I grew up in a time where Arkansas Football was in the transitional stage of being competitive each season in football. Then head coach Houston Nutt gave fans optimism and hope while establishing the Razorbacks as players in the SEC.
The conference was nowhere near as competitive in the 1990s and early 2000s as it is today. But, it sure did get stronger by the end of Nutt’s tenure. Plus, he won an outright SEC Western division title in 2006 with a 7-1 record. His Hogs were a muffed punt away from likely pulling off its first SEC Championship.
Of course that stretch of ball between 2006-2011 was the ultimate Razorback SEC experience since joining the conference. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that being the expectation.
Players larger than life
When thinking of days gone by in Razorback Football plenty of players come to mind.
Clint Stoerner, Anthony Lucas, Tony Bua, Matt Jones, Darren McFadden, Jeb Huckeba, Shawn Andrews, Jason Peters, Batman Carroll, Jamaal Anderson, Chris Houston…. The list goes on and on.
As a kid, these guys were the heroes during that generation. They established my fandom through middle and high school.
Then, once I hit college age, Ryan Mallett, the Warren three and Joe Adams time on The Hill was euphoric. Arkansas was contending for SEC and national championships. The Razorbacks were on the map but it was soon done and gone.
When looking at the numbers from 1998-2011 it should back up the claim of Arkansas being better than what they’ve shown the actual past decade.
Arkansas in the SEC from 1998-2011
1998: 9-3 (6-2)
1999: 8-4 (4-4)
2000: 7-5 (4-4)
2001: 7-5 (4-4)
2002: 9-5 (5-3)
2003: 9-4 (4-4)
2004: 5-6 (3-5)
2005: 4-7 (2-6)
2006: 10-3 (7-1)
2007: 8-5 (4-4)
2008: 5-7 (2-6)
2009: 8-5 (3-5)
2010: 10-3 (6-2)
2011: 11-2 (6-2)
OVERALL: 110-64 (61-52 SEC)
Seven 9+ win seasons in 14 seasons, 3 losing seasons, 3 10+ win seasons, 1 BCS bowl appearance, 4 bowl wins
Initial thoughts regarding the success shows fans around the country that often ask why Hog fans expect so much in the SEC, this is why. Arkansas fans just want to see their team be competitive again and winning at a higher level. There is absolutely nothing wrong with higher expectations. So, when folks tell you to settle for mediocrity (5-7 wins per season) laugh in their face.
Arkansas Football since 2012
2012: 4-8 (2-6)
2013: 3-7 (0-8)
2014: 7-6 (2-6) Texas Bowl W
2015: 8-5 (5-3) Liberty Bowl W
2016: 7-6 (3-5) Belk Bowl L
2017: 4-8 (1-7)
2018: 2-10 (0-8)
2019: 2-10 (0-8)
2020: 3-7 Texas Bowl (TCU forfeit)
2021: 9-4 (4-4) Outback Bowl W
2022: 7-6 (3-5) Liberty Bowl W
Throughout the final years of my college career things that were once incredible soured quickly with Jeff Long overthinking his job. No, his firing of Bobby Petrino is justified but things soon spiraled out of control starting with poor John L. Smith.
This shouldn’t be the standard or the expectation at Arkansas. Never should the athletic department or coaching staff (I know they don’t) settle for this. Hog fans shouldn’t either.
There’s no good reason why Arkansas should grow accustomed to 6-6 as the ceiling for any season. Sure, there will be an ‘occasional’ rebuilding season with “hope” of things to come. A .500 record should always be the floor.
Many grew sick of the “we’re close” phrase from Bret Bielema during the first of many losses at the beginning of his tenure. Close loss after close loss showed that promise was there. When would they get it done?
The moment they got it done they would lose to Toledo and Texas Tech in back to back weeks and seem to fall back a step.
Since 2012, Arkansas fans have endured quite a few what-if’s in all major sports. Football takes the cake. That 2015 season was supposed to be the breakout year and if anyone else were the head coach of the Razorbacks they likely would’ve won 10-11 games.
Premium on winning
I’m under the impression that they’ll remain at this level from now on thanks to the commitment by Hunter Yurachek and the current coaching staff.
Winning at the rate they did from 1998-2011 shouldn’t be an exception but the expectation. That 14 year sample size was no fluke. The actual flukes are the hires the higher up’s thought would be best for Arkansas by hiring the likes of Chad Morris; who recruited well but never won over his team.
Is Sam Pittman the man for the job? So far, he’s 19-17 overall with more wins in his first three seasons than the 2 coaches prior to him. The head hog has recruited his tail off and knew he would need to after returning to a Fayetteville from the lap of luxury in Athens, (GA.).
If you talk to anyone around the athletic department right now there is a culture based on winning and doing it the right way. Both ways can be done and the football program is on the brink of being special.
Pittman is not on a hot seat nor should he unless he loses grasp of the program. The Oklahoma native is genuine, builds intentional relationships with folks and has the goal of making the state proud of their flagship university. He came along at the perfect time and came to the perfect place to be successful. The Arkansas Razorbacks aren’t back but they’re certainly on the way back up.