No college coach worth his contractual country club membership encourages looking beyond the next game. Even when it’s warranted, as is the case this week when Arkansas plays Toledo in Little Rock.
While these Rockets have a slightly better chance of defeating Arkansas than those of the LR Catholic High variety, they are still major underdogs against the No. 18 Razorbacks.
But in the big scheme of things, so are the Hogs.
While Arkansas has gotten much respect this preseason, its coaches and players are far more concerned with continuing to hone the processes Bret Bielema has put in place. In short, their focus is on maximizing chances at postseason respect. To that end they don’t want to wait another year to break down the doors to the College Football Playoff – they want in now.
Which introduces the question: Since the AP poll started in 1936, how many early-season No. 18’s have maximized their chances for postseason success? How many would have crashed a top-four team playoff, had such an event then existed?
Only a handful. And each one shared similar traits with these 2015 Hogs. I write more about those four teams at ArkansasFight.com here.
While good teams get all the e-ink, I want to briefly shine some limelight on some really disappointing collections of talent. Below are the worst 10 early-season No. 18’s of all time, based on the Simple Rating System*:
[*The SRS is a metric involving margin of victory and strength of schedule. Historically, our nation’s cigar-chomping Associated Press voters didn’t know/care about SRS when casting their first ballot of the preseason/season (in days of yore, this sometimes happened after said season had already started). It saddens me to think many chomped their proverbial last cigar without ever knowing/caring what SRS is.]
On the above graph, you’ll notice Michigan State 2002 takes the deflated cake. The disappointment compelled team brass to pivot away from Spartan head coach Bobby Williams and find a replacement. From Louisville, they hired an Idaho native with a slightly eccentric side: John L. Smith.
In 2014 Arkansas had one of the nation’s most difficult schedules. Indeed, according to sports-reference’s strength of schedule metric, it was fourth-hardest in the nation. Expect it contend for a Top 5 finish again this year, especially since EVERY. SINGLE. SEC TEAM ON. ITS. SCHEDULE. IS RANKED.
As you can see below, only two early-season No. 18 teams have ever finished with the nation’s hardest schedule, but it would be no surprise if Arkansas joins them after a gauntlet of a season in the nation’s deepest division.
Finally, just because I can, I below present to you the Top 10 No. 18’s of all time using the final AP ranking of the season as a metric:
PS – Before 2015, 1946 was the only other time an Arkansas team ever ranked No. 18 in the first AP poll of the season. The Hogs produced a 6-3-2 record and finished the season ranked No. 16. Clyde Scott, a future college football hall of famer and Olympian, led the team that year with 11 catches (for 183 yards). On defense, salt of the earthers like “Muscles” Campell held down the fort. [HogDB.com has an awesome collection of Hogs ’46 info here.]