The year was 1989: the Detroit Pistons had won their first NBA title, Wayne Gretzky became the National Hockey League's all-time leading scorer, and Barry Sanders was a rookie in the NFL. Also, that year the Arkansas Razorback football team claimed their last conference championship. The Razorbacks finished 10-2 with one loss in the conference and one in their Cotton Bowl appearance against Tennessee. It may be hard to believe it has been that long, but it is also harder to believe that this was not done in the SEC. Arkansas football at the time was part of the Southwestern Conference which included teams like Rice, SMU, and future SEC member Texas. The Razorbacks have never won the SEC but have four trips to the title game.
Sam Pittman inherited one of the worst jobs in the SEC when he took the reins in 2020. The previous two seasons saw the Hogs go 4-20 with zero conference wins. Pittman has started to steer the ship in a different direction. In his three seasons at the helm, he has compiled a 19-17 record with two bowl appearances, winning both. He has also had some signature wins as head coach which includes a win over 16th-ranked Mississippi State to snap a 20-game conference losing streak in 2020 and a win over number 15 Texas in the 2021 season.
Arkansas Quarterback - KJ Jefferson, answering questions at SEC Media Days in Nashville TN
Pittman has also developed one of the best QBs in the nation. KJ Jefferson has turned himself into an elite quarterback. He has thrown for over 5,000 yards in his two full seasons as the razorback's starter, what's even more impressive is what he can do on the ground. Jefferson has rushed for over 1,400 yards averaging just over three yards a carry. His play on the field has made him one of the top quarterback prospects headed into the 2024 NFL draft. He was also on the preseason all-SEC second team. QB is not the only strength for this Arkansas team Raheim "Rocket" Sanders is back. Sanders led the SEC in rushing during his second season in Fayetteville with over 1400 yards on the ground adding nearly 300 more receiving. Sanders was picked to be the first-team all-SEC running back for the upcoming season. These two guys returning should give the Razorbacks a potent offense under first-year OC Dan Enos.
Even with some star power coming back the Hogs were fifth in a stacked SEC west behind: Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss. Arkansas' non-conference schedule is fairly easy with BYU being their best opponent. But the key for the Razorbacks is getting through the gauntlet of their first four conference games. The Hogs have to travel to LSU, Arlington to play A&M, Ole Miss, and Alabama. Winning just two of those games would be huge for the Razorbacks and will put them in good shape for the second half of the season.
Arkansas football was in a dark place under Chad Morris. Sam Pittman has brought life back to Fayetteville. His coaching ability is giving Razorback fans hope for the future and they hope that future has Sam Pittman cracking open a beer after a SEC championship victory.
Alek Kisiel / WNSR Columnist
@AlekKisiel on Twitter