Hyp­ing, grip­ing part of con­ver­sa­tion about Hogs

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - THE SECOND PAGE - RICK FIRES Rick Fires can be reached at rfires@nwadg.com or on Twit­ter @NWARick.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.

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