During this time of quarantine amidst COVID-19, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect. I’ve reflected on important issues and dilemmas that have only intensified since I’ve been stuck at home. Do I start Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones first? Do I make the 10-foot walk to the fridge or stay on the couch? As one can imagine, these questions are daunting. Like me, Arkansas Fans have undoubtedly had a chance to reflect on the greatest teams and moments in Razorback history. Unfortunately, some of the greatest teams have led to the greatest disappointment, as they could not reach the potential that they were seemingly destined for. Let’s take a look at some of the best teams that could never win National Championship.
2018 Arkansas Baseball
Yeah....I’m sure you saw this one coming. Head Coach Dave Van Horn’s 17th season was arguably his best, and the first time he’s advanced to the College World final. The team was led by junior right-hander Blaine Knight and he was absolutely dominant. Knight finished with a 2.80 ERA and went undefeated with a 14-0 record. On the offensive side, then-freshmen Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin led an lights out offense that combined for a ridiculous 98 home runs and a .296 batting average. The Hogs went 48-21 that season and advanced to the College World Series after a win against South Carolina in the Super Regional. After sweeping through the first 3 games, including a very satisfying win over Texas, they made it to the Oregon State Beavers. They won the first game 4-1 and were sitting pretty, as they just needed one more victory in the best of 3 series to win it all. Enter Game 2. Fast-forward to the top of the ninth.
The score is 4-3
1 Ball, 1 Strike
Shortstop Cadyn Greiner hits a pop-up into foul territory and it’s playable. It looks like Arkansas is finally going to win its first national championship. And then heartbreak ensued. Right-fielder Eric Cole, 1st baseman Jared Gates, and 2nd baseman Carson Shaddy all run to the ball, and the ball drops right in the middle of them. The Beavers scored 2 straight and won the game. In game 3, the Hogs were shut down and the Oregon State Beavers took home the championship. I felt like I got rejected by a girl that proceeded to punch me in the face. Fortunately for my ego, I did not cry (more on that later).
2020 Arkansas Baseball
Yes. I recognize this is a hot take and you may even think I’m an idiot. But hear me out. Although this team lost 5 straight games including four in neutral-site action, Dave Van Horn’s 2020 team seemed like they had gotten out of their rut after winning 4 straight games. It’s baseball. Slumps happen and you’ll lose some games. But the talent on this team was undeniable, and arguably the most-talented team Dave Van Horn has had. Heston Kjerstad was in the midst of his best season, as he had a .448 batting average and had 6 homeruns in the 16 games that were played. The Hogs’ also had a guy that wasn’t allowed to watch rated R movies as their 2nd baseman. The 17 year old phenom Robert Moore is . His 17 RBIs ranked 3rd on the team, and he knew how to get on base, posting a .400 on base percentage. Sadly, due to the Coronavirus, we won’t see the season end, and we will likely never see superstars Heston Kjerstad, Casey Martin, and Casey Opitz suit up in a Hog uniform again.
2010-11 Arkansas Football
The Hogs were really good at football once. I know...it’s pretty crazy.
The 2010 football team came into the season ranked number 17, and big things were expected out of Ryan Mallett. And he did not disappoint, throwing for 3869 yards and 32 touchdowns, in which he broke the school’s single-season records. Mallett had threats all around him, with Mackey Award winning tight end DJ Williams, and probably the best group of receivers that Arkansas has ever had, with Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, and Cobi Hamilton. Arkansas lost to Alabama and the future National Champions Auburn Tigers. They ended up making it to their first ever BCS bowl game in the Sugar Bowl, facing off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. Arkansas lost to Ohio State in the same way they lost to Alabama: A Ryan Mallett interception on a potentially game-winning drive, finishing the season 10-3. If Ryan Mallett didn’t throw that interception against Alabama, they could have had a shot to play in the National Championship. Who knows?
2011-12 Arkansas Football
The Hogs came into 2011 with plenty of unknowns. How would their offensive look with season-ending injuries to the previous year’s leading rushers Knile Davis and Broderick Green? How would the junior quarterback Tyler Wilson take over the helm as the full-time starter? These questions were answered in the form of an 11-2 season. Tyler Wilson broke the career passing record, set the previous year by Ryan Mallett. Junior running backs Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo Jr. combined for 1128 rushing yards to fill the huge void left in Knile Davis’s absence. Wilson had all the weapons that Ryan Mallett had the previous year, with Cobi Hamilton, Greg Childs, Joe Adams, and Jarius Wright all returning. Wright had a fantastic year, finishing with 1117 receiving yards and breaking the career receiving record.
Man...this team was Good.
The Hogs won their first 3 games but lost in a week 4 matchup to Alabama. Fortunately, they bounced back with an exciting comeback win against Texas A&M and proceeded to win their next 6 games. The Razorbacks entered week 12 ranked as the number 3 team in the country and had a date in Death Valley with the number one ranked LSU Tigers. If the Hogs could knock off the Tigers, they would play for the National Championship.
The Hogs struck first in the second quarter with a touchdown pass to Jarius Wright, and on LSU’s drive, safety Tramain Thomas forced a fumble that allowed linebacker Alonzo Highsmith to take it 47 yards to the house. I thought for sure the Hogs had it in the bag, and that they would finally go to the National Championship. But as we’ve all seen, big leads don’t mean much when you’re an Arkansas football fan. The Tigers score 3 unanswered touchdowns, and outside of a Zach Hocker field goal in the 3rd quarter, the Hogs never scored again. LSU won the game 41-17. As my seventh grade self watched LSU score touchdown after touchdown, I was bawling my eyes out. I couldn’t help myself! An Arkansas victory over Kansas State in the Cotton bowl wasn’t much of a consolation prize either.
We all know what happened after the season; Bobby Petrino got on his Harley and Arkansas football fans have been on a wild ride for 8 years.
1989-90 Arkansas Basketball
Let’s pause for a second to admire that tracksuit that Nolan’s rocking. Okay. Let’s proceed.
Admittedly, these 1990s Arkansas teams were way before my time and before I was even born. So let’s have a little history lesson and look back at two great Nolan Richardson teams, starting with the 1989-90 season
Arkansas came into the new season ranked number 9 in the country, and there was definitely a reason for it. The previous year’s leading scorer Lenzie Howell was returning for his senior year, the backcourt tandem of Todd Day and Lee Mayberry were back for their sophomore seasons season, and with center Keith Wilson graduating, sophomore center Oliver Miller was expected to slide right into that spot. There was plenty to be excited about on the Hill.
This team did not disappoint, as Todd Day averaged 19.5 points per game along with 5 rebounds and 2 assists. Lee Mayberry was the second leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, but the team’s main distributor and ball-handler, averaging 5.2 assists a night.
Arkansas finished the regular season with a record of 23-4, and won the Southwest Conference championship in a 12-point victory over the Houston Cougars.
The Hogs were a 4-seed in the Big Dance and made the Final Four as Lee Mayberry, Oliver Miller, and Lenzie Howell all made the all-region team.
Unfortunately, the magic ran out as Duke knocked off the Hogs in an 97-83 victory. Luckily, the Razorbacks managed to get revenge just 4 years later.
1994-95 Arkansas Basketball
Fresh off a National Championship run the previous year, Nolan Richardson’s squad was ready to do it again. The Razorbacks returned all their key players, led by Corliss Williamson and sharpshooter Scotty Thurman.
Starting off the season ranked number one, they never lost 2 consecutive games and finished the regular season record 25-5 and a number 5 ranking. This team didn’t quite match up to the success of the previous year’s team, but still won the the SEC regular season title and Corliss Williamson picked up his second consecutive SEC Player of the Year Award.
After losing the the Rick Pitino-coached in the SEC championship, the Hogs were still slated as a 2-seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA tournament.
Arkansas avoided a huge upset in the first round by beating a 15-seed Texas Southern team by a single point, and barely snuck by the 7-seed Syracuse Orange in a 2-point victory in the second round. The Hogs went on to win their next 3 games to advance to the National Championship, but they could not manage to beat any of the teams by more than 7 points.
In the National Championship, the Hogs’ luck ran out, losing to the Bruins 89-78, where Ed O’Bannon put up 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds.
Well.....that was fun. It’s tough reliving these disappointing times, but when the Hogs hopefully do win a Natty, we can look back at these teams and remember how far we have come as Razorback fans.
You can follow Ryan on Twitter at @Brolding_