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The craziest year in Razorback history 

In prior editions of Pearls, I have freely disclosed being a bit of a "newbie", a child of the 1980s who nonetheless has devoted generous portions of his life to studying the overall history of Arkansas Razorback athletics. Therefore, at the risk of offending those whose memories may be longer than my own, I still think I'm qualified to say that 2012 was the most oddball, bass-ackwards mess of a year for that institution since the leather helmet/peach basket era.

How else do you possibly explain a 12-month period that more or less began with one of the football program's happier recent moments, an efficient if unspectacular Cotton Bowl victory over Kansas State that left the Hogs with their first 11-win season and Top 5 finish in 34 years, and essentially ended with a completely different head coach assembling an entirely new support staff?

Things got surreal. Often. In the spring, Bobby Petrino flipped a bike and with it, his own legacy and the program's fortune. The hiring of John L. Smith as a tourniquet conclusively proved that giving an aging coach a short-term chance is ill-advised, particularly when he has personal woes that are nakedly public and incredibly crippling. If you thought matters couldn't get worse after the Hogs succumbed to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock on Sept. 8, you were dealt grim reminders throughout the next ten weeks that they actually could. A proud team with lofty aims just fell apart, seemingly in the span of a couple of quarters but in retrospect, the decline was probably more predictable than we care to admit.

Along came Bret Bielema from Wisconsin after an officially 10-day search that earnestly was months in the making. It was a dramatic and radical shift in ideology, one that many questioned, but Bielema himself diffused a lot of doubt with a savvy press conference and several subsequent hires that demonstrated a sincere commitment to branding the football program as a bold contender. Recruiting concerns are ever pervasive but at the tail end of 2012, Bielema is doing furious work securing transfers and other prospective signees.

On the hardcourt, the women's program finally regained some footing, and Tom Collen bounced off a possible hot seat by steering his team into the NCAA tournament. Mike Anderson didn't have the same luck in his first year at the helm of the men's team: the Hogs fizzled in the spring and had to deal with yet another postseason-free March. But there are signs of progress, and Anderson still has the inherent feel of being the proper fit.

Summer doldrums? Hardly. Arkansas had another choppy trip through the conference schedule on the diamond. Then, as has been typical in the Van Horn era, the team was rejuvenated when it was ushered into the tournament. The Hogs rode a miraculous bounce-back in the Waco Super Regional to Omaha, put themselves in the driver's seat for the final, then watched helplessly as a known umpiring liability flushed them out against two-time champion South Carolina.

As with so many Razorback experiences, that was both glorious and torturous. It's a mantra we repeat often, to the point of likely irritating those who embrace other universities, but the Hogs are such a living dichotomy that it's become a running joke. Only here could such a beloved coach self-implode so spectacularly, or could his understudy fail in such a manner, or could a high-level baseball program surge one weekend and fizzle the next.

Hope is alive, though, in spite of it all. Let's keep it sustained for as long as we can in 2013.

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Speaking of...

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    January 5, 2017
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    December 1, 2016
    On Thanksgiving night, Bret Bielema could settle into his bed knowing that after a rather miserable 2013 inauguration, he had slipped comfortably into his job and the results were bearing some small but edible fruits for this ravenous fan base. He was only 25-24, but 18-10 with two bowl wins over his last 28 contests, a smattering of takedowns of ranked teams, and a stabilized roster that showed off the staff's endeavors to enlist and develop a caliber of player that would lead to better days ahead in a rugged conference. /more/
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    November 17, 2016
    Foolish consistency, per Emerson, is the hobgoblin of little minds. What commentary he would've offered about the Arkansas Razorbacks' 10 weeks of wild inconsistency is for debate, but he might've been more profane than pithy if he had to sit through this madness. /more/
  • After Auburn

    October 27, 2016
    I'm not one for hyperbole, but the mere mention of "56-3" changes things. /more/
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    October 20, 2016
    Picture Bret Bielema pole-vaulting for a minute. Then, once the laughter subsides, hear me out with this absurd analogy. /more/
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    October 11, 2016
    The University of Arkansas faculty member who was arrested after cursing Hog football coach Bret Bielema following the Razorbacks' loss has apologized for his actions. /more/
  • On to Alabama

    October 6, 2016
    With War Memorial Stadium's mystique and alleged efficacy dying by the year, it was at least comforting to watch Arkansas finally devour a purported cupcake there. Bret Bielema boosted his Little Rock record to 2-3, with those two wins coming against Football Championship Subdivision schools, after the Hogs pummeled Alcorn State 52-10 on Saturday. /more/
  • Hogs blew it

    September 29, 2016
    Arkansas needed to beat Texas A&M. That's it. Sometimes perfunctory is poetry. /more/
  • 2-0

    September 15, 2016
    If you tuned in to ESPN Saturday night or settled into your seats at Fort Worth's compact but energetic Amon Carter Stadium, you undoubtedly felt like the impending Arkansas-TCU tilt was going to be compelling, if for no other reason because it pitted a burgeoning Big 12 power against a rising SEC program, with both having that Southwest Conference badging that went dormant a quarter-century ago. /more/
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