Just when most Arkansas football fans thought the program had turned the corner on its decades-long quest to become a true perennial SEC power with a solid coaching staff, no off-the-field situations and what seemed like team unity for two full seasons, it all still found a way to come to a screeching halt this year.
Can the season be saved? Not really. It is highly unlikely the Razorbacks will be ranked at the end of the season no matter who, or in which bowl game we play.
However, the future can be salvaged in the form of a win over the Sooners. A bowl victory over Oklahoma would go a long way toward recovering from a disappointing season and give the program a boost in recruiting.
Will we play Oklahoma? Your guess is as good as ours and we don’t even know which players will play in whatever bowl the Razorbacks are invited to, but this is the team that the Arkansas football program *needs* to play.
The actual bowling destination – whether of the Liberty, Texas, Las Vegas or Music City variety – matters less than who the Hogs play. The philosophy that drives me toward that conclusion is that you’d much rather beat a big-name program in its worst year than some small-time directional school in its best. Especially when said big-name program is a future SEC rival. Beating Texas and Oklahoma in back-to-back years, no matter the states of those programs, would be a huge coup for Arkansas.
Because, in the end, it’s about optics.
Oklahoma is the biggest name-brand program out there that has underperformed like the Hogs. We both recruit Texas…..duh. And, as always, Arkansas’ ability to persuade a number of athletes to climb over any imaginary recruiting wall around that state and drop into ours makes a big difference in the Hogs’ future success.
Plenty of Arkansas-Oklahoma Connections
When it comes to the Arkansas/Oklahoma football connection, Jadon Haselwood is the first or second guy who comes to mind depending on how deep you have buried the Mike Woods defection into your subconscious.
Haselwood is originally from Georgia, but joined the Hogs through the transfer portal from OU. He notched 701 yards and 3 touchdowns on 59 receptions for the Hogs this year — the latter of which cracked the UA’s all-time top-10 list for a single season.
We’ve already seen his last action as a Hog who, despite good, but not great numbers, has elected to enter the NFL Draft early. He won’t be nearly as hard to replace as Treylon Burks was. Haselwood is not the only guy out there who can put up 600-700 yards in an offense that threw for nearly 2,800 yards and he’s not even the best receiver on the team.
Outside of that, AJ Green (74 carries, 313 yards) is from Tulsa. Freshman Bryce Stephens is from Oklahoma City and, while having just 92 receiving yards, he gained big confidence by scoring on an 82-yard punt return against Missouri State. Longtime offensive line starters Brady Latham and Ricky Stromberg are from Jenks and Tulsa, respectively, but the latter has also declared for the NFL Draft and won’t play in the bowl.
And we obviously can’t leave out, or live without, Cam Little from Moore. In two seasons, he’s put 186 points on the board for the Hogs by hitting 32 of 39 field goals (82%) and not missing any of his 100 PATs. Defensive back Keuan Parker is also from Tulsa, but recorded only one assisted tackle in his redshirt freshman year.
Finally, there’s defensive back Myles Slusher from Broken Arrow. He not only opted out of whatever bowl we play in, but called it quits after a solid game against Ole Miss.
An Eerily Similar 2022 for Arkansas, Oklahoma
Oklahoma and Arkansas had remarkably – some would say eerily – similar seasons. In fact, both schools are charter members of the 2022 “Close, but no Cigar Club.”
Check this out. Both teams:
- Are 6-6
- Started 3-0
- Then lost three straight
- Responded with back-to-back wins
- Then had back-to-back losses by a field goal or less
- Won their 11th game
- Lost their regular-season finale by 3 or less
Not as surprisingly, the Achilles’ heel for both teams this year was lack of success punching it in from deep inside the red zone. The Sooners ranked 63rd nationally in red zone offense, which was actually better than the Razorbacks at No. 76.
This is, in part, a reflection of two new head coaches still getting their bearings with play-calling/managing their offensive coordinators down around the end zone. Brent Venables is in Year 1 at Oklahoma while Sam PIttman, of course, is wrapping Year 3 in Arkansas.
The similarities don’t end there. Oklahoma’s quarterback, Dillon Gabriel, completed 63% of his passes for 2,925 yards, 24 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while running for 300 yards. KJ completed 68.3% of his passes for 2,361 yards, 22 touchdowns and 4 interceptions with an additional 510 yards on the ground.
The Sooners’ featured back, Eric Gray, ran for 1,364 yards on 213 carries (6.4 ypc). Rocket Sanders ran for 1,426 on 219 carries (6.5 ypc) for the Razorbacks.
Oklahoma’s best receiver, Marvin Mims, broke the 1,000-yard mark on just 52 receptions and has a couple of teammates who went for 350 yards or better. Arkansas’ No. 1 receiver, Matt Landers, gained 780 yards on 44 catches with 7 touchdowns.
Potential Impact of Arkansas Beating Oklahoma
When it comes to recruiting, at the end of the day the Sooners will still rule in Oklahoma, but Arkansas and its Oklahoma-born coach have established a foothold there.
Just playing the Sooners is great exposure for the Razorbacks with high schoolers in Oklahoma, and of course beating the Sooners would go even further in helping Arkansas win on multiple fronts.
Plus, who knows? Maybe their recruits will see that quite literally the grass is greener on our side of the state line.
Arkansas vs Oklahoma Series History
Despite the two schools being separated by less than a 4-hour drive, Arkansas and Oklahoma have met on the gridiron just 15 times — and only three of those have happened in the past 96 seasons.
Most recently, the Sooners beat the Razorbacks in the 2002 Cotton bowl. They also beat them in the 1987 Orange Bowl, but their meeting in that game nine years earlier is widely remembered as one of Arkansas’ all-time best wins. In the 1978 Orange Bowl, the Razorbacks shocked No. 2 Oklahoma 31-6.
Here’s a rundown of the series, which Oklahoma leads 10-4-1:
- Jan. 1, 2002 – Oklahoma, 10-3 (Cotton Bowl)
- Jan. 1, 1987 – Oklahoma, 42-8 (Orange Bowl)
- Jan. 2, 1978 – Arkansas, 31-6 (Orange Bowl)
- Oct. 9, 1926 – Oklahoma, 13-6
- Nov. 15, 1919 – Arkansas, 7-6
- Nov. 16, 1918 – Oklahoma, 103-0
- Nov. 17, 1917 – Tie, 0-0
- Nov. 25, 1916 – Oklahoma, 14-13
- Nov. 13, 1915 – Oklahoma, 24-0
- Nov. 20, 1914 – Oklahoma, 35-7
- Oct. 30, 1909 – Arkansas, 21-6
- Oct. 30, 1908 – Oklahoma, 27-5
- Nov. 21, 1903 – Arkansas, 12-0
- Oct. 22, 1902 – Oklahoma, 28-0
- Oct. 24, 1899 – Oklahoma, 11-5
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