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:
Arkansas’ starting quarterback on its 1964 national title team nearly skipped out on that entire season. In 1963, Fred Marshall was a fourth-year junior who had bided his time and was ready to take the reins as Hogs’ full-time quarterback. When he didn’t, he visited head coach Frank Broyles in his office with two games left in the season and told him he’d had enough. “I told him I wasn’t coming back the following year because I thought he’d done me wrong. I was saying, in essence, ‘Coach, you messed up and I’m pissed about it.'”
Broyles didn’t act defensive, Marshall recalled. Broyles heard Marshall out. And he tried to explain to him his reasoning.
The winter before, quarterback Billy Gray had starred in the Sugar Bowl and Arkansas coaches assumed he would be the starting quarterback the following fall. That season great things were expected of the Hogs, which had finished in the AP Top 10 for four consecutive years and entered the fall as conference favorites. Problem was, Gray didn’t want to play quarterback. He wanted to stick to cornerback on defense (this was the era of two-way players). So Marshall goes in, but it didn’t help his cause that in the 1963 conference opener he threw three passes that should have been intercepted.
So the baton was passed around. “I start the season as the starter and next thing I know, I’m not starting any longer,” Marshall said in August, 2o13 interview. “Billy Gray’s starting and Billy Gray takes his turn and lo and behold he joins me over on the bench. And now we got Jon Brittenum starting.” It went on like this through the first eight games of the season as Arkansas fell to a 4-4 record. Gray and Brittenum weren’t as explosive in terms of passing as anticipated. Marshall, more of a running, ball-control type of quarterback, recalled being told by Broyles that “we can’t take the ball and just grind it down the field. We’ve got to have somebody who can make the big plays.” That wasn’t happening as much as expected, though, and Marshall heard about it: “I had people all over the state telling me they didn’t understand why I wasn’t playing. To a lot of people it was clear that I should have been playing.”
With Gray and Brittenum both returning the next year, and Marshall stuck as the third stringer, he decided he’d had enough. “I wasn’t gonna ride the bench for another year,” Marshall said. He was only three or six hours away from graduating at that point and moving on with his life. He had a wife and eight-month-old son to support. “I was going to get into the workforce and do my thing. [Pro] football was not part of my future.”
He vented to Broyles after a 7-0 road loss to Rice, but added that he didn’t intend to stop playing hard for the team for the remainder of the season. During the next game, at SMU, Broyles put in Marshall early but the team still lost 14-7. That didn’t dissuade Broyles. He approached Marshall in the locker room. “If you come back next year, you’ll be my starting quarterback,” Marshall recalled being told. Broyles admitted he’d made a mistake and was going to start him the next game against Texas Tech. “I look back and wish we’d stuck with Fred in ’63,” Broyles recalled in his autobiography “Hog Wild.” “Instead of 5-5, we might have won eight or nine games.”
Marshall started the season finale at home against Texas Tech [ in the only SWC game played the day after Kennedy was assassinated] and helped the Hogs get out to a 20-0 start. Gray jumped in for Marshall in the second period after a running play in which he hit a defender head on. “As we call it in football language, he got his ‘bell rung,'” Arkansas Gazette writer Orville Henry wrote after the game. “I got a little dazed and nauseated, but I was all right by the middle of the second half,” Marshall told the Gazette.
The Hogs held on for a 27-20 win – the first of what would be 22 straight wins. Marshall would go on to be the starting quarterback the following season in which the Hogs went undefeated and clinched the national title with a 10-7 win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl. Marshall engineered the crucial game-winning drive in the fourth quarter and got co-MVP honors along with linebacker Ronnie Caveness. The entire season, under the steady leadership of Marshall and an elite defense, Arkansas gave up only six turnovers.
Would Arkansas have won its lone national title had Marshall quit the previous winter? We’ll never know for sure, but it’s a credit to Broyles’ ability to listen and admit mistakes that Arkansas fans never had to find out.
Without exception, there are and always will be exceptions.
We all (hopefully) learn this at some time or another, and my most recent lesson came via the expansive readership of the New York Times.
I wrote a piece for the paper’s college sports blog about how college football is the only major American team sport in which there hasn’t been a freshman/rookie to win that sport’s most prestigious individual award. In college football’s case, it’s the Heisman.
In pro sports, there has been a lot more opportunities for first-year player to win such honors because rookies have played on the same teams as veterans since the major leagues’ inceptions. In the college ranks, I knew freshmen played on their own teams, apart from upperclassmen, until 1972. I assumed that was the year the NCAA first allowed freshmen to play with upperclassman, and so naturally I assumed there could not have been a freshmen Heisman finalist before that year.
I was wrong, as “Todd D” from Tampa Bay, Florida pointed out in my blog post’s comments.
Turns out that during World War II, Georgia Tech freshmen played because there was the shortage of able-bodied men who’d left to fight overseas. And in 1942, a scatback named Clint Castleberry injected life into a Yellow Jackets program which had had only two winning seasons since 1930:
Standing only five-foot-nine, a hundred and fifty-five pounds, Castleberry did not allow his diminutive stature to overshadow his talent and immense heart. Upon entering Tech, he had never played in a game in which his team had lost—and the string continued in the fall of 1942. In essence, Castleberry became Seabiscuit in football pads, revitalizing Tech with incredible touchdown runs—that inspired at least one sportswriter to marvel that he “ran like a crazed jackrabbit,” defensive gems, and a Chip Hilton too-good-to-be-true personality.
Before a late-season knee injury, Castleberry led Georgia Tech to a 9-0 record and into the national Top 5. He played only that one season before heading off to war himself, but impressed everyone and finished third in the Heisman voting. There wouldn’t be another freshman Heisman finalist until another Georgian – Herschel Walker – finished third in 1980. According to football historian Bill Chastain, Castleberry is the only Georgia Tech player with his number retired.
If the program decided to enshrine two jerseys, who would be a top candidate? How about a 19-year-old from Decatur who arrived on campus the next season and developed into a two-time All-SEC QB, as well as a star in baseball and football?
Frank Broyles wouldn’t be a bad choice at all.
In Part 1, we rehashed some of the latest attacks on the University of Arkansas’ long-standing policy of not playing other in-state colleges. The main reasons for those seeking to maintain this policy haven’t changed much through the decades, but the lines of argument for changing the policy have evolved.
And Arkansas State’s football success this season adds new weight to some of these arguments.
To start with, let’s cast naivete aside: No way Arkansas plays Arkansas State simply because it would be fun for fans, or because playing in-state competition would theoretically pour more money into the state government’s coffers, which would benefit all public universities in Arkansas.
Nope, if Jeff Long’s gonna entertain even the slightest sliver of this possibility, he’d better believe the game would help the UA’s athletic program bottom line now and in the future. This fall, he unveiled plans for a shining football palace which is part of a $320 million plan. This project isn’t touted as a luxury, though. Taking a long view, Arkansas’ AD understands that keeping up with the Jones in the SEC means financing expensive stuff to attract the nation’s best coaches, trainers and players.
Without developing additional streams of revenue and fundraising, Arkansas can’t afford to keep up with far bigger SEC rivals like LSU and Alabama.
Arkansas leaves money on the table every time it plays any Sun Belt team not named Arkansas State. Here’s why:
1) Arkansas paid $900,000 to play a Sun Belt team, Troy, earlier this season in a “rent-a-win”, or guarantee game. Meanwhile, in a similar David vs. Goliath type setup, Illinois paid ASU $850,000. It stands to reason that UA would have the financial upper hand in multiple ways if negotiating a contract to play ASU, including the actual guarantee game fee. It’s likely UA possible could get away with paying ASU even less than what Illinois would pay them. Either way, UA could save $50,000 to $100,000 by playing ASU.
2) No matter how good Arkansas or Arkansas State are playing, an early-season match-up between the programs would sell out the 72,000 seats of Fayetteville’s Razorback Stadium, where the game would likely be played every time. If necessary, the stadium’s seating could be expanded to nearly 80,000 and this would be needed for at least the first time the game was played. A solid Sun Belt team like Troy usually brings around 70,000 people but another 10,000 helps the bottom line, especially if each of the tickets are sold for more than usual. Which, for this game, would make sense.
General admission tickets could be sold at an elevated price ($100, as suggested on a local sports talk show) and if UA fans hesitated to pay that amount, ASU fans would certainly make up the difference.
3) At least for the first couple of times the programs played, there would be a veritable trough-ful of licensing and merchandising opportunities for UA athletics to wallow in. Just conjure up a nice “Natural State Showdown” logo involving the helmets or mascots of both programs, then milk that sucker for all its worth through T-shirts, cakes, commemorative videos, calendars, key-chains – whatever you can stamp. There’s no doubt this stuff would fly off the racks for at least the first couple games.
You probably don’t want to look.
That poor horse, dead as doornail, flat on its back in a fog of speculation.
It’s been lying there since 1946, you know – ever since John Barnhill arrived in Fayetteville as Arkansas’ coach and athletic director and instituted a policy of not playing in-state school in any sports.
At the time, the likes of LSU and Alabama were swooping into his state and snatching its best high school players. There was no way to compete with this if Arkansas was fractured into multiple programs of similar size.
Nope, there had to be one program dominating the market,he thought. Let’s cultivate fervent loyalty to stretch into future generations whose best players wouldn’t think twice about declining LSU or Alabama’s overtures to play for their home-state favorites.
Now, why shouldn’t that program be the Arkansas Razorbacks?
Look closely at the horse. It’s been there an awful long time, yet it’s hardly decayed.
Behold! On closer inspection, the damn thing appears to have twitched a time or two.
Impossible. It’s been dead so long, right?
Many Razorbacks fans prefer to roll their eyes when the question of whether Arkansas should play Arkansas State arises. This horse has been beaten a million times, they’ll say, and though plenty reasons have been thrown out as to why Barnhill’s policy has endured through the decades, there’s one common argument used most frequently:
“It’s as simple as this: Win, and no one is impressed because you were supposed to win to begin with”, Hogville poster JamesWParks wrote in 2007.
“Lose, and your [sic] a laughing stock.”
And so it has been for generations. First, longtime UA athletic director Frank Broyles upheld Barnhill’s decree. Since 2008, current UA atheletic director Jeff Long has done the same.
But while the major reasons for keeping the UA from sweating with its in-state brethren have remained the same for decades, reasons to reconsider that policy are evolving. That process, it appears, is speeding up.