FAYETTEVILLE — Prior to Sam Pittman’s arrival at Arkansas the Razorbacks had won eight games, one in the SEC, in a combined three years.
The Razorbacks were looked at as a program that couldn’t compete in the SEC. That despite the fact from 1998-2011 Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino won 109 games and went to 11 bowl games in 14 seasons. The problem was the eight seasons from Petrino to Pittman the Razorbacks went 37-60.
In Pittman’s first year the Hogs went 3-7 against an all-SEC schedule. Then last season the Razorbacks finished 9-4 including defeating Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
The three years prior to Pittman’s arrival was one of the lowest spots in the program’s history. It not for a last-second field goal at Ole Miss in 2017 the Razorbacks would have been winless in SEC games during that span. In 2018 and 2019 the Hogs won four games, none in the SEC. In 2021, Pittman and Arkansas won four trophy games. Arkansas’ Kendal Briles, who is the offensive coordinator, feels he knows why Arkansas is now having success when just a short time ago they weren’t.
“Program-wise, it’s pretty awesome to be a part of it really,” Briles said. “Just the excitement of, you know, the people that love Arkansas football that are from here and from the state of Arkansas. You hear people talk about the lean times and not being excited to come to games and all that kind of stuff. That’s all sports. Everybody’s doing really well right now, and everybody feeds off each other. We’ve got to hold up our end of the bargain. From a recruiting standpoint, we’re doing well and getting those players in here to be able to help us sustain the SEC West. As we know, it’s brutal. Our non-conference schedule is really difficult. So, there are no games at all that you can say, ‘that’s going to be a win.’ We’re going to have to out and fight and scratch to win every single one of them. But our team is made of toughness. With Coach Pittman, it is what it is. He’s an old school, tough guy. That’s the way the team plays, and that’s the way the coaches coach. I feel good about where we’re at as a program.”
Now the national media is giving Arkansas plenty of respect in the various early Top 25 polls. In ESPN’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 the Razorbacks are No. 20. ESPN has seven SEC schools in its Top 25 and the Razorbacks are No. 4. Alabama (1), Georgia (3), Texas A&M (5), Ole Miss (21), Kentucky (22) and Tennessee (24).
CBS recently released its Post-Spring Top 25. CBS has the Razorbacks at No. 10. They are fourth in the SEC behind Alabama (1), Georgia (3) and Texas A&M (7). Ole Miss (13) and Tennessee (15) are others from the SEC among the Top 25. CBS had an interesting analysis on the Hogs.
“Remember when Arkansas “lost” the bidding war with Missouri for Eli Drinkwitz and had to settle for Sam Pittman? Yeah, me either. In Year 3 under the folksy Pittman, the Razorbacks have turned the corner as a knock-your-head-off SEC program. KJ Jefferson might be the second-best SEC quarterback to Young. Former Alabama transfer Drew Sanders anchors an improving defense. Way-too-early ranking: 10“
Pro Football Focus has also released its Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings. Like the others, they have Arkansas fourth in the SEC, but at No. 12 nationally, Alabama (1), Georgia (3), Texas A&M (6) are ahead of the Hogs. Coming up after Arkansas is South Carolina (15), Kentucky (18), Tennessee (22) and Ole Miss (24). LSU is listed as just missed the cut.
Today, The Sporting News released its post-portal deadline Top 25. Arkansas is No. 15 in the Top 25 which is good for fourth in the SEC. Alabama (1), Georgia (3), Texas A&M (5), Ole Miss (16), Kentucky (17) and Tennessee (24).
USA Today also has a Post-Spring Top 25. Arkansas comes in at No. 21 in the poll. USA Today has Alabama (1), Georgia (2), Texas A&M (8), Kentucky (23) and Tennessee (25). They had this to say about Arkansas.
“Sam Pittman’s success should not longer be a surprise. The Razorbacks have gone from a program that had won one conference game during the previous three years to winning seven in Pittman’s first two seasons. KJ Jefferson will again be the focal point of the offense after leading the team in running and passing. He will be working behind a mostly veteran offensive line that powered the No. 7 rushing attack in the country. The secondary will again be the backbone of the defense with Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher leading the way. Better play against the run is critical to better the nine wins from last year.”