Most college football programs only have the opportunity to play against a head coach like John L. Smith in out of conference play once in a lifetime at most. The usual trajectory of a coach is to work their way up through a few different stops and either fail and be fired, or succeed and leave for a better job. A coach in this position might work his way up through various stops, but eventually he will be exposed, and return to a lower level program or an assistant job. Smith had seemingly peaked at Michigan State, having been mired in mediocrity with a number of high profile gaffes. This was exactly the path he had taken before unconventional circumstances dictated otherwise. It is almost unprecedented to get another shot at beating a coach like JLS.
Rutgers fans of course can remember the myriad of mishaps preceding when the Spartans visited Piscataway in 2004. MSU did not have Drew Stanton available for the game, as he had been injured the previous season in garbage time duty on special teams; that was a significant blow considering that MSU's backup QB played poorly in what was a very winnable game. Similarly, who can forget Smith infamously climbing Africa's Mt. Kilimanjaro in July of that year. Do you think Greg Schiano spent a single second between spring practice and the opener that summer NOT game planning for MSU? (It showed the following week, but that is another matter entirely.) That's the kind of thing that make Smith such a punchline, much more so than his propensity to hit himself at press conferences or any other such silliness.
This was the context in which I celebrated Arkansas's decision to name Smith as interim coach in the wake of Bobby Petrino's spectacular flameout several months back. Not only did JLS give Rutgers a legitimate chance to win against what had been considered a top 10 contender, but there was actually a non-zero possibility that he would completely destroy their season. We wanted the Hogs vulnerable, and now they won't get any respect at all following a loss to UL-Monroe (who barely missed upsetting Auburn yesterday), and getting embarrassed by an incredible Alabama team. Would ESPN even re-consider exiling this game to ESPN U now? Does anyone really think that Vanderbilt/Georgia is going to make for better television?
A lot depends on the health of injured QB Tyler Wilson, but considering the latter called out his teammates last night as quitters following their blowout loss, needless to say there will be a media circus surrounding the game in Fayetteville this week. This is clearly a must-win for Arkansas now, but in a way it's a must win for Rutgers as well, Wilson or no (and he would make a pretty big difference.) We can't do worse than a Sun Belt team, and anything less than a big win would look bad after yesterday, even though Bama thumped Michigan almost as badly. Rutgers has some momentum after the win over USF, and in fact it wouldn't be a surprise to see RU open as a slight favorite when Vegas releases the odds for this one. Didn't see that coming, did you? I think the lesson for everyone, again, is that RutgersAl is a prophet and no one should ever question his divine wisdom.