On the surface, it doesn’t make any sense.
How can a team not able to muster a conference win in 25 months be favored heading into a game against a perennial SEC power and Top 25 team? Yet it’s this unlikely situation Arkansas found itself in much of this week entering tonight’s home game vs. No. 20 LSU. Many major sportsbooks in Las Vegas favored the Hogs by one. They knew Arkansas has been so close to beating a a few Top 10 teams this season as it plows through the nation’s toughest schedule.
But has anything like this ever happened before? That is, has a team still winless in conference in November entered a game against a Top 25 team as nearly the favorite, in the process spitting on one of Bill Parcells’ most treasured maxims?
Not quite – but close.
In the last 12 years or so, the most similar parallel came on Nov 24th, 2012 from the Big East, when Pittsburgh (4-6, 1-4) was favored by 1.5 over No. 18 Rutgers (9-1, 5-0), according to research done by the full-service sports statistical site KOStats.com. Pitt beat Rutgers 27-6. But for insight into the 20th century, I went to my football historian friend Andrew McKillop of FootballGeography.com. He came back with this:
“There were some leads, but when I looked up the line the Top 25 team was always favored.The closest I found was in 1944. Duke (1-4) was called just a slight underdog at home against No. 5 Georgia Tech. Duke won and the next week they were ranked No. 20th by the AP – despite that 2-4 record.”
Yes, Broyles, the eventual legendary Razorback patriarch who hired Jeff Long who hired Bret Bielema who leads Arkansas tonight. Broyles, still kicking at age 89, was in his playing days a jack-of-all-trades All-American back who punted, threw for touchdowns and returned opponents’ passes for scores of his own.
Heading into that November 4, 1944 game at Duke, Broyles had helped lead Georgia Tech to a 5-0 record including a 17-15 takedown of then-dominant Navy. The Blue Devils, which were in a different conference, had only lost by seven to Navy but had been crushed 7-27 by Army the game before.
It didn’t matter. This game belonged to Duke, despite Broyles’ throwing for a 42-yard touchdown to Mickey Logan.
Duke went on to win its remaining four games, including wipe outs of North Carolina, Wake Forest and South Carolina, as well as a Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama. Georgia Tech won its next three of four games (inc. LSU) and was invited to the Orange Bowl, where Broyles threw for 304 yards in a loss to Tulsa (a record not broken until Tom Brady did it in 2000).
In later years, Broyles would get his revenge on Duke. Not in football as Arkansas’ head coach, but in basketball as its athletic director. Thirty years after that 1944 loss, he convinced a promising young basketball coach named Eddie Sutton to leave Creighton and come to Fayetteville. Duke was another program heavily courting Sutton at the time, according to Sports Illustrated.
Fifty years after that loss, he would watch in Charlotte as his basketball program and another coach he hired wrest something even more precious from Duke – a national title.
In case you doubted the above 1945 Georgia Tech annual clips are authentic, kindly observe Allen Bowen’s nickname below for verification: