Can the Arkansas Razorbacks Sustain a Nationally Prominent Football Program?
With back to back BCS worthy 10 win seasons, the Arkansas Razorback football program has made an ecstatic fan base extremely proud. Begging the question: does anyone outside of the Natural State believe the program can consistently remain in the top ten?
Naysayers may point to the recent domination of the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers in the western division of the SEC as a huge roadblock. Is there room for a third program to push to the forefront of national prominence?
In the 1990's, the Florida State Seminoles set the bar for modern excellence, running off a string of 14 straight top five finishes. Each year they faced a mighty Miami Hurricanes program along with the Fun 'n' Gun teams of the Ol' Ball Coach Steve Spurrier at Florida. The Seminoles did not win every matchup with those other great teams, but the respect for all three programs kept the Seminoles highly ranked.
Can the Arkansas Razorbacks emulate the success of the Seminoles and garner the attention that Hog fans have long craved?
Here are four reasons why they should remain more than competitive on the national stage.
Reason Number 1 That the Hogs Will Remain a Top Program : Bobby Petrino
There are significant differences between the Houston Nutt era at Arkansas and the current program run by Head Coach Bobby Petrino.
Fans often complained that Houston Nutt's teams seemed at times to be unprepared in big games. The perception was that the Nutt-led Razorbacks depended too much on emotional half-time speeches and trick plays. Fans complained on statewide radio call-in shows that the three yards and a cloud of dust playbook was something straight out of the 1970's.
It is not often that you have a Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, and Peyton Hillis, all wearing cardinal and white at the same time. For three years, the faithful in the stands were treated to big plays that routinely made the highlights on Sportscenter. But for most of Nutt's tenure, it seemed that the dominant defenses led by brilliant coordinators in the SEC often had the Razorback gameplan figured out before they got off of the bus.
The 2005 Razorbacks trudged off of the field in Los Angeles after a humiliating 70 - 17 loss at the hands of USC knowing they would get a shot at redemption the following year in Fayetteville. To the dismay of Arkansas fans, the Trojans handed the Houston Nutt-led Hogs another tough loss to swallow. This time it was 50 - 14. While the Tim Brando's of the world were praising Houston Nutt's ability to fire up his troops and win games they were supposed to lose, (mainly against the Texas Longhorns), Razorback fans had grown weary of being "a fly in the ointment" team.
Along came Bobby Petrino and his no-nonsense, businesslike approach.
Fans were excited to see the Petrino brand of offense that relies on moving the ball down the field with the pass while gouging out chunks of real estate on the ground as well. Make no mistake, Petrino is not "a player's coach" who coddles his stars. He is an in your face perfectionist who demands the best that his players can give him on each and every play. Razorback fans are glad to again see the concepts of half time adjustments and great special teams play that had been missing since the days that Lou Holtz wore his red checkered pants on the sidelines.
Another huge source of hope for Hog fans is the fact that the Bobby Petrino-led coaching staff believes that they can pull in recruits from any state in the Union and have demonstrated as such by pursuing prospects in Arizona, Michigan, Florida, and New Jersey.
Bobby Petrino has made it clear that he appreciates the beauty of Arkansas and the rabid fan support that the Razorback program enjoys. Don't bet on him leaving for greener pastures any time soon.
Reason Number 2 That the Hogs Will Remain a Top Program: The Quarterback
In Bobby Petrino's system, the quarterback has to be tougher than nails.
Petrino routinely dresses the quarterback down on the sidelines, but Petrino quarterbacks will also have ample opportunity to make up for mistakes because they will drop back to pass around 40 times a game.
When Petrino arrived at Arkansas, Michigan transfer Ryan Mallett dropped into his lap. Mallett went on to break most of the school's passing records while zipping balls all over the field to a variety of receivers.
That same year, Petrino heard of a highly regarded quarterback out of Greenwood, Arkansas that was all set to play his college football at Tulsa. On the very last day of recruiting, Petrino was able to convince Tyler Wilson to join the Razorbacks. Wilson has taken over nicely after Mallett's tenure concluded with a BCS Sugar Bowl loss to the Ohio State Buckeyes.
Wilson led the Hogs to a Number 3 ranking in the BCS before a lopsided loss to LSU dashed the team's hopes of a BCS Championship game appearance. Wilson threw for over 3,600 yards and even more is expected of him in his senior year.
Petrino remained focused on the future and recruited the best quarterback in the state of Arkansas, Brandon Allen, who redshirted his freshman year in 2011.
Backup quarterback Brandon Mitchell also gives Petrino a reliable replacement should Tyler Wilson fall at sometime during the upcoming season.
A steady hand and a sturdy chin is needed when playing under center for the Hogs and you can't have too many talented trigger men on campus. In this quarterback friendly offense, Bobby Petrino should not have too much trouble finding guys who want to be coached by an NFL caliber head coach in an NFL-style system. As long as Petrino wears the headsets on the Arkansas sidelines, the Razorbacks should have an advantage in the arms race.
Reason Number 3 That the Hogs Will Remain a Top Program: The Fans
If you travel around the state of Arkansas, it does not take long to understand that Razorback fans are a fanatical bunch.
There is no professional sports team in the state and you are likely to see a hog's snout anywhere.
Hog fans are proud of a football legacy that includes coaches like Frank Broyles, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Butch Davis, Ken Hatfield, and Little Rock Central alum and former Arkansas quarterback Houston Nutt. Nostalgia aside, the Razorback faithful are enjoying the present success and national recognition that many have felt was long deserved but rarely extended. A national title would drive the current hysteria to levels that haven't been seen since the 1964 team finished number one.
There is no doubt that the Pig fans will open their wallets wide to finance the dominance they are so hungry for.
Reason Number 4 That the Hogs Will Remain a Top Program: Commitment to Winning
The University of Arkansas' athletic department is headed by a new kind of leader in Jeff Long. Long has aggressively put his stamp on the University of Arkansas by luring Bobby Petrino away from the pro game to ignite and unite a gloomy and divided Razorback fan base.
The University announced plans last fall for a new 82,000 sq. ft. football center housing locker rooms, coaches' offices, new training rooms, new team meeting rooms, and a football museum at a revised cost of 40.31 million dollars.
There is a renewed optimism that seems to be magically flowing from the campus in Fayetteville to the rest of Hog Nation. Money follows success and many of the big donors are lining up to support the revival.