Tuesday, December 01, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Fans easily forget high preseason predictions

Leader sports editor

It’s interesting how situational football fans are in dealing with wins and losses. Most Razorbacks fans are happy as clams that their team just beat, nay dominated, Missouri, and they anxiously await news on what bowl bid the team will accept.

All the misery and dread that came with a 1-3 start is forgotten. Even the 51-50 home loss to Mississippi State just two weeks ago is a distant memory. Also forgotten, apparently, is that preseason hopes for the 7-5 Razorbacks hovered around nine, even 10, and for the outrageously optimistic, 11 wins this season.

But looking back, the 11-win optimists might have been right. Those eternally hopeful fans couldn’t figure out a way for Arkansas to beat Alabama on the road, but thought every other game was winnable. They were right.

With all else behind this team, it’s clear it was good enough to go 11-1. The 10-2 prognosticators thought winning at LSU was too much to ask. They were wrong. The 9-3 crowd thought, like many others all over the nation, that Auburn was a national title contender and might be too much for Arkansas. They were wrong as well.

Other than Alabama, Arkansas’ losses were to four teams it should have beaten. The only one that’s even forgivable is Mississippi State. Those first three losses were all to teams that if Arkansas had played this past weekend, it would have won, and probably easily.

But that doesn’t seem to matter now. Arkansas fans are happy things turned out so well. Despite nine-win expectations, fans were prepared for the reverse, a 3-9 finish, after the three-straight losses to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.

Those three losses followed a very sub par performance in a season-opening 48-13 win over the 5-7 University of Texas-El Paso. The Miners were beaten worse (52-12) by Florida International.

The problem is obvious. The Razorbacks weren’t ready to play when the season started. But that week-four overtime loss to the Aggies was more than two months ago.

The Hogs are 6-2 since then and both losses were to quality teams, though the Aggies handled the Bulldogs much more easily than they did Arkansas, and so did Alabama. Ole Miss, a team Arkansas beat on the road, also manhandled their inner-state rival much more easily than the 38-27 final score would indicate, and Arkansas should’ve beat them, too.

Again though, it doesn’t matter now. The Razorbacks didn’t meet preseason expectations, but they far exceed post-week four expectations. And that makes the situational football fan happy.

Why? Because it means there’s hope.

Hope is what really matters to the football fan. The college football fan can endure anything as long as there is hope for next year. And since Bret Bielema is only in his third year, and he’s finished his last two strongly, fans still have hope.

This is, however, his second-straight year of finishing the season with a team clearly too good to have started so poorly.

Something about Bielema’s approach so far has left the Hogs far behind lesser teams the first month of the season.

Let that happen one, maybe two, more times, and fans will stop believing in Bielema.

This mystery of hope that football fans possess is the reason Houston Nutt went from hero to villain while practically nothing changed about his approach or win percentage from the previous 10 years.

Fans suddenly realized nine wins was about as good as it was going to get with Nutt, so just as suddenly, the same things he had always done became unacceptable.

This hope is the reason why some misguided fans still clamor for Bobby Petrino, despite the spectacle and embarrassment he made of their beloved team.

They had hope, based on the previous 11-2 season; he was the one who might take the team to that only dreamt of land since 1964 of national renown.

This hope is also relative. LSU was on the cusp of firing a coach who has won a national championship because it no longer, after eight years, believed he can win another one.

It had only been four years since LSU had won one once before, and the coach that did that, after an unsuccessful stint in the NFL, had come back to the college ranks and won three more, even beating LSU is one of those championship games (2011).

This hope is why Georgia just fired a coach who, if he wins this year’s bowl game, will have recorded 10 wins for the 10th time in his 15 seasons in Athens.

Georgia’s Mark Richt actually lasted longer than most fans are willing to wait.

LSU’s only other national championship, besides the two this century, came in 1958. Fans and boosters and athletic directors will usually only give any particular coach eight to 10 years to bring one home, and that’s only if they come close a couple of times.

But Arkansas fans are right to keep hope in Bielema alive. On the whole, 7-5 is unacceptable for a team as good as this one. But if he can remedy whatever the cause for bad starts, and continue to finish strong, there will be long unseen success for Razorback football.


A live, nationwide spoken-word opinion piece was given during halftime of Sunday’s New England Patriots-Denver Broncos game that is cause for rebuttal. Bob Costas, who is usually very thoughtful, lost his head when he declared Tom Brady the greatest quarterback of his generation, beating out Peyton Manning.

He rightly gave credit to Manning for his unparalleled professionalism and humility, but ultimately declared Brady the greatest because of his better playoff win percentage and three super bowl wins.

But if you’re going to give one guy points for professionalism, you must dock the other for a lack of it. Peyton’s own little brother also has more playoff wins and super bowl rings, but no one would argue that Eli Manning is better than Peyton.

And every singe super bowl win Brady has is marred in a cheating scandal.

The Patriots, and Tom Brady, cheat habitually, and have for more than a decade. It is the most tainted legacy in sports, and posterity will not be kind to their memory.

Manning is greater than Brady. The difference in each man’s incredible talent is negligible, and Manning is not a cheater.