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Arkansas' showdown with Texas A&M is more than just a 'prove-it' game for Razorbacks

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Jackson Arnold is a Class of 2023 quarterback from Guyer High School in Denton, Texas.

Despite being just a backup last season (to current Texas A&M freshman Eli Stowers), he’s already earned scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Michigan State, Oklahoma State and others. More are expected to come.

One of his earliest was from Arkansas and it’s the Razorbacks that are particularly interesting because as Arnold told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, it wasn’t long ago the team was considered “kind of the laughingstock of the SEC.”

But second-year coach Sam Pittman has the Hogs 3-0 this season and ranked 16th in the country. It owns a signature victory over Texas that took place in front of a delirious crowd in Fayetteville.

Among those watching in person ... Jackson Arnold.

“That was really cool to see,” Arnold told the ADG. “Coach Pittman and [offensive coordinator Kendal] Briles kind of [turned] the program around.”

It was enough that Arnold will attend Saturday’s Arkansas game against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington to get even more familiar with the program and consider if it's a place he'd want to play college ball.

Part of the discussion this week on the College Football Enquirer is about a few programs who have an opportunity to prove their early-season success is real this weekend. Arkansas is one of them (Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame as well). A victory over No. 7 Texas A&M would be quite a statement for these Razorbacks.

It’s more than that, however, and that’s where Arnold serves as a single junior recruit representing a much bigger movement. There is almost no path for Arkansas to become an elite SEC program without recruiting very well in the talent-rich neighboring state of Texas.

The Razorbacks have passionate fans, a beautiful campus and incredible facilities. Pittman appears to be an excellent coach. What it lacks is either a massive in-state recruiting base or centralized location within the SEC footprint. It simply has to find players elsewhere.

A decent portion of Texas — and certainly the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex where Arnold resides — is within driving distance, at least compared to Florida, Atlanta, New Orleans and other SEC recruiting hot beds.

None of this is new. Every Arkansas coach has focused on the Lone Star State (the current roster has 26 Texans). It’s why the A&M game is always played in Arlington.

Nothing can help recruiting in Texas like what Arkansas did two weeks ago in beating the University of Texas. It turns heads. Now nothing can help more than following it up by beating Texas A&M, with a bunch of local Texas high school recruits such as Jackson Arnold watching.

Arkansas’ path upward will get more challenging when Texas and Oklahoma join the SEC — the possibility of sharing a four-team “pod” with those two and the Aggies is daunting.

It’s what makes Saturday’s game perhaps more than a game. Yes, this Razorback team needs to prove itself for this season — although “prove-it” games are everywhere on the schedule with road games at Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU and Alabama still to come.

But Pittman is trying to build for the long haul, and proving his program is real — Texas-sized real — is part of what’s on the table Saturday.

For more of the discussion, check out the podcast below:

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Also on this edition of the College Football Enquirer:

* Will pettiness and politics hold up the 12-team College Football Playoff? What are the issues standing in the way?

* Ratings are booming in the sport even after predictions that name, image and likeness would turn fans away.

* What’s at stake this weekend for Arkansas, Michigan, Michigan State and Notre Dame? More drinking: The Cocktail Party or Wisconsin-Notre Dame in Chicago?

* Is it time to panic over the play of Clemson’s D.J. Uiagalelei? Oklahoma’s Spencer Rattler? Ohio State’s defense?

* A paintball shooting incident at Rutgers?

* A Virginia woman ran a consumer product coupon scam to the tune of $32 million. That’s a lot of paper towels.

Coming Thursday: Race for the Case game predictions.

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