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Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman hopes to play Texas every year when Longhorns kick off SEC competition

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Exhausting schedules are the norm for Arkansas football and third-year coach Sam Pittman, so he’s not worried about the Hogs’ schedule potentially getting even more daunting once the SEC expands to include Texas and Oklahoma.

Pittman, who is entering his third season as a coach, told ESPN on Tuesday that he is in favor of Arkansas playing against Texas annually. Arkansas and Texas were fierce rivals during their old Southwest Conference days, facing each other in many memorable matchups.

“Personally, I love rivalry games and would hate, once Texas gets into the league, not to play them every year, in front of the fans and everyone else,” Pittman said. “I’m not calling up Texas. Texas has a great program and I have a lot of respect for them. I’m just saying for the fans, and of course for the team, because we have a lot of Texas kids on our team. would become a neat house-and-house every year.”

Oklahoma and Texas will join the SEC before the 2025 season, perhaps even earlier, and the league is discussing a new scheduling format that would eliminate divisions. One option is to stick with eight league games and play one regular opponent and seven alternate opponents each year. A second option is to add a ninth league game and play three regular opponents and six rotating opponents.

Currently, Arkansas plays in the Western Division of the SEC, and Missouri is its permanent opponent in the Eastern Division.

Pittman’s Hogs defeated both Texas and Texas A&M last season, the first time that had happened since 1988, the first back-to-back Southwest Conference titles for Arkansas.

A 3-6 format would open the door for more annual rivalry games, according to Pittman, but also allow the Hogs to keep Missouri on their schedule.

“I’d like to do that for the state of Arkansas and what it means for so many people here to be able to play Texas every year,” Pittman said. “Now I’m not saying, ‘Man, we want to play Texas.’ I’m not saying that. I’m saying — for the fans, for the recruiting, for the tradition of this game and things like that — I’d like to play that game every year. But I’m definitely not counting the Longhorns.”

Arkansas finished 9-4 a year ago, the first time it has won nine or more games in a season since 2011. Two weeks after beating Texas 40-21, the Hogs defeated Texas A&M 20-10. It was their first win over the Aggies since A&M joined the SEC in 2012.

Pittman signed a new contract last week that will pay him an average of more than $6 million annually. As the first head coach, he inherited a program that had lost 19 consecutive SEC games. The Hogs were 4-4 in the SEC a year ago and 3-7 in 2020, Pittman’s first season, when the SEC played a 10-game all-league schedule amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were able to renegotiate a contract that really says something about their belief in what we do,” Pittman said. “I’m very grateful for that. We have a good football team who understand that loyalty, hard work and perseverance is how we win games and that’s all. You don’t always have to have the best players. The best team, and our players become getting better and better, but on Saturday you just have to have the best team.

“They don’t rank stars there. They rank who gets the most points at the end of the game, and our kids believe in that.”

The schedule isn’t going to get any easier for Arkansas in 2022. In addition to playing in the SEC West, the Hogs will face Cincinnati, BYU and Liberty in non-conference games. Arkansas and Auburn were the only two SEC West schools to play both Alabama and Georgia in the past two seasons.

“I understand why there is some concern in our league about going to nine [league] games,” Pittman said. “You know, I think some people want to play 10, and some are happy with eight and some really good non-conference games. But the first three years here we’ve had the toughest schedule in football, so we’re playing against whoever they put in front of us.”

In 2022, Arkansas will face five teams ranked in ESPN’s latest Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings and a total of 11 teams who played in bowl games last season.

“I keep saying they’re trying to drive me out of town with these schemes, but the kids and the assistants won’t let that happen,” Pittman said with a laugh.

“We’ll be fine in Arkansas with whatever format they come up with. If it’s 3-6, it could definitely hit you, depending on who your three regulars are. But the models the league gave us, I thought, were very fair because they take how you’ve played the last five and ten years and set up your schedule that way I imagine after that first four year cycle they would go back and adjust who the top eight teams are and who the bottom ones are 8. I think the league is doing everything it can to have a fair program for everyone.”

Arkansas opens the 2022 season at home on September 3 against Cincinnati, which played in the College Football Playoff a year ago. Pittman is fully aware of the heightened expectations as a team goes from 0-19 in two years in the SEC to a nine-win season.

“We’ve got some guys on our team who need to step it up, and we’ve gone to the transfer portal to help out in certain positions,” said Pittman. “But winning builds confidence. It just does. And your mind is so powerful that you can do almost anything your mind allows you. So winning nine matches helped us. We’re so far from being cocky or even confident, We’re just a team that believes in what we do, and that’s the way we have a chance to win games.

“I don’t know if you’re sneaking up on anyone at the SEC.”

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