Much like high school recruits are given a rating on a completely made up scale between two and five stars (I've never seen a 1 star, am not sure they exist. Perhaps I was a one star.) Sports Illustrated college football writer Stewart Mandel, this week, revisited a gimmick he used in 2007 rating that nation's BCS programs on his own 4-level scale. Only instead of stars, he used medieval feudal titles like Kings (5 stars), Barons (4), Knights (3), and Peasants (2).
Mandel rated Arkansas as a Knight program back in 2007, and (despite acknowledging he likely underrated Arkansas in a post days later) rated Arkansas as a Knight again this year. I'm not writing this as an indignant fan shaking one fist at my computer screen "How dare you sir?!", even though I think I can confidently debate the notion that Clemson and UCLA are perceived as clearly better programs than Arkansas. I'm honestly asking, is this an accurate representation of Arkansas' status?
It's understandable why many outsiders would think Arkansas would belong at that level. There's probably not another school in the country whose football program has been on as big of a roller coaster ride over the past couple of decades. For instance, in the Razorbacks entered the SEC in 1992 and upset a highly ranked Tennessee team, that season is basically remembered for losing to the Citadel and firing Jack Crowe. Arkansas won the forgotten divisional title in 1995, seasons before and after it were largely forgettable. And basketball was the clear sport of choice at the time. For every good year Houston Nutt had, he had three that caused the fans to riot.
The most obvious example has to be the 2006 season. On the surface, Arkansas won 10 games, had the Heisman runner-up, and won the division, but many fans wanted Nutt fired then for the thing that season is largely remembered for, the Springdale fiasco.
And of course, just as Arkansas looks to be taking its place on a higher level of football, winning 21 games in two years with a couple of Heisman candidates returning, Bobby Petrino took the bike ride to splitsville and left us with a guy known mostly for a couple of wacky YouTube clips.
All the theatrics combined with seasons like 2008, 2005, and 2004 are enough to leave a nasty taste in pretty much anybody's mouth. But still, is that enough to put the Razorbacks on the same level as the likes of Virginia, Boston College, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon State, Purdue, and Syracuse? I doubt it. I think if Mandel wanted to be more accurate, there would be at least one more level in between the Baron and Knight classification, and it would house schools like Arkansas, Texas A&M, Clemson, Wisconsin, Michigan State, South Carolina, Utah, etc.
Another way to tell there is a negative perception around Arkansas? Ever since last Thanksgiving, a main theme among the fan base is to improve the program to the point that Arkansas can compete with Alabama and LSU. Granted, the Hogs haven't defeated the Crimson Tide since Mandel's original ratings came out, but Arkansas has defeated LSU three of the five times since then. Even Arkansas fans have spoken like the Tigers are perennially superior to the Razorbacks even though Arkansas has a winning record over them in the last half-decade, and the 2011 game was the first time in 7 years the game wasn't close. Arkansas has, to say the least, competed well with LSU and many Arkansas fans don't even seem to have forgotten it.
Yes, LSU has won a national title in that span, even though Arkansas beat them in Death Valley that season, and LSU had as dominant a regular season as anyone has ever had in 2011. I'm not saying Arkansas is on the same level as LSU in terms of national perception, that's clearly not the case. But it does seem to be true that Arkansas fans aren't giving themselves enough credit for competing with them the way Arkansas has.
Since 2006, Arkansas has had 3 10-win seasons, a BCS berth, a 2-time Heisman runner-up, a 2-time Doak Walker Award winner, the Walter Camp Player of the Year, a Remington Award winner, a Mackey Award winner, a Spirit Award winner, and even the punt returner of the year. Since joining the SEC, the Hogs have gone to Atlanta three times, but it seems like an accomplishment for which Arkansas receives little credit.
I have long believed the UA should do more to trumpet the accomplishments of the program. When attending a game, the only evidence on the field are a few signs on the ground behind the end zone. The pregame video didn't touch on the program's history during the Petrino era. I think the university should use this fresh start time to promote the prestige of the program. Even in recruiting. We don't know which coaches will be there next year, but the Razorback program will be. And that's a better football program than Purdue.