(AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Picking the greatest year in Razorbacks sports history is a somewhat subjective endeavor and a lot of it based on the parameters one chooses to follow.
That said, any way in which you stack the deck, the 2021-2022 Razorbacks sports season has to be considered as one of the best in school history across the board. The quality of play across the spectrum of the Razorback sports menu has been premium all year long.
It’s simply been a great year to be a Razorback and one of their fans, particularly in what most consider the big three — football, men’s basketball, and baseball.
Now, the Razorbacks have had better individual seasons in all three of those sports. The Razorbacks won a couple of versions of the national title during one of their two undefeated football seasons in 1964 under head coach and eventual athletics director Frank Broyles. The Hogs’ other undefeated football season was way back in 1909.
To older guys like me, in some ways it seems just like yesterday that Nolan Richardson led the Razorbacks to the promised land by capturing the 1994 national title over Duke in basketball, but then again, in other ways, it seems so long ago.
The Razorbacks have never won a national title in baseball, but the Hogs came oh so close in 1979 under legendary coach and founder of modern Razorback baseball Norm DeBriyn and more recently in 2018 under Dave Van Horn.
Van Horn’s most recent squad, incidentally, finished No. 3 in the voting of the final USA Today Baseball poll of the 2022 season. I know that 2-0 loss to eventual College World Series champions Ole Miss still really stings, but Hog fans have to be proud of the way the Razorbacks competed in the NCAA Tournament. The squad rose like a Phoenix after going 0-2 in the SEC Tournament to earn Van Horn’s seventh trip to the College World Series as Arkansas’ head coach.
As Van Horn said himself there’s no crying over a season that ends in Omaha.
Now, if I’m following my 30-year trends correctly, the Razorbacks are due to win a baseball national title in 2024.
As mentioned earlier, Broyles got his football national title in 1964, Richardson won his basketball national title 30 years later in 1994, so by my way of accounting, Van Horn and his Hogs are basically on deck for a baseball natty in 2024.
Silly? Yeah, probably. But it gives us Hog fans something to ponder for the next five to six weeks before football practice cranks up in August.
However, before we jump into 2022-23 sports season, let’s consider which sports year is the best in Razorback history in the three major sports?
By my estimation — and it admittedly is subjective — it would be the 1978-79 season.
That year the Razorback football team went 9-2-1 and finished the year No. 10 in the UPI Poll and No. 11 in the AP poll after opening the season as No. 2 in Lou Holtz’ second year as coach. Texas and Houston beat the Hogs in close games on back-to-back weekends in October, and a super-talented team that featured All-American defensive tackles Dan Hampton and Jimmy Walker, running back Ben Cowins, and quarterback Ron Calcagni had a great season but slightly underachieved based on preseason expectations. Sports Illustrated actually picked the Hogs to win the national title that summer.
The 1978-79 Razorback basketball season was another fantastic year for the Hogs, led by senior guard Sidney Moncrief, who for my money remains the greatest Razorback to ever take the hardwood for Arkansas. All these years later, the All-American guard from Little Rock remains the school’s all-time leading rebounder, the second-leading scorer, and the Hogs’ highest NBA Draft pick at No. 5.
Gone were Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer who teamed with Moncrief the year before as the Triplets and led Arkansas to is first Final Four in more than 30 years under Coach Eddie Sutton (Arkansas’ coach 1974-85), but with his extreme intensity, desire, and talent, Moncrief came within one shot of willing an otherwise young Razorback squad back to the Final Four.
Moncrief put the clamps on Larry Bird and his No. 1 seeded Indiana State in the second half of the game, but eventual Indiana House of Representatives member Bob Heaton sank a late-game shot over Scott Hastings to lift the Sycamores past the Hogs in the Elite Eight.
It was a great game, but a crushing defeat for Hog fans. Though Sutton would have other fine teams at Arkansas, they would never advance as far again during his tenure as coach.
DeBriyn’s 10th season as the Hogs head coach was a magical one for the Hogs. The Razorbacks went 49-15 on the season and came within two games of capturing the national title with a squad that featured future Major League all-star Kevin McReynolds as well as standouts pitcher Steve Krueger, shortstop Larry Wallace ,and outfielder Marc Brumble.
The Hogs, who finished second in the Southwest Conference to Texas, ran into the Longhorns again in the College World Series. Despite going 1-4 against the Longhorns previously that season, the Razorbacks posted a 9-4 victory over Texas to advance to the championship round against a tough Cal State Fullerton squad.
The Hogs lost to the Titans, 13-10 and 2-1, to finish No. 2 on the season, but it was a breakthrough year for Razorback baseball, putting the program on the map forevermore.
With the Diamond Hogs reaching the College World Series this season and being a win away from the championship series, the basketball team reaching the Elite Eight, and the football squad winning a New Year’s Day Bowl over Penn State, one could argue that 2021-22 was the best overall year for Razorback sports among the big three.
The great thing looking forward to the 2022-23 season, I personally believe Arkansas’ football team will be more talented than last year’s squad. That said, the schedule is brutal both in how it is set up and the sheer quality of opponents. This Hog squad might be better than last year’s, but might not win as many games. Or, they might just have a very special season, including another New Year’s Day bowl trip.
The Razorback basketball team is potentially very good with an outstanding recruiting class from the high school ranks and the transfer portal. Coach Eric Musselman and his staff have proven to be very adept a forging individuals into a team rather quickly in his three years as the Hogs’ head coach.
Musselman very well may have lightning in a bottle with this talented and diverse group. It’s fantastic that this squad gets the opportunity to take a tour of Italy and Spain and play three games together in August to bond and work out some kinks before practice officially begins in October.
As for Van Horn’s Hogs, next year will be a rebuilding year of sorts with a ton of talent exiting the program, but really it may be better described as reloading. The Razorbacks might not start the season as a Top-10 team, but do not be surprised if the Hogs earn their eighth trip to the CWS under Van Horn.
With Pittman, Musselman, and Van Horn in place as head coaches, and Hunter Yurachek providing support and leadership as Arkansas’ athletics director, the future continues to look bright for the Razorbacks despite the ever-changing landscape of college sports in this era of greater empowerment for the college athlete.