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Arkansas photo / Arkansas and Vanderbilt met during the 2018 football season, with the Commodores winning 45-31. The teams had a combined 1-15 record in Southeastern Conference play last year and would make sense as cross-division opponents this season in a 10-game league schedule being constructed by SEC executive associate commisioner Mark Womack.

The Southeastern Conference's recent decision to implement a league-only schedule for the 2020 football season amid continuing concerns about the coronavirus eliminated unique nonconference matchups such as LSU-Texas and annual ones such as Florida-Florida State.

Also falling by the wayside were those countless contests commonly referred to as "cupcake games."

The cancellation of Georgia-Georgia Tech is far more headline-grabbing than the SEC losing showdowns against Abilene Christian, Central Arkansas, Eastern Illinois, Nicholls State and the University of Tennessee at Martin, but those mismatches almost always serve as automatic victories. Sure, Tennessee stumbled out of the gate against Georgia State last August before recovering to post an 8-5 record, but the 20-13 escape by Arkansas in last season's opener against Portland State wound up serving as one of just two triumphs enjoyed by the Razorbacks.

The likelihood of a winless SEC team this season increased with the league's scheduling decision, and that hasn't happened since Lou Holtz's first South Carolina team went 0-11 in 1999. Holtz's next two Gamecocks teams combined to post a 17-7 record that included consecutive Outback Bowl triumphs over Ohio State.

Arkansas enters this delayed and slightly abbreviated season having lost 19 consecutive conference contests, and the Razorbacks have Missouri and Tennessee as their known cross-divisional opponents. Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek was asked this past week during a virtual news conference what two other Eastern Division teams he would like to have added to complete the 10-game slate.

"You can't put me on the spot like that," Yurachek responded. "I'm going to make an SEC coach or athletic director mad. We'll play any of them."

The Razorbacks lost their last six games last season by double-digit margins, including by 41 to both Alabama and Auburn and by 36 to LSU, when Arkansas actually covered against a gambling line that opened with Ed Orgeron's Tigers favored by 46.5 points. The most embarrassing defeat of that stretch, however, was a 45-19 home loss to Western Kentucky.

SEC executive associate commissioner Mark Womack is in charge of figuring out which two cross-divisional programs will be added to each team's schedule, and creating an Arkansas-Vanderbilt game would make sense. Those teams met just two years ago in Fayetteville, with the Commodores winning 45-31, but Vanderbilt is coming off a difficult 2019 season in which a 21-14 upset of Missouri prevented an 0-8 league record.

Vanderbilt dropped its last four SEC games in 2019 to South Carolina, Florida, Kentucky and Tennessee by the average score of 37-8 and has since graduated the productive offensive trio of running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn, receiver Kalija Lipscomb and tight end Jared Pinkney. Vaughn was a third-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It's exciting that our student-athletes have the opportunity to compete and win in the nation's finest conference," athletic director Candice Lee said in a statement released after the SEC's scheduling announcement. "Vanderbilt will stay focused on ensuring this football season is as safe as possible for our student-athletes, the coaches and staff who support them, and Commodore Nation.

"Now, more than ever, we must work together, and I know we're up for the task."

The Commodores went to five bowl games last decade after making just three previous trips in their history, but their 17 winless conference records are more than any other league member. There has never been a season in which they lost every game, which is something Florida (0-9 in 1946), Auburn (0-10 in 1950) and even Alabama (0-10 in 1955) can't claim.

A winless record may be more probable than possible this season given this new and temporary dynamic, but there has never been a year when two SEC teams failed to prevail a single time.

 

Battle resting

Former Tennessee football coach Bill Battle, who was later the athletic director at Alabama, revealed this weekend that he has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

"I appreciate the prayers and well-wishes from so many and want to let you know that I'm stable and resting comfortably," the 78-year-old said in a statement released by Alabama. "I've got great doctors and nurses at UAB looking after me and expect to make a full recovery. Time and patience are important in the meantime."

Battle guided Tennessee to a 31-5 record during his first three seasons (1970-72), but he was fired after the 1976 season with an overall mark of 59-22-2. He was named AD at Alabama, his alma mater, in March 2013 and served in that role until March 2017.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSPaschall.

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