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Comparing #18 Arkansas to the Best Preseason #18's in College Football History

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Arkansas strives for a top four-caliber season to make the College Football Playoff. Here are the few early-season 18th-ranked teams which have done just that in the history of the game. (Warning: Heavy dose of Gary Pinkel involved)

Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

No college coach worth his contractual country club membership encourages looking beyond the next game. Even when it's warranted, as is the case this week with a UTEP team whose leaders aren't even pretending the program has a realistic shot at an upset.

No doubt, the Miners are major underdogs in No. 18 Arkansas' season opener.

But in the big scheme of things, so are the Hogs.

While Arkansas has gotten much respect this preseason (it's been a while since linemakers put the program on equal NCAA championship odds probability footing as Stanford), its coaches and players are far more concerned with continuing to hone the processes Bret Bielema has put in place. In short, their focus is on maximizing chances at postseason respect. To that end they don't want to wait another year to break down the doors to the College Football Playoff - they want in now.

Which introduces the question: Since the AP poll started in 1936, how many early-season No. 18's have maximized their chances for postseason success? How many would have crashed a top-four team playoff, had such an event then existed?

Only a handful. And each one shared similar traits with these 2015 Hogs.

Below, in a long look back no legit college coach would approve of, either, we dive into the top four No. 18's of all time according to sports-reference.com's Simple Rating System. Essentially, the SRS is a metric involving margin of victory and strength of schedule. Historically, our nation's cigar-chomping Associated Press voters didn't know/care about SRS when casting their first ballot of the preseason/season (in days of yore, this sometimes happened after said season had already started).

Poor guys. They had no idea what they were missing.

Best Preseason AP No. 18's of All Time

4. 1984 Washington

Coach: Don James

Weeks Ranked No. 1: 4

Date of First Loss: November 10

Final Record: 11-1

Final SRS rating: 15.89

Defense was at the center of this "Purple Reign" squad many Huskies fans still feel deserves a national title despite a late-season loss at USC. Yet it was UW’s offense which defined its definitive 28-17 Orange Bowl win against No. 2 Oklahoma. An intricate blocking scheme neutralized what had been a fearsome Sooners defense featuring defensive tackle Tony Casillas and a brash freshman linebacker named Brian Bosworth.

The next morning brought disappoint. Despite an inferior schedule, undefeated Brigham Young was voted as national champion by the AP and UPI. Meanwhile, the Huskies finished No. 2. "It was no doubt in our mind we were going to be national champions," linebacker Joe Kelly told the Seattle Times. "Oklahoma was going to be No. 1, and we destroyed them."

Like Arkansas… Washington ‘84 was known for its conservative offense. "It was just a pro-style offense," wide receiver Mark Pattison told the Times’ Larry Stone. "We’d run twice up the middle, then throw it for 5 yards to a tight end." Although the Huskies scored 29.3 points a game, they did not exactly spread the field under young offensive coordinator Gary Pinkel. Quarterback Hugh Millen couldn’t recall running "a single play all year with more than two receivers in the game at the same time."

Unlike Arkansas… the Huskies got publicly crunk at a disco on a cruise ship. And they nearly brawled with equally soused Sooners, who for some reason were put on the same cruise in the Biscayne Bay off Miami before the Orange Bowl. Even if these kinds of cruises were resurrected for the upcoming bowl season, don’t expect the same for the "Orange Bowl special" drink which were offered up by the hospitality crew.

3. 1937 Dartmouth

Coach: Red Blaik

Weeks Ranked No. 1: 0

Date of First Tie: October 30

Final Record: 7-0-2

Final SRS rating: 18.91

Let’s go ahead and get the mandated preamble out of the way: A long, long time ago, Ivy League schools were actually really good at football. Dartmouth, for one, won a national title in 1925. Twelve years later, behind ballers like halfback Bob "The Wildfire Scot" MacLeod, it could have contended for another by playing in the postseason. But the school president declined an invitation to the Rose Bowl - or any bowl for that matter.  Ernest Hopkins, you see, hated the idea of his students still caring about football in December and January. He didn’t think the sport deserved any more of their time after Thanksgiving Day during class finals.

"My own theory has always been that if one held to the fundamental philosophy of college men incidentally playing football as against football players incidentally going to college, most of the evils of intercollegiate competition would be avoided," Hopkins wrote in 1937.

Not only did Dartmouth refuse California’s overture to play in the Rose Bowl, but Choice No. 2 - Pitt - did as well. At this point in the Great Depression, Pitt couldn’t afford the cross country trip to Pasadena, Calif.

Undefeated Alabama ended up losing 13-0 in their stead.

Like Arkansas… Dartmouth has one national championship at the highest level of college football.

Unlike Arkansas… Dartmouth has no chance of ever getting another. Reason No. 1: Ivies aren't allowed to play postseason games to this day.

Reason No. 2: This is still Dartmouth.

[Interested in seeing the worst early-season No. 18's of all? That chart, and more, is available by signing up for my new BestofArkansasSports.com newsletter.]

2. 1971 Georgia

Coach: Vince Dooley

Weeks Ranked No. 1: 0

Date of First Loss: November 13

Final Record: 11-1

Final SRS rating: 22.22

Although Georgia won two SEC championships in the late 1960s, "Dooley’s Dawgs" had been a .500 team in 1969 and 1970 heading into the fall of 1971. That changed in a hurry with a top-five defense and dual-threat sophomore sensation Andy Johnson at the helm. All of Georgia's first eight opponents lost by at least 10 points.

While Georgia lost its next game on the road against No. 6 Auburn, it bounced back to beat archrival Georgia Tech. That set up a Gator Bowl showdown with North Carolina, led by Vince Dooley’s younger brother Bill Dooley. The resulting sibling slugfest produced 20 punts between the teams and a total of one touchdown. According to T Kyle King of our Dawg Sports brethren, "the 7-3 Georgia victory prompted one sportswriter to observe, ‘Vince won the toss and ran the clock out.’"

Like Arkansas… these Bulldogs boasted a highly regarded offensive line with All-SEC selections in Tom Nash, Royce Smith and Kendall Keith. They also had an All-American All-Nickname first-teamers in Jimmy "The Greek Streak" Poulos and Buzy "Super Frog" Rosenberg. Leaping ahead 44 years, Arkansas counters with its own strong candidate here: Damon "Duwop" Mitchell.

Unlike Arkansas… Georgia’s starting quarterback eventually played running back the entirety of his 8-year NFL career. Andy Johnson helped New England finish 2nd in the AFC East in 1976 with a combined 1,042 yards running and receiving and was selected to the Patriots’ All-1970s team. While college quarterbacks still occasionally make the transition to NFL wide receiver (e.g. Matt Jones, Antwaan Randle-El) hardly any of them become running backs. Even those with the physical tools to pull it off, like Nick Marshall, are more likely to become pro cornerbacks.

It’s safe to say NFL receiver, cornerback or tailback gigs are not in Brandon Allen’s crystal ball.

1. 1952 UCLA

Coach: Red Sanders

Weeks Ranked No. 1: 0

Date of First Loss: November 22

Final Record: 8-1

Final SRS rating: 23.88

UCLA has produced blueblood traditions in a number of sports but its football zenith came in the 1950s under coach Henry "Red" Sanders. Two years before the Bruins broke through for the 1954 national championship, they laid the foundation behind a stiff defense which racked up 3.5 interceptions a game.

Star tailback/quarterback Paul Cameron missed the early part of 1952 with an ankle injury but after he returned the Bruins’ single wing offense soared, lashing two Top 11 teams on the road in consecutive weeks. After a 57-0 rout of Oregon State, the Bruins looked primed to take down No. 4 USC but they could not squeak past their nemesis’ vaunted defense.

Despite that season-ending 14-12 loss, UCLA made its mark on 1952. Red Sanders, much like Bret Bielema, loved to throw unexpected wrinkles into the gameplan. While Sanders never called a touchdown pass for a 350-pound offensive lineman, he did briefly stash the traditional powder blue jerseys against California in favor of rocking threads with a special occasion numbering system. In that game, his guards wore jerseys reading G1, G2, G3 etc. The tackles’ were T1, T2, T3 and on up while the backfield starters went by L1, R1, F1 and Q1.

Also Like Arkansas… The heart and soul of the Bruins’ team was found in its line, where senior center Don Moomaw reigned. The 6-4, 220-pound terror, also a star linebacker, was a unanimous All-American and voted as the AP’s lineman of the year. Ultimately, he not only earned a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame but also a corresponding profile painting him as a seafaring Presbyterian Terminator: "Moomaw was strong, rangy and agile to perfection. Like a submarine commander, Moomaw stalked enemy ball-carriers and downed them with torpedo-like tackling thrusts."

Unlike Arkansas… UCLA featured a 5-9, 170 pound defensive end in Myron Berliner. The Razorbacks’ defensive front is considerably bigger, regardless of player provenance - from El Doradoans like Bijhon Jackson (6-2, 325 pounds) to a Svendborger like Hjalte Froholdt (6-4, 300 pounds).

One more early season No. 18 deserves mention here.

In 2014 Ole Miss Rebels took the nation by storm, surging to a 7-0 start headlined by a cathartic breakthrough win against Alabama. By mid season, the Rebels were on the cover of Sports Illustrated and had risen to No. 3 in the AP poll. Subsequent close losses to Auburn and LSU took the air out of serious College Football Playoff aspirations, but the No. 8 Rebels still had legit hopes of breaking into this Best-No.18’s-of-all-time list as they headed into Fayetteville for a Nov. 22, 2014 tilt.

Instead, the Rebels’ offense laid a Robb Smith-induced egg with their worst performance of the year. And the Hogs used the ensuing 30-0 win to build momentum heading into this season. How far into uncharted waters that surge takes them is yet to be seen.

If the wins keep piling up this fall, more and more Arkansas coaches and players will learn that for a preseason No. 18 to win a national title is beyond "uncommon" - it’s unprecedented.

Something tells me they will relish the fact.

Want more historic best/worst breakdowns of early-season No. 18's teams? Those are available through BestofArkansasSports.com, home of the state's only sports radio interview roundup newsletter. Click here and scroll to the bottom.