To see just how much things have changed at Arkansas over the last two years, look no further than the Razorbacks’ “SEC Network Takeover” slate in 2020 compared to 2022.
It wasn’t too long ago that the best programming for a 24-hour stretch of Arkansas-only content included three SEC Storied documentaries, plus tight wins over Portland State and Colorado State — an FCS program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2015 and a Group of Five program that ended up going 4-8.
The latter of those wins was arguably the high point of the Chad Morris era, but far from something an Arkansas fan would like to relive on a day meant to highlight the school on a national platform like the SEC Network.
Fast forward just a couple of years and fans were treated to a trip down memory lane that included a win over Texas in football, an Outback Bowl win over Penn State and upsets of No. 1 Auburn and No. 6 Kentucky in men’s hoops. It was such a loaded slate that only one game from Arkansas’ baseball season, which ended in Omaha, made the cut.
And those aren’t outliers. Rather, they are anecdotal evidence of what was statistically the best season of Arkansas athletics since the school joined the SEC in the summer of 1991.
Razorbacks Enjoy Success in 3 Major Sports
What made the 2021-22 academic year particularly special for the Razorbacks was the fact that all three major sports — football, men’s basketball and baseball — had great seasons.
Led by second-year head coach Sam Pittman, Arkansas shocked the college football world with a 9-4 season that garnered a No. 21 ranking in the final AP Poll.
On the hardwood, the Razorbacks returned to the Elite Eight for a second straight year under head coach Eric Musselman after snapping a 25-year drought of failing to make it to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament a year earlier.
On the diamond, the Arkansas baseball team struggled at the end of a regular season in which it was ranked in the top 10 for most of the year, but Arkansas ultimately regrouped and made another deep postseason run. Head coach Dave Van Horn is still searching for the program’s first national title, but he did guide the Razorbacks within one game of the College World Series finals.
The three teams finished with winning percentages of .692, .757 and .687, respectively, marking the first time since 2006-07 that each program won at least 60 percent of its games. That year, Darren McFadden was the Heisman Trophy runner-up and helped the football team win the SEC West, future NBA players Patrick Beverley and Sonny Weems guided the basketball team to the NCAA Tournament and a pitching staff led by Nick Schmidt earned the baseball team a top-8 national seed.
This year’s crop of Razorbacks were even better. On top of enjoying more postseason success, they also had an average winning percentage of .712 — their best mark since 1989-90, the UA’s penultimate season in the Southwest Conference before entering the SEC.
It’s also worth noting that Arkansas had the second-best average winning percentage among the three sports in the SEC this year, trailing only Tennessee. The Volunteers’ mark of .724 was better, but they lost the Music City Bowl, got knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and failed to reach the College World Series despite being the No. 1 team.
How 2021-22 Stacks Up in Arkansas History
Not only was this a historic season for Arkansas’ three main sports in the relatively modern SEC era, but it was also one of its best ever.
In fact, in the 76 seasons since the baseball program resumed play in 1947, the Razorbacks’ average winning percentage of .712 in the three major sports ranks ninth.
Of course, when you throw in postseason success with the raw winning percentage that puts a lot of stock into the regular season, the conversation gets less black and white.
Arkansas’ best year from a winning percentage standpoint was 1977-78, when it won the Orange Bowl to finish No. 3 in the AP Poll and made the Final Four, but the baseball team wasn’t one of 34 schools chosen for the NCAA Tournament despite a 31-13 record and second-place finish in the SWC.
In 1989-90, each of the three teams reached the postseason. The basketball team reached the Final Four and the football team came up just short in the prestigious Cotton Bowl, but the baseball team went 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament. It should be noted, though, that Arkansas was one of eight No. 1 seeds, but couldn’t host the regional. Instead, it lost a pair of one-run games at Wichita State.
Perhaps the best comparison for the 2021-22 season, when you factor in overall winning and postseason success, is 1978-79. That year, the Razorbacks tied UCLA in the Fiesta Bowl, reached the Elite Eight and finished runner-up at the College World Series.
|Year||Average Winning Percentage||Postseason Results – football (AP rank) / men’s basketball / baseball|
|1977-78||.837||W, Orange Bowl (No. 3) / Final Four / no postseason|
|1989-90||.816||L, Cotton Bowl (No. 13) / Final Four / 0-2 at regional|
|1978-79||.797||T, Fiesta Bowl (No. 11) / Elite Eight / CWS runner-up|
|1988-89||.792||L, Cotton Bowl (No. 12) / second round / 1-2 at CWS|
|1982-83||.779||W, Bluebonnet Bowl (No. 9) / Sweet 16 / 0-2 at regional|
|1979-80||.741||L, Sugar Bowl (No. 8) / first round / 1-2 at regional|
|1975-76||.727||W, Cotton Bowl (No. 7) / no postseason / no postseason|
|1981-82||.726||L, Gator Bowl (NR) / first round / no postseason|
|2021-22||.712||W, Outback Bowl (No. 21) / Elite Eight / CWS semifinals|
|2011-12||.695||W, Cotton Bowl (No. 5) / no postseason / CWS semifinals|
Overall Success of Arkansas Athletics
The Razorbacks didn’t just win in those three sports, though. The women on campus have turned several programs into national powerhouses, as well.
Track and field has always been dominant at Arkansas, but now the soccer and softball teams are bonafide top-10 national contenders.
Colby Hale’s squad won the SEC regular-season title and led the Razorbacks to their first Elite Eight appearance in soccer, while Courtney Deifel’s squad won the SEC regular-season and tournament titles and won its first ever super regional game.
Factor in several other programs that made the postseason and Arkansas finished seventh in the Directors’ Cup standings — its highest finish in the award’s 28-year history, surpassing last year’s eighth-place finish.
The Razorbacks were the highest-ranked program among those competing in 19 or fewer sports and they finished second only to Florida (No. 5) in the SEC.
Considering the overall health of the athletic department at Arkansas, it’s easy to see why Hunter Yurachek was one of four ADs at the FBS level to be named a national Athletics Director of the Year for 2021-22 by the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA).
“After cracking the top-10 in the Directors’ Cup for the first time in program history last year, our program responded with an even better encore, turning in the best collective yearever for Razorback Athletics,” Yurachek said in a statement. “With nine top-10 NCAA finishes, eight SEC championships and countless additional accomplishments on and off the field in all 19 of our sports, the 2021-22 athletics season will be celebrated by Razorback fans for years to come.
“It truly is a great time to be an Arkansas Razorback!”
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