By any metric, 2006 was a wild and turbulent season for Arkansas. It started with five-star Mitch Mustain and his little known high school coach Gus Malzahn coming to Fayetteville. Arkansas won the SEC West and very well might have won the whole dang conference if Reggie Fish doesn’t try to field that punt.
It turns out that year didn’t even hold a candle to the chaos that 2007 would bring. This year in Razorback football sounded more like one of Stefon’s hottest night clubs than a football season. It had it all, internet message boards, extramarital affairs, FOIA requests, Planes carrying banners, and large men wielding baseball bats.
We were only at game 2 when we got this gem.
We should have known then. We should have known.
On the surface the season seemed successful. 8-4 with a Heisman candidate and a Cotton Bowl appearance? Hell, I think every Razorback fan would take that this year. But it was so much more than that. Arkansas started 1-2 thanks to that loss to Alabama and multiple blown leads to Kentucky. They also lost to Auburn at home without allowing a Touchdown, beat both Mississippi schools and South Carolina handily, and pulled off one of the biggest upsets of the year.
All the wild things that happened had a huge impact on the national landscape and still does today. So let’s take a walk down memory lane and see all the ways Arkansas still helps make college football the beautiful mess it is.
1. Hugh Freeze’s Firing
Let’s start with the most topical impact. Yes here in 2017, college football is still talking about 2007 Arkansas. By now you know the news of Hugh Freeze getting fired, and how Houston Nutt’s lawsuit that included a FOIA request for phone records was involved.
This was not the first time a FOIA request that involved an SEC coach. Remember back in April of 2007? A fan requested Nutt’s phone records. This all stems from anger of the treatment of Mitch Mustain and Gus Malzhan and their earlier leaving the program. That request revealed suspicious contact with a local reporter that many interpreted as an affair. This didn’t get Nutt fired, but played a big role in the chaotic environment that led to his firing.
Then you know the timeline. Nutt goes to Ole Miss, wins some games and then loses a lot of games. He gets fired and enter Hugh Freeze. Mix in a lawsuit and some hurt feelings and boom.
2. LSU’s Two Loss Title (And by Extension, the Death of the BCS)
Arkansas didn’t have much to play for the day after Thanksgiving. They were 7-4 and were looking for bowl position at this point. LSU on the other hand was number 1 and had national championship aspirations.
Then Darren McFadden “Brought Dat Wood.”
We’ll come back to McFadden, but the impact this game had on 2007 was huge. Going into this game this was the top 4.
- Kansas (For Real!)
- West Virginia
If LSU had won, the title situation would have been a little easier to stomach. A one-loss LSU taking on 11-1 Ohio State. Instead a two-loss LSU needed Kansas, Missouri, and West Virginia all to lose. That’s exactly what happened and 2007 got the two-loss champion it deserved. This season didn’t get the playoff talk rolling like the LSU-Alabama title game did, but boy this year didn’t sit well with a lot of people. If Arkansas doesn’t beat LSU, it’s just not as weird, and not as fun.
The 2007 Heisman race was a wild one that eventually birthed Tebowmania in college football. Tebow won the Heisman and Darren McFadden was second, it was one of the best Heisman races that had happened in years. If things fall a little bit differently and McFadden wins the Heisman, then Tebow’s career could look very different.
Now if you’ll humor me I make the case as to why that SHOULD have happened.
- In that previously mentioned game against LSU, McFadden ran for 206 yards and three TDs. He also THREW a touchdown, something he did four times in 2007.
- Against South Carolina he ran for 321 terrifying yards as part of Arkansas’ FIVE HUNDRED AND FOURTY TWO yards rushing. I was at that game and thought every run was going to the house.
- He ran for over 100 yards in six SEC games and over 150 in four. I know I’m biased, but he was the most dominant player in football that year.
4. Nick Saban’s Rise to Power
This is the one that doesn’t get talked about much. Remember that picture at the beginning of the article? That was at the end of Arkansas’ upset loss to Alabama (yes that was super weird to type). That was the first big win for Nick Saban at Alabama. The Crimson Tide finished 6-6 that year. Flip that result against Arkansas and the Tide are missing out on a bowl game.
I mention that because the 2008 recruiting class after this year was a huge part of what kicked off the Alabama dynasty. That class included Julio Jones, Courtney Upshaw, Mark Ingram, Barrett Jones, Marcel Dareus, Dont’a Hightower, Terrance Cody, and others. It’s completely hypothetical, but what if Alabama misses out on a bowl? That loss to Arkansas makes for a worse start that means Saban can’t get as far off the ground?
Maybe that’s enough to keep a couple of those guys away from Alabama and they don’t become the juggernaut they are now, or maybe it’s just delaying the inevitable. Or maybe it doesn’t even matter because Nick Saban is a magician. It’s still an interesting road to go down.
Arkansas’ 2007 season was a perfect example of the chaos that year was in college football, it was also a great example of the lasting impact it had on the following years. We didn’t even have time to talk about how this season led to the Bobby Petrino hiring, but that’s for another day. Let’s just reminisce on the beautiful firework stand explosion the 2007 season was.