Sunday, September 23, 2012

It's All Over Now

It's been a tough year at my alma mater.

And hopes had been so high when the year began, too.

The final whistle in Arkansas' Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State had barely sounded before the talk began that Arkansas would compete for a national title in 2012.

And that talk continued, even after coach Bobby Petrino was involved in a motorcycle accident, and it was revealed that he had been riding around with a young woman who was half his age (and not his wife).

The Razorbacks were loaded, they said. They were ready to compete with Alabama and LSU for the SEC's Western Division title. It didn't matter who was coaching them.

Good thing, too, because Petrino was fired in April. That's a little late for a new coach to recruit players for the coming season.

But, after a less–than–impressive opening win against Jacksonville State, Arkansas lost a stunner to Louisiana–Monroe in overtime, was blown to bits by top–ranked Alabama and then was defeated by unbeaten Rutgers last night.

Since Arkansas joined the SEC, it hasn't been unusual for the Razorbacks to get off to a 1–3 start. That may be hard for most college football fans to believe, given Arkansas' recent success.

The Razorbacks last began a season 1–3 in 2005. Like this year, one of those losses came to a very good Alabama team, and another came in a game with Southern Cal, which wound up playing Texas for the national title in the Rose Bowl.

But, unlike this season, Arkansas beat Louisiana–Monroe. The Hogs finished 4–7 that year.

In 1996, Arkansas began the season with a 1–3 mark. Florida and Alabama, both en route to big seasons, contributed to Arkansas' early defeats, as did a modest SMU team.

Again, though, Arkansas beat Louisiana–Monroe and finished the season 4–7.

The Hogs also started the 1994 season with a 1–3 mark. They never beat a team that would end the season with a winning record, and, once again, Arkansas was 4–7.

In 1992, Arkansas' first year of SEC play, the Hogs started 1–3. The signs were there from the start. Under Jack Crowe as coach, Arkansas lost to the Citadel on Labor Day weekend, and Crowe was fired the following day.

Although they did manage to beat a pretty good Tennessee team, the Hogs finished 3–7–1 that season.

Most of the time, Arkansas hasn't overcome a 1–3 start. But once, though, Arkansas started a season 1–3 and rallied to post a winning record and earn a bowl bid.

In 2001, Arkansas opened with a 1–3 record, and all three losses were to conference rivals, but the Hogs bounced back and finished the season 7–4 before losing to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl.

When I was growing up in Arkansas — and the Hogs were competing in the now defunct Southwest Conference — 1–3 starts just never happened. Never.

Not at Arkansas. Maybe at Baylor. Or TCU. Or Rice. But never at Arkansas.

After the first month of the season, the Razorbacks were always still in the bowl conversation. Things might get worse as the season went on, or things might get better. But you could never count them out after just four games.

This year, though, I think you can.

I hope I'm wrong. But I had my doubts about the defense as I watched the Jacksonville State game, and a shaky defense will have trouble against just about everyone in the SEC.

I don't know if John L. Smith, the guy who was picked to replace Petrino, will still be coach in the off–season. But whoever the coach is has to make defense his top priority.

Petrino left the Hogs well supplied with offensive weapons, but the defensive cupboard is a bit bare and can't be depended upon when those offensive weapons misfire.

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