Any way you look a it, it’s not been the most pleasant eight months for Arkansas Razorbacks fans.
Now, I’ll agree it is picking nits to grumble about a baseball season that includes 48 victories and ends in the College World Series finale, but Dave Van Horn’s Razorbacks were oh so close to capturing Arkansas’ first baseball national title.
Just a misplayed foul ball away.
Yes, there was more left to that game, and the Hogs had the chance to win it the following night, too, well sorta. In the final game, freshman Oregon State pitcher Kevin Abel threw a game for the ages to record a two-hit, shutout for a 5-0 victory over the Hogs.
It’s arguably the finest pitching performance in College World Series Finals history, and the Razorbacks just happened to be on the wrong end of it.
That loss stung. No doubt it still sticks in Van Horn’s craw, but the sorrows for Razorback fans were just beginning.
Sports Illustrated predicts six-win season for Razorback football
Everyone knew it wasn’t going to be an easy season for first-year football coach Chad Morris. There wasn’t enough talent on hand or he would have still been coaching at SMU, and what talent the Razorbacks had at quarterback and receiver did not fit his system.
The talking points of the summer was that Morris and his coaching staff would adjust to make the most of what the Razorbacks had on hand, but embarrassing losses to Colorado State and Texas State on the second and third weekends of the season signaled that neither the players nor the coaches were prepared for what was ahead of them.
From mid September through early November there was some improvement, but when all was said and done, the Hogs did not win an SEC game and finished with a dismal 2-12 record. It was the worst season in the modern age of Razorback football, with only 1990’s 3-8 record rivaling it.
The Razorbacks lost 52-6 to Mississippi State on Nov. 17 and 38-0 to Missouri on Nov. 23. The year before, Bret Bielema was fired when the Hogs lost 28-21 to Mississippi State and 48-45 to Missouri the year before.
Bielema knew his head was on the chopping block when the man who hired him, former Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long, was fired prior to the Mississippi State game, and yet he was still able to rally his troops for two respectable performances.
Morris couldn’t do the same. The football Hogs had nothing left in the tank after absorbing a Nov. 10 whipping from LSU, although the Razorbacks did keep the score close at 24-17.
Morris and his first Razorback team never got on the same page, but he and his staff did put together perhaps the most amazing recruiting class in the country, recruiting a top 25 class on a 2-10 record. Fans can only hope that such a recruiting effort will pay dividends down the line for the Razorbacks and Morris.
Sports Illustrated has already predicted a six-win season and a bowl trip for the Razorbacks this season. After the last two years, that sounds pretty good to me at the moment.
Promising early start raised expectations for hoop Hogs
Razorback basketball hasn’t been as bad as football season. Mike Anderson’s Hogs are 14-11 overall but two games below .500 in the SEC at 5-7. However, fans expect more from the Razorbacks and more from Anderson, who is in his eighth season with the Hogs.
This squad was picked to finish 10th in the SEC, which is considered a very good league this year, but a promising early start raised expectations among Arkansas fans in November who were grasping for solace anywhere they could find it as the football season got worse and worse.
Anderson’s team lacks experience and depth, and that was never more apparent than last Saturday night when a good Mississippi State team led by a navy group of athletic guards and an able group of big man carved the Hogs up in the second half with a 23-1 run.
Arkansas appeared helpless, unable to score on offense and unable to defend at the other end. As Anderson noted, it looked like type of runs the Razorbacks had in their hey days of the 1990s before any of his players were born.
Going into that game, the Hogs and Bulldogs were tied with 5-6 conference records, but after the game, it was clear the Razorbacks — led by sophomore Mason Jones, who tied his career best with 30 points — aren’t playing nearly as well as Mississippi State, which won 77-67. Not even close.
Though the challenge is different at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Auburn, caging the Tigers will not be any easier. Auburn (17-8, 6-6 SEC) enjoys playing at Arkansas’ pace and specializes in spreading the floor and canning as many three-pointers as possible. The fact that Arkansas has struggled with ball handling and turnovers so much is truly scary since turning teams over is a mission for Bruce Pearl’s Tigers.
With five conference games left to play following the Auburn game, the Hogs, on a three-game losing streak as they head down to Auburn, are playing more for a bid to the NIT than to the NCAA Tournament.
Things can change, and hopefully they will for a squad that has performed well at times, but has struggled with consistency on both ends of the court.
Certainly some fans are grumbling, but among Hog fans those grumbles convert to cheers very quickly when their teams give them something to shout about.
It’s hard to say what the Hogs need to do to get an NIT bid. The more regular-season conference champions that win their conference tournaments in the non-Power 5 leagues the better for the Razorbacks. All regular-season champions who fail to earn a NCAA Tournament bid by losing their conference tournament are guaranteed a spot in the NIT.
Of course, it would be better if the Razorbacks just won four of these last six games and picked up two or three wins in the SEC Tournament, held March 13-17 at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, and made the Big Dance.
However, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards for a team that seems to be playing worse now than at the beginning of January.
Though it feels like anything but baseball season in Northwest Arkansas, which is under threat of a winter weather advisory, Van Horn’s baseball team should be primed for another outstanding season, if not another trip to the College World Series.
Even though the last eight months haven’t been the best for Razorbacks fans, I personally am thankful for the diversion college athletics offers even when the outcome isn’t what I wanted.
The tough seasons and years only makes the good ones that much sweeter.