There's no getting around it.
0-8 is more of a lasting bruise than a win/loss record. It's a symbol. A scarlet letter. A stain. It's the first thing most people associate with a team throughout college football's excruciatingly long off-season. It's a big hurdle for coaches to overcome in recruiting. Ticket sales slump. Every opposing fan base sees 0-8 and instantly circles the Hogs as a 50-point victory the following year.
Is there any major opposing fan base that feels like Arkansas could be a threat to them this season? Doubtful.
It's understandable. Although fans who closely follow the team know certain players and positions can be realistically expected to be better, there are no new famous 5* skill players coming in to save the program. We're relying on improvement via talent development, new defensive coaches, and a bit of roster turnover. Unfortunately, that's not anything to excite outsiders.
But what does history tell us? Do all 0-8 SEC teams continue floundering until a savior comes along? Are coaches able to not just survive but eventually thrive in spite of it?
The SEC went to an 8-game schedule when the conference expanded in 1992 (I know, adding a conference game to accommodate additional teams in the league so the league can still play each other regularly? Wild idea!). In that time, 16 unfortunately awful teams earned an 0-8 record. Here's the list, including how the team fared the next season, and coaching notes:
- 1994 Kentucky (2-6 in 1995) - Bill Curry coached 1990 - 1996.
- 1996 & 1997 Vanderbilt (1-7 in 1998) - Rod Dowhowder fired after 1996. Woody Widenhofer hired beginning 1997.
- 1998 & 1999 South Carolina (5-3 in 2000) - Brad Scott fired. Lou Holtz hired.
- 2000 Kentucky (1-7 in 2001) - Hal Mumme's last year. He was fired afterward.
- 2001 & 2002 Vanderbilt (1-7 in 2003) - Widenhofer resigns. Bobby Johnson hired.
- 2002 Mississippi State (1-7 in 2003) - Jackie Sherrill retired after 2003.
- 2007 Ole Miss (5-3 in 2008) - Ed Orgeron fired.
- 2009 Vanderbilt (1-7 in 2010) Bobby Johnson resigned.
- 2011 Ole Miss (3-5 in 2012) - Houston Nutt fired.
- 2012 Auburn (7-1 in 2013) - Gene Chizik fired.
- 2012 & 2013 Kentucky - Joker Philips' last year, Mark Stoops' 1st year.
- 2013 Arkansas - Bret Bielema's first year.
- Nine of these seasons are courtesy of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, who, despite a rare years of modest success under other coaches, have mostly continued to flounder.
- Only four times has a program repeated its 0-8 mark. Each time, the coach was fired after the first year and the new coach failed to immediately improve upon the record with largely his predecessor's players. For a coach to go 0-8 in his first two years on the job would be unprecedented.
- Eleven of these teams featured a coach at or near the brutal end of his tenure.
- Only two coaches have gone 0-8 twice, and both were Vanderbilt coaches: Woody Widenhofer and Bobby Johnson, but neither were in consecutive seasons.
Five coaches began their SEC jobs going 0-8. Bret Bielema and Mark Stoops are currently fighting their way out of the bottom. But previously, it was two Vanderbilt coaches - Woody Widenhofer and Bobby Johnson - and Lou Holtz.
Widenhofer never amounted to anything at Vanderbilt, but both Johnson and Holtz eventually won Coach of the Year honors at their respective jobs.
Holtz' hire at South Carolina was the beginning of the program's elevation into what it is now under Steve Spurrier. He led the Gamecocks to a 17-7 record in 2000 and 2001 before a few mediocre seasons and NCAA sanctions helped him retire from the sidelines after the 2004 season, paving the way for Spurrier.
Johnson stayed at Vanderbilt for eight seasons, but only in 2008 did they have a winning record. It was enough to earn him Coach of the Year honors, but he couldn't sustain it, dropping back to 0-8 in 2009 before resigining in the off-season.
Arkansas, Auburn, and South Carolina are the only programs on the list to also have, since 1992, multiple double-digit victory seasons and division championships. Both the Gamecocks and Tigers accomplished those things after they went 0-8, proving it's hardly a death sentence.
History suggests Arkansas' placement in that 0-8 group is more of a hiccup than something long-lasting. It doesn't mean there will be many wins immediately. The arc of teams in Arkansas' situation bends toward a return to respectability, but sometimes it takes longer than others. Sometimes it is very quick, but normally it is more of a process.
If Arkansas is on that trajectory, the Hogs should win at least one SEC game somewhere this year. If they don't, the program is truly venturing into uncharted territory.
Razorback fans just have to hope that the only thing Bret Bielema and Woody Widenhofer have in common is name alliteration.