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.

Speaking of...

  • Close ones hurt more

    October 16, 2014
    As much as anything else, retrospective dissection is the gospel of college football fandom; and in SEC country, if you aren't combining spirits and profanity to motivate your second-guessing in the aftermath of a tight one, by God, buddy, you're doing it wrong. /more/
  • So many chances for Razorbacks

    October 9, 2014
    Here was Arkansas's golden opportunity to convince America how fast and how furious it has worked to launch itself from doormat. /more/
  • Ole Miss gave Arkansas blueprint to beat Alabama

    October 9, 2014
    Even as Arkansas sojourned over the weekend, the free world of SEC football spun almost wildly off its axis and triggered future storylines for the Hogs as they embark on the remainder of a schedule that was already seen as grueling. /more/
  • Old-fashioned Razorbacks in the brave new SEC world

    September 27, 2014
    Here's a little pre-game reading. Over at ESPN's Grantland, Matt Hinton took a look at Bret Bielema's Razorbacks and their old-fashioned grit-and-grind offense, an outlier in the increasingly spread-happy Southeastern Conference. /more/
  • Hogs on a roll after decisive wins against Texas Tech, NIU

    September 25, 2014
    If Bret Bielema was terribly dejected by his Arkansas team's second-half showing against Auburn in the 2014 season opener, the ensuing three weeks of football prowess have likely done much to change his disposition. /more/
  • A turn in the right direction for football Razorbacks

    September 18, 2014
    With a yearlong winning drought now a bygone thing, Arkansas had to take a quick "next step" back toward respectability. /more/
  • Victory at Texas Tech crucial

    September 11, 2014
    For God's sake, Hog Fans, just enjoy it! So much social media grumbling was afoot after Arkansas obliterated Nicholls State, 73-7, on Saturday to finally kill off the damnable 10-game skid the program had been mired in. "Congrats on beating a JV team!" "Who scheduled this?" "If this is how we have to win, it's not worth it." "How did I get this drunk before halftime?" /more/
  • Hogs break down at Auburn

    September 4, 2014
    When Auburn clanked a field goal attempt off the upright going into halftime, Bret Bielema's fist plunged skyward and Arkansas headed to halftime all square at 21. The game plan was working. Gashed early, the defense was settling in to make some stops here and there, and the offensive machine was humming. /more/
  • Is Bret Bielema worth $3.2 million a year?

    September 2, 2014
    The New York Times says a Vanderbilt study concludes that football coaches, including the Hogs' Bret Bielema, are worth their big paychecks because of the value they bring to universities. /more/
  • A path for victory for the Hogs versus Auburn

    August 28, 2014
    If Arkansas wants to convince a state and country full of doubters that it's pecking slowly back from beneath the weight of the rest of the SEC, a rare gift avails itself right at the start: a meaningful opener in late August, on the road, against a fashionable and traditional darling that just happens to have been in the Hogs' position merely a year ago. /more/
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  • Close ones hurt more

    As much as anything else, retrospective dissection is the gospel of college football fandom; and in SEC country, if you aren't combining spirits and profanity to motivate your second-guessing in the aftermath of a tight one, by God, buddy, you're doing it wrong.
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