Unknown Razorbacks Coming Into Focus

Making its first appearance in a BCS bowl, Arkansas hasn't been on the national stage as much in recent years, making the Razorbacks a bit of an unknown going into the upcoming Sugar Bowl. However, the Hogs have an illustrious history that intertwines with that of Ohio State even though the two programs will be meeting for the first time in the Big Easy.

Likely, Jermale Hines held the same opinion of the Arkansas program that many Ohio State fans did when the Sugar Bowl matchup was announced Dec. 5.

"I didn't know anything about them," Hines said Tuesday.

That's because the No. 8 Razorbacks are a bit of a mystery in many ways to Buckeye fans getting ready for the Jan. 4 meeting in New Orleans, and it's not only because the two teams have never played on the gridiron.

Unlike fellow Southeastern Conference powers Florida, Alabama and LSU, the Hogs haven't been a marquee program over the past decade or so. Despite often boasting a solid team that occasionally was in the discussion for an SEC West title, Arkansas hasn't exactly been at the forefront of the national discussion, as this is the team's first BCS appearance in the 13 years of the system.

Despite the fact that the Razorbacks were in the top 25 all season and their showdowns with Alabama, Auburn and LSU were nationally televised by CBS, many Buckeye players admitted they didn't know much about the team before the matchup was finalized.

"I was never paying attention to them during the season, to be honest," senior cornerback Devon Torrence said. "But they're a great football team, they've got a great deal of athletes and a great quarterback so you definitely have to respect what they're coming with."

Indeed, over the past few weeks it has started to become clear what Bobby Petrino's Razorbacks are bringing to the table. Most OSU fans already knew of Ryan Mallett, the former five-star Michigan quarterback who transferred closer to home after Lloyd Carr's retirement, and the gunslinger leads one of the most potent offenses in the game.

With Mallett and Petrino leading the way, the Hogs' success harkens back to a proud football history that features such names as Lance Alworth, Steve Atwater, Darren McFadden and Pat Summerall.

In fact, the Buckeyes and Razorbacks have a common link in College Football Hall of Fame coach Francis "Close the Gates of Mercy" Schmidt, who worked at Arkansas from 1922-28, going 41-20-3 while also serving as the baseball and basketball coach. He later took over at OSU in 1934, going 39-16-1 with two Big Ten titles in seven seasons in Columbus.

The Razorbacks have one national championship to their name, capturing the 1964 honor after a perfect 11-0 campaign and Cotton Bowl win vs. Nebraska. In 1969, Arkansas played Texas in a famous game attended by President Richard Nixon, a 15-14 win for the Longhorns in Fayetteville.

That history was part of an outstanding run under Frank Broyles, who posted a 144-58-5 record and qualified for 10 bowl games from 1958-76.

One-time OSU assistant Lou Holtz followed with a 60-21-2 record in seven seasons, including an 11-1 mark in 1977, while Ken Hatfield won a pair of Southwest Conference titles in 1988 and '89 to end a six-year coaching stint that included a 55-17-1 record.

"Arkansas historically, you go back to Frank Broyles, they've had great teams," Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel said. "They always will. They have a proud tradition for the state of Arkansas, just as proud as we do for the state of Ohio."

However, the BCS era hasn't been quite as kind. Arkansas has been up and down since joining the SEC in 1992, getting off to a slow start with only one bowl appearance in its first six seasons.

Consistency was also hard to find under Houston Nutt, whose teams won three SEC West titles and made eight bowl games from 1998-2007 but finished at .500 or worse in the SEC in seven of his seasons.

Enter Petrino, who struggled to a 5-7 record in his first campaign before improving the team to 8-5 last season with a win in the Liberty Bowl against Eastern Carolina. This year, Arkansas is 10-2 with their only losses coming to Alabama and Auburn.

"They took Alabama down to the wire," Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle said. "That's a game that I looked at, how didn't they win that game? They lost to Auburn. They're still a great football team, a team I've watched not a lot but I know they are athletic on both defense as well as on defense."

And there's no doubt the Buckeyes will be familiar with the Razorbacks come the night of Jan. 4.

"I think it will be an exciting thing," Tressel said. "I think that's why there's a lot of interest in the game from our fans and their fans. I think that's why New Orleans was interested in having those two teams in there, because there's a heck of a lot of tradition when you look at those two teams."

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