Hyping, griping part of conversation about Hogs
I didn’t know what I’d find when my wife suggested (demanded, actually) I clean up the mess around my work area at the house.
But there it was in a bottom desk drawer, stacked between high school basketball rosters from 2014 and a handful of buy-one-get-one coupons for breakfast and lunch. It was evidence as to why there is a lack of enthusiasm among Arkansas fans regarding the approaching football season.
The most obvious reason for skepticism is the way the season ended last year, when Arkansas blew leads and lost to Missouri and Virginia Tech. But there’s more to the problem, and I found examples of it in five football preview sections published by this newspaper from 2012 to 2016.
Let’s examine each briefly, starting with the 2012 edition, which had quarterback Tyler Wilson and offensive coordinator Paul Petrino on the cover with the headline “Gentlemen, start your engines.”
Before anyone blames this newspaper for overhyping the Hogs, please remember reporters are no longer allowed to attend practices during the season and gauge progress for themselves. They rely on coaches and players for information. Remember, too, it was Bret Bielema who said he wanted to give Arkansas something it’s never had in football, an SEC championship.
“I didn’t come here to play Alabama,” Bielema said in 2013. “I came here to beat Alabama.”
Bielema begins his fifth year at Arkansas with a 25-26 record, including a 10-22 mark in the SEC and no wins against Alabama.
2012 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
At least we were smart enough not to put John L. Smith on the cover after he replaced Bobby Petrino, who was fired.
“I see zero impact,” former running back Knile Davis said before the season about Petrino’s absence.
“Ka-nile” as John L. jokingly called him, was wrong about losing Petrino. Arkansas plummeted after being ranked as high as No. 10, and Smith was replaced after the Razorbacks fell to 4-8 and 2-6 in the SEC.
2013 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
Bielema graced the cover with the headline “A new day” after being hired from Wisconsin.
“With all due respect, and I mean it, I didn’t come here to be great in three years,” Bielema said while suggesting a quick turnaround from the 2012 season.
It was a new day for sure, but the results were pretty much the same when Arkansas went 3-9 and 0-8 in the SEC. Arkansas ended the season on a nine-game losing streak after falling 28-24 at Rutgers on a late touchdown pass.
2014 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
This issue featured a cartoon on the cover with the Razorbacks at the end of a rope and a subhead that read “Steep climb, rugged surroundings slow Arkansas’ ascent up SEC Mountain.”
Arkansas did, indeed, begin an ascent up the mountain with a 7-6 record that was capped by a 31-7 victory over Texas in the Texas Bowl. Even old-timers clicked their heels after Arkansas embarrassed its former rival from the Southwest Conference.
“If [our players] continue to have the growth they did this year, they’re going to be able to do some special things,” Bielema said after the win over the Longhorns.
2015 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
That sense of optimism continued with a 2015 cover that showed a picture of Bielema and a “Bret, the builder” headline.
Arkansas overcame an early loss to Toledo to finish 8-5 with a 4523 victory over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl in Memphis.
“At Arkansas, we’re not built very sexy,” Bielema said. “We need a lot of time in the bathroom to get ready and come out and look great. But when we do, we’ll stop time, and get to where we want to be.”
2016 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
There was nothing sexy or inspiring about last year, when Arkansas posted another 7-6 record with losses to Missouri and Virginia Tech to end the season. Ironically, the 2016 cover featured defensive linemen with the headline “First Line of Defense” for a unit that allowed 31 points per game and was ranked 76th in total defense.
Momentum from the 8-5 season was lost and some Arkansas fans, though still a minority, began to bail on Bielema.
2017 FOOTBALL PREVIEW
There’s a rumor country singer Toby Keith will appear on the cover later this month wearing a hog hat and pig nose under the headline from his song “A little less talk and a lot more action.”
But it probably won’t happen, considering I started the rumor.
All coaches say things to generate excitement and to help sell tickets. But eventually, bold talk meets reality and pessimism sets in when expectations, even modest ones, are not met.
Arkansas will regain lost support if the Razorbacks win two of three early games against TCU, Texas A&M and South Carolina. If not, more coaches could be cleaning out their drawers in December.