A Tale of Two Realities: Hopes for two Arkansas college football programs collide

It started with a myth-shattering loss to the University of Louisiana-Monroe.

Or it might have begun with a lackluster showing against Jacksonville State.

Or with this picture:

Or this article.

Many say it began with the pseudo-brilliant hiring of John L. Smith. Others insisted it started with Bobby Petrino’s firing.

There are a hundred different starting points to the dramatic fall of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks, a team expected to compete for the BCS title but has instead experienced a descent unlike any since Dante’s. You can argue for so many incidents for where the fuse of this historic implosion was lit. Except that there is but one true ground zero.

December 4, 2012. The day the last BCS Poll of the 2011 football season was announced. The day the Razorbacks were ranked the 6th best team in the nation.


Meanwhile, across the state in Jonesboro, Arkansas State was enjoying their most celebrated season in Red Wolves history. (But not the most celebrated season in school history, which was the legendary undefeated season of 1975, when the team was known insensitively as The Indians.)

Under the surprising and inexpensive leadership of Hugh Freeze, the Red Wolves went 10-2, though most of those wins came courtesy of an unblemished run against its Sun Belt opponents, a conference renown for weakness.

In fact, until September 9, 2012, the Sun Belt was an inglorious 0-44 against ranked opponents.

Still, Arkansas State University, the Razorback’s neglected and much maligned cousin, was experiencing something resembling Halcyon days. The team’s unprecedented success not only won them a conference title and a trip to the GoDaddy Bowl, but reopened the age old “Should the Hogs play ASU?” argument. The beleaguered fan base was suddenly re-energized and freshly emboldened. Hugh Freeze had elevated the program to its first winning season since 1995. Enthusiasm for the Red Wolves was at an all time high.

And then, just weeks before the team was to face Northern Illinois in Mobile, Alabama at the GoDaddy Bowl, Hugh Freeze accepted a job at Ole Miss, and took nearly the entire football staff with him.


On January 6th, 2012 the Arkansas Razorbacks thrashed Kansas State 29-16 at the AT&T Cotton Bowl. Tyler Wilson, the big-armed junior quarterback for the Hogs, was named the offensive MVP. The AP Top 25 elevated Arkansas to #5 in the nation

That mighty Arkansas was even playing in the Cotton Bowl against (of all teams) pedestrian Kansas State was an insult. After all, the Razorbacks were not only marques members of the SEC, but warriors of the SEC West, the blue chip division of the most powerful conference in America. The Hog’s two defeats on the season came at the hands of Alabama and LSU, who would a few nights later play each other for the BCS Championship.

But the mood among the faithful was that Arkansas could no longer be slighted, even by a national media that obviously favored lessor programs for reasons that were never made clear. The Hogs were led by one of the sharpest football minds in the country, Bobby Petrino. Though they were losing a number of skill players, including defensive powerhouse Jake Bequette and ESPN Top 10 Plays celebrity Joe Adams, several key components pledged to return for a championship run. Tyler Wilson, for example, eschewed the NFL for a senior season. Running back Knile Davis, who had broken his ankle before the season had even begun, was returning, too.

2012 was finally to be the season that validated decades of Razorback fans’ undying, unwavering loyalty.


Something strange happened during Arkansas State’s trip back to meek irrelevance.

The program decided to forgo their usual path of mediocrity and aim high in their replacement for Hugh Freeze.

The elation for having won the Sen Belt and earning a trip to the GoDaddy Bowl was completely deflated by Freeze’s defection to Ole Miss. It didn’t matter that Freeze was the lowest paid coach in the FBS, or that the University of Mississippi represented both Freeze’s dream job and a career promotion. Freeze abandoned the Red Wolves at the precise moment the fans finally believed in the program. And rather than stick around to coach the team at the GoDaddy Bowl, he elected to pirate the staff and begin his new life in Oxford.

Left behind was long-time running backs coach David Gunn, a well-respected and likeable but overwhelmed assistant that was suddenly thrust into the interim role. Immediately, a fan base accustomed to setting the bar low clamored to make Gunn’s ascension to head coach permanent.

How Gus Malzahn, the innovative offensive coordinator for Auburn, became entwined into the head coaching discussion is a mix of legend and mystery. Formerly of both Arkansas and Tulsa, Gus Malzahn had been linked to several juicy SEC coaching positions before his wife, Kristie, made an unfortunate TV appearance that unfairly damaged his aura. Reportedly, ASU made an “aw, what the hell” to Malzahn, and almost incredibly, the two sides came to a nearly $1M agreement.

It was Malzahn, and not Freeze, who stood on the sidelines alongside David Gunn as Northern Illinois manhandled the Red Wolves 38-20 at the GoDaddy Bowl. (Freeze reportedly attended the game from somewhere in the stadium.) For the Red Wolves, the loss halted much-needed momentum for a program that yearned to compete with its snobbish big brother to the west. But with the arrival of Malzahn came with him new hope.

And new expectations.


On February 1, 2012, the Hog faithful watched (along with a national audience viewing the press conference live on television) in stunned dismay as Dorial Green-Beckham, the country’s top ranked high school wide receiver, rejected Arkansas for the University of Missouri.

DGB was fully expected to join Bobby Petrino’s high powered Razorback offense and become a superstar. The only real competition was Georgia, where the prospect’s girlfriend had reportedly enrolled. Missouri was a dark horse, even though the Show Me State was DGB’s home.

Why DGB ultimately chose Missouri over Arkansas is the subject of debate. It was suggested by one journalist that Petrino’s reputation turned the prospect off. But what might have influenced DGB most is a force bearing deeper ramifications than coloring the whims of one prized recruit.

Recent events had transpired around college football that bore a direct affect on Arkansas recruiting. The most damaging was Texas A&M and Missouri accepting invitations to join the SEC. No longer did Arkansas have valuable SEC leverage in football rich Texas and (as evidenced by DGB) Missouri. Now those kids who wanted to play in the SEC could do so in their home state.

In addition, the University of Memphis announced its move from lowly Conference USA to current BCS eligible Big East. This does not affect Arkansas in recruiting elite players, but it does affect the team’s depth. Why be third string for Arkansas when you can be first string at Memphis and be eligible for a premium Bowl game? (Or, for that matter, play for A-State against ULM and Troy when you could join the Tigers and battle Rutgers and Louisville?)

Lastly, the SEC began restricting the practice of  “over-signing” which enabled high-profile schools to sign too many players to the team, only to release them before the season began or stash them away at junior colleges for future use. Now more players were made available to second-tier schools, like TCU, Houston, Central Florida and even programs like Arkansas State.

Naturally, the Hog fan base was slow in accepting this new paradigm. “We’re the Hogs!” cried the local media. “We’re a top 5 program in the nation! The world’s best college mastermind serves as our head coach! Prospects want to play for us!”

Except, they didn’t. Routinely, the Hogs ranked middle or near the bottom of the SEC for recruiting. But even that fact failed to shake the faith. “Bobby Petrino makes 3-star talents into 5-star talents!” was a phrase commonly made. There is no debating that Bobby Petrino did indeed squeeze every ounce of ability from his players.

But what nobody realized was that Bobby Petrino’s empire was rapidly unraveling.


Gus Malzahn wasted no time.

On January 14, 2012, Landers Award winner Fredi Knighten committed to Arkansas State. On February 2, a day after Green-Beckham rejected Arkansas, Malzahn and the Red Wolves inked 28 recruits, a class considered by many to be the school’s best ever.

Included in that mix, troubled running back Michael Dyer. After being dismissed by Auburn in January, the talented but knuckle-headed Dyer accepted an invitation from Malzahn to join the Red Wolves.

The addition was seen as instant proof of Malzahn’s greatness. Imagine a talent of Dyer’s caliber crashing through Sun Belt defensive lines! Dyer’s penchant for guns, marijuana, and thuggery was overshadowed by the 1000-yard season he had just notched for Auburn. With the Red Wolves gaining Dyer and Arkansas losing DGB, ASU fans began to wonder if this was truly the year when Arkansas State would garner the respect it had craved for decades.


April 1, 2012, Bobby Petrino was admitted to the hospital following a motorcycle accident that occurred on Arkansas Highway 16, one of Fayeteville’s many winding roads.

At the time, the entire state of Arkansas feared mightily for their architect of greatness. The degree of the accident’s severity ranged from minor scrapes and bruises to decapitation. But by midnight, the citizen’s of Arkansas rested easy in the knowledge that their pigskin godfather was more or less intact.

The next day, the University of Arkansas released this statement:

“Coach Petrino was involved in a motorcycle accident on Sunday evening that involved no other individuals. He is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery. Our family appreciates respect for our privacy during the recovery and we are grateful for the thoughts of Razorback fans at this time.” (emphasis added)

On April 3, Bobby Petrino appeared at a press conference wearing a cumbersome neck brace. He had four damaged ribs and a couple busted vertebrae. The Arkansas press and fan base lauded Bobby for his toughness. Petrino even joked about possible brain damage, quipping “If I start not punting at all we’ll know something is wrong.” He returned to coordinating practices on April 4.

But something was wrong. On March 28, 2012, the University of Arkansas hired a new Student Athlete Development Coordinator, a former school volleyball player named Jessica Dorrell. Despite having fewer credentials than many of the 100-plus applicants who had applied for the position, Dorrell was handpicked by Petrino for the job.

What happened next is well documented. Within days of the accident, it was revealed that Dorrell was aboard the motorcycle when the wrecked occurred. Further investigation showed that Petrino had given Dorrell $20,000 for “an Acura.” The very married Petrino admitted that he and Dorrell had an “inappropriate relationship.” The university’s athletic director, Jeff Long, became a martyr crucified by Bobby Petrino’s lies.

On April 10, three months after taking the program to a Top 5 ranking in the nation, Bobby Petrino was fired from the University of Arkansas football program.


As the University of Arkansas struggled, Arkansas State rolled. During February 2nd’s National Signing Day, it was Coach Malzahn appearing on ESPN and CBS Sports, not Bobby Petrino. Outdoor boards bearing Malzahn’s image and a provoking “Game On” message peppered the state. And as the state’s flagship program squirmed beneath the spotlight of adultery, the Red Wolves set an attendance record for a Spring Game.

However, the Red Wolves Spring Game drew little more than half of the 10,000 fans Malzahn had publicly expected to see. For the first time, Malzahn had failed to accomplish a goal Malzahn had confidently set. But still, 6,100 fans was an impressive display of Malzahn’s star power, and the long suffering fan base even received a glimpse of the future when Michael Dyer ran for an effortless 85 yards.

In the days following the Spring game, the program began generating buzz again as Malzahn and his assistants released tantalizing messages through the media and Twitter, promising that the Red Wolves were about to do something that had never been done before. In the light of a successful recruiting day, a record Spring Game, the acquisition of Dyer and the arrival of Malzahn himself, the Red Wolves fan base harbored expectations ratcheted to The Next Level, a phrase Malzahn himself had liberally applied to the program.

On April 23, the game-changing news was revealed to be A-State Ambush, an ambitious plan to visit every high school in Arkansas to recruit in-state talent. “215 Schools. 5 Days. One Purpose.” was the slogan. The athletic department rounded up several black SUVs, festooned them with A-State decals, and “recruited the state as it has never been recruited before.”

The initial reaction was mixed. An in-state recruiting trip didn’t seem to warrant the enticing build-up Malzahn and the coaching staff had orchestrated through social media. And quite frankly, the stunt seemed a little hokey. But as A-State Ambush progressed, the national media began to pick-up the story.

The national spotlight revealed a truth that many Red Wolves fans were just beginning to understand: no ASU coach before Malzahn had cared to recruit in-state high schools so aggressively. After all, premium recruits in Arkansas high schools belonged to one program only: the Razorbacks. Malzahn refused to respect the turf laws.

A-State Ambush was a recruiting and a media success. Malzahn Magic worked again.


Razorback Nation was more interested in recruiting a new head coach than with building relationships with local high schools that, in their opinion, were already in their back pocket. As a Top 5 program, every body expected athletic director Jeff Long to produce a Top 5 coach.

Firing Bobby Petrino brought to Jeff Long unexpected celebrity and praise. Seen as a noble victim in Petrino’s sordid affairs, Long became a sympathetic figure on campus lauded for his integrity and bravery.

The lovefest reached its apex when The Donald Reynold’s Foundation and Fred Smith rewarded the Uof A a $1.25M gift  to honor Long’s “courageous leadership.”

That Long was being held totally unaccountable for Petrino’s hiring and for the scandal that unfolded directly beneath his nose was lost on both the fans and the state media. To most eyes within the state, Long was the nation’s finest AD, and not without real cause. After all, Long had guided the program to unprecedented success that extended beyond football. The baseball team, for example, competed for the College World Series. Long had managed to coax Mike Anderson away from Missouri to head the once proud Razorback basketball team. And the school had recently announced plans for a new sporting complex that would rival any in the SEC.

Long further cemented his status as a man of the people by spending his evening dominating Twitter, offering cheery commentary and replies to anyone who cared to discuss the perfection of the program. A popular topic was “new uniforms.” Would the Hogs adopt black into their red and white palette? Long remained coy. (Until July, when Nike introduced the state to the color “anthracite.”)

As for the fans, many viewed the loss of Petrino as unfortunate, but hardly a death blow. After all, the staff was still intact, and Bobby’s brother, Paul, was the new offensive coordinator. (Paul Petrino’s candidacy to become UofA’s next head coach had its supporters.)  Best of all, it was the players that scored touchdowns, not coaches. And the Tyler Wilson for Heisman talk was already chugging.

Quite frankly, it didn’t matter who coached the Razorbacks. The assistants were already well versed in Bobby Petrino’s master schemes. Any one of them could coach! And the players were so good, they practically coached themselves. Enticing names like Jon Gruden, Phillip Fulmer, and Randy Shannon were tossed among the talk radio shows, but because Petrino’s dismissal had occurred so close to the 2012 season, Long was having difficulty finding a 5-star coach to commit.

With no superstar coaches leaping to his side, Jeff Long did what was familiar: he hired a coach who was already employed. This time, his selection was not a man who would have to abandon his NFL team in the middle of the season.

Instead, Long courageously destroyed a FCS program at the beginning of its season when he lured John L. Smith from Weber St.


On July 5th, 2012, the NCAA denied Michael Dyer eligibility to play for the Red Wolves in 2012.

Though disappointing, the verdict was not unexpected. Malzahn did a fine job of preparing the fan base for this inevitability. More telling, Malzahn and his staff landed doghouse Tennessee running back David Oku in the days leading to summer practices. Oku was a nice interim for Dyer.

But on July 19, a rumor circulated that Dyer intended to drop down to an FCS school, possibly Pittsburgh State, to play immediately. After several anxious hours, Malzahn and Dyer held a press conference re-cementing Dyer’s commitment to the Red Wolves.

On July 29, Michael Dyer was dismissed from the team following an incident in March involving a State Trooper, a bag of marijuana, and a handgun (a combination for which Dyer was well acquainted). Dyer’s thug-mentality had cost him immortality at Auburn and a second chance with the Red Wolves.

Dyer’s dismissal fueled the chortles of Razorback fans who had grown weary of ASU fans displaying a new-found brazen attitude. Same old ASU! Red Wolves should know their place! That place, of course, was out of the state media, which had begun to reluctantly cover the program. There was only room for one football team in Arkansas and that team was The Razorbacks.

ASU fans were accustomed to the blind eye given to the Red Wolves by state media. The lone statewide newspaper, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, notoriously buried ASU news. When Malzahn was hired, the paper’s lead story was not “What an Amazing Hire for ASU” but “How is ASU Going to Pay for Malzahn?”

The media’s unvarnished, shameless favoritism for one school was so unconcealed it was nearly a parody of itself. For example, Little Rock based KARK Channel 4 centered its entire sports segment exclusively to the Razorbacks. NO COVERAGE FOR ANY SCHOOL BUT ONE! KATV Channel 7 wasn’t much better, bearing an online tagline of “Breaking news, weather, and Razorback sports.” Bear in mind that Little Rock is home to UALR and is within a stone’s throw of the University of Central Arkansas. But only the Razorbacks are worthy of coverage.

This blatant favoritism made it difficult enough to be a Red Wolves fan. Dyer’s failure to stick with ASU shook the faith of the faithful. Perhaps the Razorback monopoly was right; the Red Wolves would never compete with its favored brother.


The arrival of John L. Smith was immediately met with public chagrin. His failure at Michigan State was the stuff of legend. That he had been stolen from lowly Weber State was even more unflattering. This was not the talent entitled to an elite program like the Arkansas Razorbacks.

But Long was already on top of the spin. Smith (a friend of Petrino’s and a former Hog assistant) had been granted a 10-month interim contract that awarded him, ironically, a salary similar to Malzahn’s. The message was clear: Smith is a placeholder for a much higher profile coach yet to be named.

Within hours of his hiring, Smith went from “questionable hire” to “another brilliant move by Jeff Long.”  Smith knows the system! He knows many of the players! He’s simply a steward of a team that requires no governing! He wears cowboy boots! Upon his arrival, starting running back Knile Davis tweeted: “This is the best day of my life!”

It was onward to the BCS title.

The fervor surrounding the 2012 Razorbacks was reaching cosmic intensities. Not only was Tyler Wilson mentioned in the Heisman discussion, so was the freshly recovered Knile Davis! It didn’t matter that Davis had missed the entire 2011 season with a leg injury. Inactivity had somehow elevated Davis to the nation’s elite running backs.

The illusion of supremacy began to expand beyond the state’s boundaries. In August, a new line of Razorback Pop Tarts was announced. Skip Bayless declared that the Hogs would win a national title. Locally, Arkansas Sports 360 published its sports annual with its cover featuring Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, and WR Cobi Hamilton. “NFL CAN WAIT” read the headline. The publisher breathlessly explained the cover choice: “Learn why our cover subjects – Cobi Hamilton, Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis – abandoned any ideas of leaving for the NFL in order to make the run for a national title for the Arkansas Razorbacks.”

Anything short of a BCS title was failure in the minds of Razorback fans, who had grown weary of defending their place among the elite. Hog fans saw themselves as part of a history-rich program that belonged in the same breath as Alabama’s and LSU’s.

It was this year, or it was nothing.


A similar sentiment was growing among Red Wolves fans.

Coach Gus Malzahn was building a base of believers in Arkansas. The team under Freeze had notched a 10-2 record in 2011, and there was no reason to expect less in 2012. It didn’t matter that Malzahn was implementing a much faster system than Freeze, or that Malzahn’s staff was still in the process of gelling with players. The fan base was gaining an unreal level of confidence. And it was fueled by Malzahn’s.

On August 7, it was revealed that Malzahn had openly approached the University of Arkansas for a game between the schools. “Hogs and Red Wolves is going to happen,” Malzahn insisted on radio programs and on speaking engagements. This was chutzpah never displayed by an ASU football coach before. ASU personnel of yesteryear seemed content to kowtow to the University of Arkansas’ dominance. Malzahn wasn’t in the mood.

The folly of Frank Broyle’s monopoly-protecting policy to never play in-state schools was becoming increasingly more ridiculous as ASU’s profile rose. There wasn’t a state in the union that had adopted a similar policy. UofA was looking more and more like a selfish bully bent on sacrificing honor for merchandising.

Malzahn unflinchingly challenged the status quo, emboldening the fans and bringing to Jonesboro a renewed sense of pride. The school was forging its own identity. It was pulling itself out of the Razorback’s immense shadow. Malzahn and university president Dr. Chuck Welch was the architect of this.

But there were obstacles that many fans were doing their best to ignore. For example, the Red Wolves were scheduled to open their season against the Oregon Ducks in Eugene. The Ducks were legitimate title contenders and ranked #5 in the country. Two weeks later, the Red Wolves would travel to Lincoln, Nebraska to face the nationally ranked Cornhuskers. These were two games scheduled by past administrators for financial gain. The Ducks and the Cornhuskers would pay ASU enormous fees for the right to dominate a much smaller program.

Malzahn expressed his misgivings about the Red Wolves’ non-conference schedule. There were no bold pronouncements of victory against either big money opponent. When ESPN commentator Mark May recommended that the Red Wolves rest its starters during these games for conference play, Malzahn responded with a mild reproof rather than with a steaming diatribe.

But the confidence Malzahn had built among the fans had raised expectations beyond what was realistic. The fans not only expected to give the Ducks a good game, but a win against Nebraska was considered well within reach. Malzahn’s reputation for putting massive amounts of points on the board gave fans cause to dream. It was temporarily forgotten how many losses the team had suffered on the defensive side. It was pushed aside that Malzahn was accustomed to working with SEC-level talent.

What the Red Wolves did have was last year’s Sun Belt player of the year Ryan Aplin returning under center. In Aplin the Red Wolves had proven, senior leadership who could score with his legs or his arm. Slight in stature and shy in public, Ryan Aplin was no Cam Newton, but he harbored similar types of gridiron weapons.

Expectations were raised for Aplin, as well.


The Hogs elected not to open the season against Jacksonville State wearing the controversial black uniforms that had sparked so much discussion over the summer. Perhaps Long was saving them for a more worthy (and more televised) opponent.

The days leading up the opening game were blissful and good-natured. Smith was praised for bringing a more relaxed atmosphere to practices. His country hokisms amused a fawning press corps. The new coach even introduced a new catchphrase for the Hog faithful to repeat: “Get Your Piss Hot.

Reportedly, Heisman candidate Tyler Wilson appreciated Smith and Paul Petrino’s friendlier approach to coaching. Wilson was not fond of Bobby Petrino’s surly demeanor. He preferred Paul’s style over Bobby’s, who Wilson thought yelled “for the sake of yelling.”

Aside from the uniform change, the only cause for consternation was Heisman candidate Knile Davis. When would he finally see contact? Would his leg hold? Would he run with the same burst? The local media followed breathlessly, reporting on the running back’s every move. Smith handled the media by playing on his reputation for goofiness. During SEC Media Days, Smith seemed to be engaged in some kind of personality competition with Steve Spurrier.

Nobody seemed concerned that Smith was too relaxed. When a photo was released of Smith playfully kicking a lineman in the rear during practice, it was positioned as an example of Smith’s refreshingly jovial attitude. He’s having so much fun out there! Few wondered if team discipline was slipping. Everybody was too giddy about the team’s #10 preseason ranking, the Razorback’s highest opening ranking since 1980.

Team chemistry was not a priority so much as was the new $5M “video board” that was freshly installed at Donald W. Reynold’s Stadium. John L. Smith’s ghost-written twitter account posted updates of its construction almost daily. (“New video board is also complete. It looks great #GoHogspic.twitter.com/j0Sms2fb) The video board and its exuberant cost seemed justified in light of the program’s past success.

Money was not a concern anyway. Not when Forbes Magazine had listed the Arkansas Razorbacks as the 8th most valuable college football team in the country.

For the University of Arkansas and all of it’s sports programs, there were no worries.


On September 1, 2012, the Red Wolves were in Eugene, Oregon, 2000 miles from home to play the fifth ranked Ducks.

Earlier that evening, the Razorbacks had simply strolled over to their on-campus stadium and defeated Jacksonville State, a solid FCS team lead by one-time Arkansas head coach Jack Crowe. More than 71,000 fans witnessed the 49-24 drumming, although not all was roses. Jacksonville St. actually held a 14-7 lead at one point. And it was unnerving that the defense allowed 24 points to anyone, let alone to Jack Crowe’s third-tier athletes.

But a win is a win, and the AP would reward the effort by raising the Razorback’s ranking from 10 to 8. Number one was only a matter of time.

Back in Eugene, before a national ESPN audience, the Oregon Ducks scored a TD on their first possession. Rather than settle for one measly extra point, Chip Kelly went for the two-point conversion and got it. This proved to be a bad omen for Arkansas State.

By halftime, the score was 50-10, Oregon Ducks.


In its 36 years, The Sun Belt had never seen a football victory over a Top 10 foe, which might have been one reason why, on the week when the 8th ranked Hogs were to play the University of Louisiana-Monroe, the media remained centered on the following week’s game against Alabama.

It was easy for the Hogs (favored by 30 points) to overlook their match-up against the Warhawks, with whom they had orchestrated a fairly ridiculous arrangement. The game was played in Little Rock, and it was considered a home game for ULM. Nevermind that at least 90% of the crowd would be attired in red and white or that the “home team” had to cross state lines to play the game.

Since 2004, the Razorback’s had amassed a perfect 5-0 record against the Warhawks. Though the Hogs’ fans had already counted the game as a win, ULM had no intention of cooperating. It wasn’t their style. In 2008, Arkansas managed to squeak by the Warhawks with a one point, come-from-behind victory. Though their record was only 4-8 in 2011, ULM was known throughout the Sun Belt as a tough opponent. They were hard-nosed Louisiana kids who laid down to no one.

On September 8, the “visiting” crowd looked on in horror as Heisman candidate Tyler Wilson was knocked out of the game by a surprisingly tough ULM defense. The dismay deepened as a three touchdown lead evaporated and the relentless Warhawks took the game to overtime. And when it couldn’t possibly get more humiliating, ULM quarterback Kolton Browning ran the ball in from 14 yards out to cement the biggest football victory in both Sun Belt and University of Louisiana-Monroe history.

The next day, the Hogs were booted from the AP Top 25.


The next week, Arkansas State pocketed a million bucks for the pleasure of receiving a 42-13 thumping from Nebraska. In Fayeteville, Arkansas’ much awaited clash with Alabama became a messy hog slaughter: 52-0. Two programs that had begun the season with astronomically high hopes now bore identical 1-2 records.

A USA Today Poll released October 9 ranked the Hogs the 77th best team in the nation; Arkansas State, 71st. The two programs have never been more alike.

While neither program was enjoying a glorious start to the season, it was most certainly the state’s flagship school that suffered most. Gone were the BCS dreams, the Heisman aspirations, and the seat at the nation’s table reserved for elite football programs. The Hogs had seen the pinnacle of college football success. The tumble to the bottom was a bruising experience.

Once again, Arkansas State proved helpless against top-tier competition, falling to 0-29 versus ranked opponents. With only a win against the hapless Memphis Tigers, the Red Wolves seemed like children against Oregon and Nebraska. Coach Malzahn was promising The Next Level, but only the seeds had been sown. The long-suffering fan base will have to wait for future seasons to see what fruit Malzahn’s work bears.

There is some radioactive element to college football that warps fans’ minds and makes them insane. We ignore our favorite program’s blemishes and we amplify their losses through our own suffering. The joy of defeating Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl has long dissipated. The thrill of acquiring an unattainable coaching talent has faded.

Reality is one cold son of a bitch.

Angry Czeck claims to have no interests outside of subjecting his will upon others, reveling in the failure others and bathing in their shame. He also enjoys Scrabble®. Follow him on Twitter @angryczeck and his blog www.angryczeck.com.