Arkansas' Latest Edition Misses Best Dozen

LITTLE ROCK — Despite a 10-game winning streak, I cannot find a place for these Razorbacks on the list of Best Dozen Arkansas teams.

Even if Arkansas had completed enough passes to beat Wisconsin in Orlando, 11-3 would not have cracked the Top 10.

Trying to rank Arkansas teams since Frank Broyles arrived in 1958 is arbitrary and rigid rules eliminate deserving teams. For instance, if only conference champions are considered, the 1969 team is gone and so is Lou Holtz's 11-1 team that finished third in the country.

Undisputed champions of the Western Division of the Southeastern Conference, the latest Razorbacks are second-best of the Houston Nutt reign, behind his 1998 team.

Winning 10 is a tribute to superb running backs, a veteran offensive line, and a hang-tough defense. Wisconsin running back P.J. Hill was so stifled that quarterback John Stocco threw a half-dozen passes from inside his 20 despite leading by 10.

But winning 10 is not the wow of a few years ago. With a 12-game season, a conference championship game for many and a bowl game for all, there is a need to redefine a great record.

Boise State was 13-0 and the Florida-Ohio State winner will notch No. 13 in the national title game. Wisconsin was 12-1 and the Orange Bowl winner will have 12 victories. The Louisville-Wake Forest loser will be on 11 along with TCU, Brigham Young, Hawaii, Rutgers, Auburn, West Virginia, USC, Oklahoma, Michigan and the Sugar Bowl winner. More than half had only 13 games.

All told, more than two dozen teams won 10 or more. Still, this Razorback team deserves plaudits for a 7-1 record in the Southeastern Conference. The fact that Arkansas lost to three teams in BCS bowl games and to once-beaten Wisconsin counts for something. And, the Razorbacks beat two teams that were ranked in The AP top 15 at the time.

Although impossible to compare the Razorbacks from decade to decade, particularly in light of the SWC vs. SEC, it is valid to assess how a particular team ranked with others of that day. Almost every great Arkansas team had one thing in common — an all-conference quarterback.

During the season, neither Casey Dick nor Mitch Mustain was mentioned in the same breath with JaMarcus Russell of LSU, Chris Leak of Florida, Andre Woodson of Kentucky, or Erik Ainge of Tennessee. That does not mean that Dick or Mustain won't produce next fall, only that the jury is still out.

A countdown of the unofficial Best Dozen begins with the 1975 team that lost early to Oklahoma State. Eventually, Scott Bull took over at quarterback and the Razorbacks ended a 9-2 regular season with a 31-6 trouncing of then-No. 2 Texas A&M. In the Cotton Bowl, they took apart Georgia.

No. 11 — 1998, 8-0 start, Clint Stoerner's stumble, a hangover loss to Mississippi State, and too much Michigan in Orlando. Stoerner was second team All-SEC.

No. 10 — 1989, Ken Hatfield's second straight 10-1 regular season. Made 568 yards in the Cotton Bowl and lost. Quinn Grovey, All-SWC in 1988.

No. 9 — 1970, won nine straight between an opening loss to No. 10 Stanford and a rout by No. 1 Texas. Bill Montgomery, All-SWC.

No. 8 — 1962, a 7-3 loss at No. 1 Texas and a 17-13 loss to No. 3 Ole Miss in the Sugar Bowl. Billy Moore, All-SWC. No. 7 — 1979, lost to No. 6 Houston during the regular season and to No. 2 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. Kevin Scanlon, All-SWC.

No. 6 — 1988, opened 10-0, and was a Steve Atwater interception away from beating No. 3 Miami. Flopped in Dallas.

No. 5 — 1968, 16-2 over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl completed a 10-1. Montgomery was a sophomore.

No. 4 — 1969, so close to perfect on that December day in Fayetteville. Too much Archie Manning in New Orleans. Montgomery, again.

No. 3 — 1965, unbeaten and ranked No. 2 when it lost to LSU in the Cotton Bowl. Jon Brittenum, All-SWC.

No. 2 — 1977, a 13-9 loss to No. 2 Texas was the only downer and 31-6 over then No. 2-ranked Oklahoma might be the most memorable victory in school history. Ron Calcagni, All-SWC.

No. 1 — 1964, nobody can argue with perfection. Fred Marshall, All-SWC.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media's Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.


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