Since 1927, Arkansas football is 1-2 against the Sooners.
All three Arkansas vs Oklahoma matchups came in the postseason. In the 1978 Orange Bowl, No. 6 Arkansas pummeled Barry Switzer’s No. 2 Sooners, 31-6, likely costing them the National Championship. The Sooners were a three-touchdown favorite after former Arkansas head coach Lou Holtz suspended three key players before the game. Backup running back Roland Sales rushed 22 times for 205 yards, an Orange Bowl record at the time.
Switzer got revenge in the 1987 Orange Bowl, routing No. 9 Arkansas 42-8. The schools didn’t meet again until the 2002 Cotton Bowl, where Bob Stoops’ Sooners held Houston Nutt’s Razorbacks to 50 yards of total offense. OU won 10-3.
That’s it. Three games in nearly 100 years. But that could change soon.
A Rivalry in the Making?
Starting as early as 2025, the Sooners, who are joining the SEC in 2024 along with Texas, will become regular-season foes with the Razorbacks, likely playing twice (home and away) every four years. And despite Arkansas fans’ hatred of Texas, the forthcoming rivalry with the Sooners may become the hottest.
“I think Arkansas-OU is a natural rivalry,” said Quinn Grovey, Arkansas’ starting quarterback from 1988-1990, when he recently talked to Tulsa World’s Bill Haisten.
After all, Norman is less than 250 miles from Fayetteville, making it the closest SEC school once OU officially joins the conference. But it’s not just geographical proximity that makes this one of the most interesting potential rivalries in the once-again expanded SEC.
“Arkansas has been in the SEC for a long time, and they’re still searching for that dance partner,” Grovey said. “OU will be looking for an SEC partner to dance with as well. Texas is a natural rival, obviously, but Oklahoma — because of the proximity and everything — can be just as big a rival.
“Hopefully, we can get (the Sooners) on the schedule every single year. It’s an easy drive to Norman.”
Barry Switzer on Lack of History
The Arkansas and Oklahoma basketball teams have met dozens of times over the years. So why have the football teams never had a regular season matchup?
“It just never came up,” former Oklahoma football coach Barry Switzer told the Tulsa World. “Coach (Frank) Broyles never brought it up and neither did we.”
Switzer, a south Arkansas native who played college ball for Arkansas from 1956-60, was Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator from 1966-72 and head coach from 1973-88, winning three national titles during that span.
“Here’s how I looked at it: Texas was a non-conference game for us,” Switzer said. “Why play the Hogs in a non-conference situation? It makes the schedule too damn tough.”
Arkansas averaged more than eight wins and won at least 10 games five times during Switzer’s head coaching tenure at OU.
Prior to joining the SEC in 1992, Arkansas was the lone non-Texas school in the Southwest Conference, where the Hogs played the Longhorns every year during the regular season. Oklahoma, however, was part of the Big 8, along with football powerhouse Nebraska.
Before the formation of the Big 12, which put Oklahoma and Texas in the same conference, the two teams met annually as non-conference opponents. Switzer still liked to schedule one more big non-conference game, but those games tended to be on the East or West coast — against the likes of USC, UCLA, Pittsburgh, Miami and others — so his players could have big trips, which Fayetteville would not be.
“When we’d schedule them son-of-a-bitches, they were good, they were in bowl games, all of ’em,” Switzer told The Athletic in 2020. “Arkansas would have been like playing Oklahoma State; you’re right next to them. So that’s basically why we never played Arkansas in the regular season.”
Ken Hatfield, the Arkansas football coach from 1984-1989, largely echoed Switzer’s explanation.
“We never really had that conversation,” Hatfield told Best of Arkansas Sports from his home in Springdale. “We wanted to play in the Cotton Bowl and the best way to do that was to win the SWC.”
Winning the SWC meant beating Texas, and that was the top priority.
“(Broyles) believed in scheduling 2-3 games against teams that were good, but not competing for the national championship,” Hatfield said. “It was important to win those early-schedule games.
“Oklahoma was doing the same thing in their conference. They had their rivalry game against Nebraska, and that was their focus. But I think they continued to play Texas, because if they lost, they could still win their conference and get to their bowl game.That (Texas) game was good for recruiting.
“Arkansas didn’t really have a particular team to play for recruiting, other than Texas.”
In that era, in any given year, the Hogs might have gotten 1-2 players from Memphis and 1-2 from Oklahoma, Hatfield added. By far, most of Arkansas’ out-of-state recruits came from Texas.
Arkansas vs Oklahoma in Recruiting
Arkansas and Oklahoma have been battling for recruits (and now transfers) practically since the dawn of college football. Grovey, who was a standout prep quarterback from Duncan, Okla., was one such recruit. He ended up leading the Razorbacks to back-to-back SWC titles in 1988 and 1989 under Hatfield.
And Oklahoma has lifted their share of standout recruits from the Natural State. Think Little Rock native Keith Jackson, who became a College Football Hall of Fame tight end at OU, a five-time pro-bowler and a Super Bowl champion with a Green Bay Packers franchise that finds itself near the bottom of the championship pecking order in live NFL odds for the 2023 season.
Other Arkansas high school standouts that have jumped the state line to play for Oklahoma include Mark Hutson of Fort Smith and Pine Bluff products Eric Mitchel and Curtice Williams. More recently, Camden Fairview four-star offensive lineman Stacey Wilkins chose the Sooners over the home state Razorbacks.
But it doesn’t stop there. When the Sooners hired Jim Mackenzie, Frank Broyles’ longtime assistant at Arkansas, Mackenzie added Switzer, a Crossett native, and Larry Lacewell of Fordyce to his staff.
Before the 2021 season, Arkansas lost one of its most talented receivers, Mike Woods, to Oklahoma for his senior year. But after former Oklahoma football coach Lincoln Riley’s abrupt departure to Southern California for the 2022 season, Arkansas picked up Jadon Haselwood from the Sooners.
Sam Pittman, on the other hand, is an Oklahoma native and was an O-Line coach for OU from 1997-98. Likewise, Arkansas recently poached tight end Luke Hasz from the Sooner State. Hasz, the No. 4 overall player out of Oklahoma last year, chose the Hogs over offers from the home state Sooners, as well as the likes of Alabama, LSU, Ohio State and many others.
Suffice to say, in the increasingly competitive landscape of Power Five football recruiting, Arkansas and Oklahoma have a lot to fight for.
Developing an Arkansas vs Oklahoma Rivalry
“It takes time,” Ken Hatfield said when asked about the potential for an Arkansas vs Oklahoma rivalry. “It could be that way because of the closeness, and the fans being able to get to those games. I don’t see that happening in the immediate future. I think it’s playing 5 years or more before you establish anything. And it depends on the outcome of those games.”
Too true, coach. Despite the trophy and despite both schools declaring the rivalry, the Battle Line Rivalry with Missouri has been nothing short of, “Meh.” The Hogs are 2-7 in that rivalry. Could a more even win total amp up the juice? Perhaps. But those games have tended to be massive let-downs.
In this writer’s opinion, the rivalry with LSU still feels bigger, as do the rivalries with Ole Miss and Texas. Maybe that’s because the Hogs have fared better in those other matchups in recent years. Yet even games against Texas A&M have felt bigger, though it’s not technically a rivalry, and Arkansas has lost all but one of those games since 2012.
“It means an awful lot because it’s a conference game in the SEC West,” Hatfield said of the A&M game. “With Missouri being in the East, it doesn’t mean as much.”
In 2024, Oklahoma is not on the Razorbacks’ schedule, though Texas will play a game in Fayetteville. After that, the intensity of the potential new rivalry likely depends on how the conference schedule shakes out.
Even if they don’t end up playing on an annual basis, which seems to be the most likely scenario, the Arkansas vs Oklahoma matchup will still be much more frequent than three times in nearly a century. With this long-overdue infusion of regular season games, sparks could fly.
Hogs Tapping into Previous Texas to Oklahoma Football Pipeline
Soon after it was announced Texas and Oklahoma would join the SEC, Barry Switzer predicted that the Sooners joining the SEC will especially hurt Oklahoma State Switzer said he thinks some of the most talented Texans who would have gone to Oklahoma State in the past will go to Arkansas instead.
That’s because the luster of playing for the Big 12, where they could have played against Texas and Oklahoma, has taken a huge hit and left the conference as a lame duck.
While Texas’ most elite players will continue to go to Texas and Oklahoma, Arkansas should benefit because “there are lots of good players left and Arkansas has won with those good players before and will again,” Switzer said in an interview.
We already saw his prediction come true to an extent with linebacker Jordan Crook, who as a Texan recruit in 2021 flipped from Oklahoma State to Arkansas.
Read the rest of Switzer’s take here:
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