Saturday night’s beatdown of Texas before a raucous sold-out crowd in Fayetteville has propelled the Razorbacks into the national rankings for the first time since 2016.
The latest top 25 polls were released Sunday afternoon, and fresh off its 40-21 win over then No. 15 Texas, Arkansas finds itself ranked 18th by ESPN, 20th by the Associated Press and 24th in the USA Today coaches poll. The Hogs’ absence from the AP poll had hit 1,785 days, according to HawgSports.com, the longest streak of not being ranked by the AP for the program since 1937-46.
Razorback linebacker Hayden Henry, a COVID senior from Little Rock’s Pulaski Academy, said the win served notice that the Hogs are no longer a program in disarray. Prior to Coach Sam Pittman’s arrival last year, the Hogs had endured the worst decade in the program’s modern history and suffered through consecutive 2-10 seasons.
The team showed obvious signs of improvement last season in going 3-7 against the nation’s toughest schedule, but Saturday night’s win felt like a statement was made; the narrative about Arkansas — perhaps — has been flipped. And it definitely served notice to the Longhorns that life in the Southeastern Conference, as the Hogs found out in 1992, is a whole different ballgame.
“It was huge,” Henry told media in a postgame presser. ” I don’t think it put us on the map, but there are other teams who are going to look at our score tonight and be like, ‘Arkansas is good. Arkansas can play some football.’ So, it’s huge for Coach Pittman and our team to kind of send that message.”
The Hogs are among seven SEC teams ranked in this week’s AP top 25. Alabama and Georgia maintain the top two spots with Texas A&M, who the Hogs face in Dallas in two weeks, at 7; Florida at 11; Ole Miss at 17; and Auburn at 22. (UT, by the way, is unranked now.)
Rankings, of course, must be taken with a grain of salt. Teams like Texas live off their reputation and it’s become trendy to vote teams like Louisiana-Lafayette and Coastal Carolina into the top 25. Last week, Texas whipped a ranked ULL squad in Austin. Might both those teams have been a tad overrated? Still, the Hogs face a potential trap game this week in Fayetteville with Georgia Southern, sandwiched in between huge games against old Southwest Conference rivals.
Are the Hogs overrated? Possibly. Pittman’s rebuild is ongoing although apparently ahead of schedule. But do they deserve to be ranked? Yes. As nonsensical as rankings can seem early in a season, they serve as marketing steroid shots. And while I’m generally an “act like you’ve been there before” kind of guy, I watched in virtual ecstasy as fans stormed the field once backup QB Malik Hornsby took a knee inside the 10 to close it out. (Dare we even suggest that it was “borderline erotic”?)
Hog fans seem to know the proper moment to rush the field, and they do it well. (The photo that accompanies this piece is from John Daly’s Twitter feed.) The ’99 redemption win over Tennessee, the 2014 shutout of LSU to break an SEC losing streak and then Saturday — I’ve heard Razorback Stadium that loud just a handful of times (Ronnie Wingo’s wheel route TD against Bama in 2010 is probably the loudest single moment), and this one may rank as the loudest from kickoff to final whistle.
Let’s enjoy it, Hog fans. A win over Texas, much less a blowout win, is like Christmas morning with snow on the ground — all good. And for the first time in a while, let’s stop and smell… the rankings.