Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sugar Hasn't Been So Sweet for Hogs in Past

In their long history, the Arkansas Razorbacks have never played Ohio State in a football game.

For that matter, the Razorbacks have seldom played in the Sugar Bowl.

But both will happen on January 4.

I know the game will not be played for a national championship. That will be between Auburn and Oregon nearly a week later.

And it probably isn't the most intriguing of the remaining postseason games. That distinction, I think, has to go to the Rose Bowl, where 11–1 Wisconsin will take on 12–0 TCU.

But I really do believe the Sugar Bowl between the 10–2 Razorbacks and the 11–1 Buckeyes is next on the list.

I just hope the Hogs can win the game. The Sugar Bowl hasn't been a very sweet experience for them in the past.

Neither, for that matter, have the Hogs' encounters with teams from the Big Ten. Ohio State will be the fourth Big Ten team Arkansas has faced in a bowl since the 1998 season, and Arkansas lost to the other three (Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin).

When you factor in the Razorbacks' 1–2 regular–season mark against Big Ten teams, Arkansas' overall record against the conference is 1–5. Not terribly impressive.

John Tamanaha of NBC Sports doesn't think the Hogs will beat Ohio State, either, but he does think they will beat the 2½–point spread.

I guess both teams have a lot to prove.

The Buckeyes, writes the Associated Press, are "tired of hearing how their predecessors have lost all nine bowl meetings with teams from the Southeastern Conference."

That's a skid that dates back to the days of Woody Hayes. Through most of his career at Ohio State, Hayes was bound by Big Ten rules. Only the conference champion could play in a bowl game, the Rose Bowl. Everyone else had to stay home.

Many years, that meant that some pretty decent teams, teams that were capable of competing for a national title, stayed home during the postseason, often because they could not defeat Ohio State.

But conference rules changed and, in his final years with the Buckeyes, Hayes could accept invitations to play in other bowls if Ohio State did not go to Pasadena. And, in January 1978, Hayes' Buckeyes lost the Sugar Bowl to Bear Bryant's Alabama team.

The other eight bowl losses to the SEC came under other coaches. Hayes was forced into retirement late that year when he struck an opposing player in the 1978 Gator Bowl.

It still strikes me as odd to hear Arkansas mentioned as a Southeastern Conference team. All five of their previous Sugar Bowl opponents were from the Southeastern Conference

When I was growing up in Arkansas, a berth in the Cotton Bowl was the reward for winning the Southwest Conference — which is where Arkansas played until the early 1990s — so that clearly was the objective that Frank Broyles and the Razorbacks aimed for when each season began.

The Cotton Bowl game seldom means anything anymore, but old habits die hard, I guess. If the Hogs can't play in a BCS bowl (and this will be the first time since the introduction of the BCS more than a decade ago that Arkansas has been in a BCS bowl), I want them to come to Dallas and play in the Cotton Bowl.

But, although Broyles won nearly 70% of all the games he coached in at Arkansas, he led the Razorbacks to as many Sugar Bowls as he did Cotton Bowls.

In the 1960s, the Hogs played in four Sugar Bowls and lost three.

Arkansas' first appearance in the Sugar Bowl came on New Year's Day 1962 when the Razorbacks faced Alabama.

The Razorbacks were 8–2 and ranked ninth in the nation. Alabama was 10–0 and ranked #1.

It was a low–scoring contest, with Alabama getting all 10 of its points in the first half and Arkansas getting its lone field goal in the third quarter.

A 10–3 final score may seem odd to people who look at the box score of that game from the perspective of 2010, when high–scoring offenses have led the Tigers and Ducks to the brink of college football supremacy and defense almost seems to be an afterthought. But the Razorback defense entered that game third in the nation against the pass and 10th in the nation overall.

And Bryant's defense did a great job of protecting that lead in the final quarter.

Only three of the Hogs' regular–season foes scored more than 10 points against them in 1961, but Bryant claimed his first national title with the 10 points his Crimson Tide scored on Arkansas that day.

The Razorbacks were back in New Orleans the next year, this time to face third–ranked Ole Miss (9–0). The Razorbacks were ranked sixth and entered the game with a 9–1 record.

Another defensive battle ensued, with Ole Miss prevailing, 17–13. The Rebels, coached by the legendary Johnny Vaught, took a 10–3 halftime lead, then held on while Arkansas outscored Ole Miss in the third quarter, 10–7.

The fourth quarter of that year's Sugar Bowl, like the one the year before, was scoreless.

Arkansas did not return to New Orleans for another Sugar Bowl for six years.

On Jan. 1, 1969, the Razorbacks, ranked ninth in the nation and coming off a 9–1 season, met the Georgia Bulldogs, who were fourth in the nation with an 8–0–2 mark.

This time, the Razorbacks won the game, but, once again, it was a defensive battle. Given Arkansas' history in New Orleans, that was probably to be expected. Georgia's defense was #1 in the nation.

But Arkansas' defense, which was much more prone to giving up points than the first two teams Broyles took to the Sugar Bowl, got the better of things. The Georgia defense provided the Bulldogs' only score — a second–quarter safety.

Meanwhile, the Arkansas offense — led by Chuck Dicus' 12 receptions — scored 16 points and won the game, 16–2.

The Razorbacks returned to New Orleans the next year.

The Sugar Bowl was still a prestigious bowl game, but it had the feeling of a consolation bowl for the Razorbacks and their fans. If they had beaten Texas in the "Game of the Century" in December 1969, they would have gone on to play for the national title in the Cotton Bowl.

But they lost that game by a single point and had to face Ole Miss, with Archie Manning at quarterback, instead.

In the aftermath of that classic Arkansas–Texas game, wrote Jim Bailey and Orville Henry in "The Razorbacks," the history of Razorback football, "[a]ll the accolades you could imagine fell on both teams, but nothing could change the fact that Texas was going to the Cotton Bowl to play Notre Dame for the final No. 1 prize, and Arkansas was going to the Sugar Bowl to play Ole Miss for nothing, compared to what they had just lost."

My memory of the game is that Arkansas (9–1 and ranked third after the loss to Texas) made ghastly mistakes — Bill McClard, who was at that time the best kicker ever to play for the Hogs, missed field goals, and the offense failed on a two–point conversion attempt and turned the ball over in some critical situations — while Ole Miss (7–3 and ranked 13th) played essentially turnover–free football.

That tends to win against just about everyone, and it won against Arkansas that day.

And Broyles, who will be 86 the day after Christmas, never coached in a Sugar Bowl again.

But he returned as the Arkansas athletic director when his successor as coach, Lou Holtz, brought the Razorbacks to New Orleans for their first (and, until next month, their only) Sugar Bowl appearance in New Orleans' Superdome.

All four of Broyles' Sugar Bowl appearances had been at Tulane Stadium.

And for the fourth time in five Sugar Bowls, the Razorbacks went down to defeat, this time by the biggest margin yet.

The Hogs came into the game with a 10–1 record (ranked sixth in the AP poll, seventh in the coaches' poll), but they were no match for unbeaten Alabama (ranked second by AP, first by the coaches). Alabama sprinted to a 17–3 halftime lead.

I was a student at the University of Arkansas at the time, and I remember watching the game on my TV in Fayetteville, yelling at the screen, "Throw it to Farrell!" In case you're unaware, Robert Farrell was Arkansas' star receiver.

Alabama's defense kept Farrell bottled up for most of the game (he only caught three passes all day), but Arkansas QB Kevin Scanlon finally found him for a touchdown in the third quarter.

At the time, the score cut the deficit to 17–9, but Alabama scored an insurance touchdown in the fourth quarter and won the game, 24–9.

The Hogs haven't been back to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl in the 30 years since.

Maybe that's enough time for their luck to change. I hope so.

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