the reality of an Alabama vs. Missouri minus the SEC pride. The Longhorns got blasted last year in this same spot on the schedule against an Arkansas team that was still finding itself at that point.
Giving a Big XII cellar dweller that only finished above Kansas a No. 6 ranking instead of a more reasonable ranking somewhere in the mid-60s is 100 percent about trying to sell fake goods of a Top 10 showdown in hopes of squeezing out a decent rating.
ESPN has already lost all credibility with this move, but risks losing even the slightest remaining shred of dignity should a salty Louisiana-Monroe team that has played well against tougher competition knock off the Longhorns in Week 1.
What the network has done to Sarkisian with this little stunt is unforgivable. Texas fans, especially the boosters who have literally run the athletic program for the past decade, are the most unrealistic people in all of fandom regardless of sport.
If Sark can get his team to 3-3 heading into the second half of the schedule, he will have been tremendously successful. However, because of this irrational ranking, what would be a huge step in the right direction is going to be seen as an epic failure.
THE SAM PITTMAN CONUNDRUM
Speaking of coaches who are going to be unfairly judged because pollsters either have agendas or don’t spend enough time digging into the reality of where a team actually is heading into the 2022 season, Pittman is also being set up to be seen as a failure at Arkansas this season even though he may pull off his best coaching job to date.
The Hogs have appeared in the Top 10 of multiple preseason polls. Unfortunately, this ranking is as accurate as it was when the Razorbacks were overrated at No. 8 last year.
A fair starting point for Arkansas is somewhere between No. 24 and just outside the Top 25.
Think about how high things felt last year for the Hogs at season's end. That team finished No. 21.
The current iteration of the team is facing a tougher schedule with potential weaknesses that were strengths last year.
The linebacking corps was one of the best in college football. Now, instead of four highly experienced linebackers who had so much chemistry within the defense there was no need to think, the Hogs have one returning linebacker in Bumper Pool, another promising option in Drew Sanders, and a lot of question marks.
While Trey Knox has demonstrated reason to anticipate what he can contribute to the passing game from his tight end position, not one player on this team has had significant success catching passes from K.J. Jefferson in an actual Razorback game.
Mix in the uncertainty on the defensive line and the lack of depth in the secondary, and it becomes easy to see that this team is a single injury away from disaster at several position groups.
The SEC West is going to be better across the board this year with the exception of perhaps Auburn and injuries are going to happen as the team grinds. Take a second to picture this roster should Jefferson suffer a season-ending injury.
If Pittman strings together another eight regular season wins, or perhaps even seven, he will have surpassed last year’s coaching job. However, because of poorly evidenced preseason hype, the large segment of the fan base that is prone to gross overreaction will simply melt down.
They’ll point to the preseason rankings and scream their heads off. Someone will try to explain the situation using logic and reason, which will short-circuit them even more because facts are for the weak.
While Pittman is more likely to survive unfounded hype than Sarkisian, it’s still an unfair situation.
If the Razorbacks finish in the bottom portion of the Top 25 it will be a feather in Pittman’s cap, and, for the most part, he will probably be treated as such.
While it would be an even bigger accomplishment if Sarkisian were to do the same, he will most likely get the head under that hat lopped off by the lunatic Texas boosters who already smell blood in the water, making college football’s least desirable job open once again, but this time with the looming caveat of now facing the SEC.
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