The storylines are writing themselves in Fayetteville, Arkansas this week as a former Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino The Donald W. Reynolds Razorbacks are back when the Missouri State Bears come to town to face the 10th Razorbacks (2-0, 1-0 SEC) at 6 p.m. (CT).
Petrino, of course, took over in Arkansas after Houston Net Era, he took Arkansas from finishing 5-7 in his debut season in 2008, to eight wins in 2009, a trip to the Sugar Bowl in 2010 and an 11-win campaign in 2011 that culminated in a bid for the Cotton Bowl. Petrino was 34-17 in his four seasons in Arkansas before the infamous motorcycle accident that led to his sudden dismissal.
The Arkansas program has had more than its share of tough times in the years since, even the current coach Sam Bateman He came to town to correct the ship. In 2021, Bateman led the Razorbacks to their first nine-win season since Petrino was patrolling on the sidelines and brought the Pigs back to the national lead.
This weekend’s reunion can have its share of embarrassing elements, but Bateman went away during his Monday interview with the media to indicate his appreciation for what Petrino has accomplished during his time in Arkansas and how he is able to point out what the program is. Able to benefit from it in the recruitment process.
“I’m excited to play Missouri State,” Pittman said. “The last time Arkansas was fit, it was relevant when coach Petrino was here.” “We are very grateful for his time here and what he did for the programme. We used that on hiring. Without him and his staff we wouldn’t have been able to do it. So, it will be exciting for him I’m sure to come back here, but they have a good team.”
Really good team. Missouri is clearly below Arkansas, but Petrino is building the Bears into the center of the FCS’ strength. His team nearly pulled off a stunning goal at Stillwater (Oklahoma) last season, losing a tight, one-point game to the Oklahoma State team that went on to win the Fiesta Bowl. Missouri State has gone on to earn a junior playoff berth and is currently ranked seventh nationally after starting 2-0 this season.
“They finished seventh, have a good squad, and were in the playoffs last year,” Bateman said. “She almost beat Oklahoma State last year at the start of the year, and Oklahoma State beat Notre Dame at the Fiesta Bowl, so we know we have to be ready for a good team coming here.”
Petrino inherited the Missouri State program who ran out of a one-win season before his arrival and turned things around in no time. On a different scale, it’s similar to the appearance Bateman staged in Arkansas after taking the job after two to 10 consecutive campaigns.
“Well, he’s a great coach,” Bateman said. “He was when he was here and with the Falcons and Louisville.” “They tried a few different people before him, and he was able to go in there and take them back to the knockout stages. He’s just a really good coach. He has a good staff. He went to the transfer window and got a lot of players there, and I’m sure they went there because of his reputation. As a coach. So, it’s been a great job to do there and I’m sure he will continue to do it.”
Bateman – who hasn’t had much personal interaction with Petrino – has been part of many of the coaching staff throughout his long career and understands the feelings that come with coming back and competing against what was previously at home. He tested it as head coach last season when Hogs returned to his old grounds against Kirby Smart and Georgia.
Given the way things turned out for Petrino in Arkansas, and the time that has passed since he left, this weekend is a little more special.
“I think it’s different, to be honest with you, if you go back and you know the staff and you know the people on the crew,” Bateman said. “I think it’s a little different for me when I go baking and know Kirby. There are different feelings because you want to win, that’s your friend, he helped you become a head coach, all that stuff.
“And the coach (Petrino) and I don’t know each other. You have to ask him. I think it would be a little big difference just because you’re not going back to a university where I know the guys on the staff. I’m sure the coach knows a lot of people are still here who love you all. Probably – a lot of you.”
After a grueling weekend in the college football scene that saw the likes of Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Nebraska drop home games to Sunbelt schools, anyone playing a lower-level opponent should have the antennas forward. The extra attention that comes with Petrino’s comeback may help in that regard when it comes to Arkansas focus and Missouri’s readiness, but no matter who the opponent is, Batemans know their pigs have a lot of work to do on themselves as well.
“Probably. I didn’t think of it that way. Maybe,” Bateman said when asked if Petrino’s factor helps get his team’s attention. “These weeks are about trying to get better and trying to see who can help us win ball games. So, in these kind of weeks, like last week, we have taken the approach that we have to improve ourselves.
“We definitely have things to work on and we have to improve before we worry about who to play. I have been so proud of our team since we were here with them putting the match away before and playing the next game, so I feel confident we will get them focused. They will be focused and ready to play.”