Fayetteville is not exactly a city of champions. That could change within the next few days.
The Arkansas Razorbacks are playing for the College World Series Championship against Oregon State in Omaha, Nebraska. The Hogs are seeking their first title in baseball, and the first in any of the three major sports for the school since 1994.
What would a national title mean for the state? Everything.
Arkansas State is great. I’m a student there in fact. Central Arkansas is an awesome school. The Dallas Cowboys are popular, and the St. Louis Cardinals are a favorite of many Arkansans. But everyone knows that the Arkansas Razorbacks are the true “professional” team for the state of Arkansas. Though times have changed and their state-wide fanbase is different than it once was, they still reign as the rooting favorite of the Natural State.
The Hogs represent the state as a whole. This title would be for everyone from Fayetteville to Texarkana to Jonesboro to Little Rock, etc. It would be for the fans that have endured such hardships for so long. It would be for the younger generation (born 1990-present) that have never truly experienced an Arkansas team win a National Championship, or even really come close.
Win or lose, the OmaHogs have had an incredible season that has made the entire state (outside of a few cranky AState fans) extremely proud. But the Hogs didn’t make it this far to lose.
What exactly makes this championship appearance such a big deal? Well, for starters…
Football has been unwatchable lately. Basketball has yet to make the Sweet 16 since 1996. Baseball hasn’t made it this far since 1979. There is an entire generation of Razorback fans that know nothing of greatness. And this could change that narrative.
Many fans see Arkansas as a team that always gets their hopes up and then crushes their dreams. From a historical standpoint, those people are absolutely correct. Razorback history is full of near-misses and “what if” scenarios. There are a few shining moments in the middle, but they are just that; few and far between.
Let’s take a heartbreaking trek into the history of Arkansas sports, shall we? Try not to cry too much.
Let’s start off with one of the greatest moments in the University’s history, to lighten the mood and lift spirits for what is to come.
1964 – Football National Champions
The Razorbacks finished the 1964 football season 10-0. So did the Alabama Crimson Tide. Back then, the AP Poll decided the champion before the postseason and thus awarded Alabama the crown of National Champions. However, the Crimson Tide lost their bowl game to Texas, a team the Hogs beat that season, and Arkansas won the Cotton Bowl over Nebraska to finish the season 11-0. They were awarded the Football Writers of America National Championship.
Due to the controversy surrounding who was the true champion, the AP decided to experiment with their system the next season. This will be important soon.
1965 – Football Missed it by THAT Much
Due to the controversy in the previous season after awarding Alabama the title before the bowl games, the AP decided they would wait until after to determine their champion. The final poll had Nebraska as the top-overall team, followed by Arkansas, Michigan, and Alabama.
The Cornhuskers would likely have been awarded the AP title that season, but Arkansas was in the conversation. In the postseason, however, Arkansas and Michigan lost their bowl games while Alabama beat Nebraska. The Crimson Tide were awarded another championship.
Arkansas may or may not have been awarded the title if they had won their bowl game, but ultimately eliminated themselves by losing.
1969 – The Game of The Century
The Razorbacks started the 1969 football season 9-0. Their final game of the regular season was a Top-2 matchup against bitter rival Texas that President Richard Nixon declared the National Championship. He and future President George Herbert Walker Bush were in attendance for the game.
Texas came into the game as the top-ranked team in the nation and the Hogs were right behind them in second place. In the 100th season of college football, this game was dubbed the Game of the Century. It didn’t disappoint.
Arkansas was up 14-0 after three quarters and was on track to topple the Longhorns. Texas had a different idea.
The Longhorns outscored the Razorbacks 15-0 in the final period to clinch a 15-14 victory and a National Championship declared by the President of the United States.
That title doesn’t exactly count the same as a traditional title, but it definitely would have been the most meaningful since it would have come by defeating Texas.
The Razorbacks ended up losing the Sugar Bowl to Archie Manning and his Ole Miss Rebels, while Texas won theirs and were dubbed the AP National Champions to go along with their Presidential title.
1979 – Baseball loses CWS Final
The last time the Hogs competed for a College World Series title, the format was much different. Oh, and also, the event was not televised. In fact, it was the last one that wasn’t featured on ESPN, so this upcoming series will be the first time fans not in attendance will be able to actually watch Arkansas compete for a championship. Anyway…
There were eight regionals and the winner of each advanced to the College World Series. There were no Super Regionals.
Arkansas went 4-0 in the East Regional, beating George Washington, Florida, and Delaware twice. To start the College World Series, the Razorbacks beat Pepperdine, Arizona, and Texas to advance to the semifinals as the undefeated team.
Cal State Fullerton lost their first game and had to go through the losers bracket, to face Arkansas in the semifinals. Arkansas lost, but was not eliminated. Fullerton then played Pepperdine in an elimination game. Fullerton won to earn a chance to play the Hogs again in a winner-take-all championship game.
Despite their 7-0 start to the NCAA Tournament, the Hogs finished 0-2 after a 2-1 loss at the hands of champion Cal State Fullerton.
1994 – Basketball National Champions
After spending most of the regular season in the Top-2 (16 weeks at no. 1, 9 weeks at no. 2, 4 weeks at no. 3, two weeks at no. 4, one week at no. 5 and two weeks at no. 6), Arkansas finished the season 26-2 and ranked No. 2 in the nation.
They lost the SEC Tournament Semifinals to Kentucky but still earned the second-overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In the tournament, the Hogs were able to beat North Carolina A&T, Georgetown, Tulsa in the Sweet 16, Michigan in the Elite Eight, and Arizona in the Final Four to set up a National Title game against Duke.
The Razorbacks took care of business and toppled the Blue Devils 76-72 to claim their first basketball title and the first major title for the University in 30 years.
1995 – Basketball loses National Championship
On their journey to repeating as champions, the Hogs spent most of the season ranked between no.1 and no. 6, with a few weeks from no. 9 to no. 12. The Razorbacks ultimately finished the regular season 25-5, and after an SEC Championship loss to no. 3 Kentucky, earned a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
In the Big Dance, they beat Texas Southern, Syracuse, Memphis in the Sweet 16, Virginia in the Elite Eight, and North Carolina in the Final Four before losing to no. 1 UCLA in the championship game 78-89.
1998 – The Trip to Tennessee
Now to one of the most painful memories in recent Razorback history. In Houston Nutt’s first season, the 1998 Razorbacks started 8-0 and were ranked no. 10 in the nation. They had to travel to hostile Knoxville, Tennessee to play the no. 1 team in the nation in front of nearly 107,000 fans.
The Hogs came out firing on all cylinders, taking a commanding 21-3 lead in the first half. The Volunteers staged a comeback, but Arkansas had the ball with a 24-22 lead late in the game. While attempting to run out the clock, Arkansas G Brandon Burlsworth stepped on QB Clint Stoerner’s foot, resulting in him falling and fumbling the ball. Tennessee recovered, and the turnover resulted in the game-winning drive for the Vols.
After having the top team in the nation on the ropes in a game that would have catapulted the Hogs into title contention, they literally fumbled it away. They went on to lose their next game as well. They topped LSU in Little Rock before losing their bowl game to Michigan to finish the season 9-3.
Oh, what could have been.
2006 – Football starts 10-1, finishes 0-3
The 2006 season didn’t start off great. In fact, it began with a 14-50 blowout loss at no. 6 USC. From there, though, the Hogs reeled off 10-consecutive victories (including wins at no. 2 Auburn, a game I listened to on the radio strangely enough, and at home against no. 13 Tennessee).
Arkansas ascended to no. 5 in the AP Poll, but then lost in Little Rock to no. 9 LSU. They still won the SEC West, but lost the SEC Championship to no. 4 Florida, the eventual champion, thanks in-part to a muffed punt by Reggie Fish while holding a 21-17 lead. That turnover resulted in a touchdown for the Gators, and they never looked back, winning the game 38-28.
After that, the Razorbacks lost the Capital One Bowl to no. 6 Wisconsin to finish their could-have-been dream season 0-3.
2011 – The SEC West Dominance
In perhaps the most dominant season for Arkansas football since the teams of the ‘60s, the Razorbacks faced what many will look back on as the strongest season for any division in the history of major college football.
Arkansas only lost two games all season, both on the road to SEC West foes (at no. 3 Alabama 38-14, at no. 1 LSU 41-17). Alabama and LSU ended up competing for the national championship that season.
The Hogs beat four Top-15 teams, two of them falling in the Top-10. Their only losses were to the two teams in the national championship. The only teams to beat either of those teams that season were each other. Alabama lost to LSU in the regular season and beat them in the Title game.
Arkansas finished No. 5 in the AP Poll but was widely considered a Top-3 team considering they had only lost to the top-two teams.
At one point in the season, the AP Poll had LSU, Alabama, and Arkansas as the top-3 teams with just a week left in the college football season.
The Hogs beat No. 10 Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl 29-16 after both missed out on BCS Bowls due to rules stating that only two teams from any given conference could compete in a BCS Bowl, despite both being top-10 teams (Arkansas was No. 7 coming into the game).
Arkansas finished their season 11-2, 6-2 SEC.
2012 – One Win from the CWS Final
In the 2012 postseason, Arkansas went 3-0 in Regionals (Sam Houston State, Rice, Sam Houston State again), earning a Super Regional showdown with Baylor. The Hogs lost Game 1 of the Super Regional but were able to win games two and three to make CWS field.
In Omaha, the Hogs beat Kent State and South Carolina to make the CWS Semifinals. South Carolina navigated their way through the loser’s bracket to reach Arkansas for a rematch. The Razorbacks only needed one win, while the Gamecocks had to beat Arkansas twice. Winner to the College World Series Finals.
South Carolina won 2-0 and 3-2 to eliminate the Hogs and advance to the championship where they lost to Arizona in two games.
2017 – Scoreless the Last 3:31
In 2017, Arkansas was not a national championship threat, but they hoped to overcome the second-round hump that they have not been able to conquer since 1996. Could they make the Sweet 16?
The Hogs finished the regular season 23-8 and then lost SECT Championship to Kentucky to earn an 8-seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Arkansas beat Seton Hall in the first round to set up a rematch with the last team to beat them in the tournament, North Carolina. Only this time, they were a top seed.
After keeping it close much of the game, the Hogs took a 47-46 lead with 13:05 left in the game. Several ties later, Arkansas was able to retake the lead and extend it to as much as five points with 3:31 left.
From there, the scoring for the season ended. North Carolina reclaimed lead with 1:44 left and finished the game on a 12-0 run to win by a final score of 72-65.
North Carolina went on to win the National Title, and Arkansas has still yet to make a Sweet 16 in the 21st Century.
2018 – Baseball makes the CWS Final
So far this postseason, Arkansas has defeated Oral Roberts, Southern Miss, Dallas Baptist, South Carolina (2-1 series), Texas, Texas Tech and top-overall seed and defending champion Florida to compile an 8-1 record through three rounds of the playoffs.
Now, they must win two of three against 3-seed Oregon State to bring home the first College World Series title in Arkansas history.
This title could end years of heartache for Hog fans everywhere. It would right all of the wrongs of the past, at least in the moment. Perhaps for once, it won’t have to be painful to be a Razorback fan. If they come through, that is.
One way or another, the 2018 Diamond Hogs will be added to this list. Will they be the latest near-miss or the first Champions in over 20 years? Only time will tell.