Spirits in Razorback Nation hadn’t been higher in decades.
The football Hogs had just completed an 11-2 season that ended jubilantly with a 26-13 victory over Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl and a No. 6 finish in the final Bowl Championship Series rankings.
A host of standout players will be back for the 2012 season, including Heisman Trophy candidate Tyler Wilson at quarterback. The already potent offense also will regain the swift legs of talented running back Knile Davis, who had missed the 2011 season with a broken ankle.
The phrase “national championship” had even slipped from the lips of more than a few folks, including former coach Bobby Petrino.
Petrino was fired with cause on April 11, following an investigation that revealed a breach of integrity that was written into his contract. The announcement by UA Athletic Director Jeff Long set off a firestorm among fans and nearly two weeks of frenetic speculation over who would replace him. It ended April 23 with former Petrino assistant John L. Smith agreeing to a one-year contract.
Such offseason theatrics aren’t what any team wants, but faithful fans — and Smith — note that the only departure has been Petrino.
“While at Arkansas, we worked to make the Razorbacks a top-five team and much of the credit for that goes to the student-athletes,” Smith said. Smith, 63, left the University of Arkansas in December for Weber State after three years on Petrino’s staff, but opted to return before coaching a single game at his alma mater.
The question weighing heaviest on the minds of the Razorback faithful is how much Petrino’s play-calling ability will be missed. The hope is that the “softer” early part of the schedule will allow Smith and Paul Petrino — the brother of the former head coach remains the offensive coordinator — to work out kinks.
Arkansas opens Sept. 1 with Jacksonville State at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, then meets Louisiana-Monroe a week later at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock, considered the Hogs’ second home.
Any chance of a national title for Arkansas hinges on its success within the brutal West division of the Southeastern Conference, and the third date of the season on Sept. 21 is at home with defending national champion Alabama. Alabama made it six national titles in a row for the SEC in January with a 21-0 victory over fellow SEC West member LSU.
A Nov. 23 clash with LSU will end the regular season for the UA and may be pivotal for national title plans if the Hogs can beat Alabama for the first time since 2006 and avoid any stumbles over their next eight outings.
Ticket information for all UA sporting events is available by calling (800) 982-4647 or online at arkansasrazorbacks.com.
Longtime former assistant coach Mike Anderson returned to Arkansas as head basketball coach last year with one promise — to make things exciting. He and the Hogs certainly delivered.
The Razorbacks won all of their 12 nonconference home games, besting those opponents by an average of 18 points. They won a school-record 17 home games, but were able to win just one road game all season, finishing 18-14 overall and 6-10 in SEC play.
The season ended in the first round of the conference tournament, when the Hogs were bounced 70-54 by LSU.
The Razorbacks stand to improve in 2012-13 with a year under Anderson behind them and the roster mostly intact. Sophomore guard B.J. Young is considered among the most talented players in the SEC, and Arkansas hopes to improve its inside strength with the return of senior forward Marshawn Powell. Powell was a preseason all-SEC pick last year before suffering a season-ending knee injury in practice before the third game.
Home games are played at Bud Walton Arena on the UA campus in Fayetteville. The 2012-13 schedule is not yet set, but will appear in Northwest Arkansas Newspapers as soon as it is finalized, and also online at nwaonline.com and wholehogsports.com.
Although a national crown is not yet in the trophy case, the baseball Razorbacks continue to provide reasons to save room for one.
Arkansas played deep into the 2012 season, reaching the semifinals of the College World Series in Omaha before bowing out to two-time defending champion South Carolina, which was edged by Arizona for the crown.
Ace pitcher D.J. Baxendale has departed for a pro career along with third baseman Matt Reynolds. Two other starting infielders, Tim Carver and Bo Bigham, graduated. But coach Dave Van Horn’s roster remains loaded with talented young players who promise to keep the winning tradition alive.
UA boasts a national gem in Baum Stadium, which seats more than 10,700 fans and consistently attracts clamorous crowds while providing a comfortable atmosphere for fans.
College baseball season generally begins in mid-February, with the SEC Tournament following the regular season in May. NCAA postseason play is held in June.
Other UA Sports
Other varsity UA sports include track and field and cross-country, in which the Razorbacks have won an unprecedented 40 NCAA national championships, including 12 straight NCAA indoor titles from 1984 to 1995.
That success played a role in the construction of top-shelf facilities, including the Randal Tyson Track Center for indoor competition and John McDonnell Field, named for the Hogs’ legendary former head coach.
UA also fields teams in women’s basketball, golf (men and women), gymnastics, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis (men and women) and volleyball.
More information is available online at arkansasrazorbacks.com or wholehogsports.com.