By most accounts it was a successful season. Not successful in the “10-win season” or “competing for the SEC championship” sense of the word, of course. But it was successful if measured against most of the expert predictions for how the Hogs should have finished.
I had fun looking back on how all those predictions turned out — mostly because the Hogs outperformed what most everyone thought they’d do. Just look back on these 2014 season predictions by college football’s “experts” across the land:
Bleacher Report’s Josh Sachnoff predicted that Arkansas would finish 5-7 overall and 2-6 in the SEC. That conference record proved to be correct, but Sachnoff underestimated the Hogs’ non-conference play. They finished 4-0 with wins over Texas Tech, Northern Illinois, Nicholls State, and University of Alabama-Birmingham. For all the grief that SEC schools get about their cupcake-like non-conference schedules, the Razorbacks played a decent one: Texas Tech is a decent team from a Power-5 conference, and the Huskies of Northern Illinois were the champions of the Mid-American Conference. Here was Sachnoff’s take:
Way back in January of 2014, Athlon Sports’ Steven Lassan predicted a 4-8 or 5-7 season for the Hogs. While he didn’t offer specific thoughts on a conference record, he did put Arkansas at last in the SEC West. (That conference ranking proved accurate, of course.) Here are Lassan’s thoughts:
A few months later, Athlon’s experts were at it again. This time Braden Gall weighed in on the Hogs’ 2014 campaign. He was more pessimistic than his colleague Lassan, predicting a season of between 3 and 5 victories. Here are Gall’s words:
In what appears to be Athlon Sports’ “official” prediction in the middle of the summer, the consensus appears to have settled on lower expectations. A preview article with Lassan’s byline was published predicting the Razorbacks would finish at 4-8 with a 1-7 conference record. So Athlon was off both on the conference and non-conference portions of the schedule.
Other predictions were in this same range. Fox Sports’ Zach Dillard predicted that the Razorbacks would finish 4-8 overall with a 2-6 conference record. On the humorous end of the spectrum, the “Roll Bama Roll” blogger at SB Nation predicted a 3-9 finish with an 0-8 conference record. He answered the question of whether Arkansas would go bowling at the end of the season with a confident, “Afraid not.”
The ESPN Stats and Information Department informed Hogs fans that they could expect to register exactly 4.9 wins during the 2014 campaign. Gotta love the accuracy of algorithmic number-crunching. And really, how can you argue with ESPN’s logic? Here it is in black-and-white:
Never content simply to be contrarian, Outkick the Coverage’s Clay Travis focused his outlandish commentary on Head Coach Bret Bielema. Travis referred to Bielema as the SEC’s new Lane Kiffin (claiming that he was out of his depth and, perhaps implicitly, that he wouldn’t last long). He called Bielema a “disaster” and an “awful fit” for the Razorbacks. Travis stated baldly, “Arkansas isn’t going to win with Bielema.”
Well the Hogs certainly didn’t win the SEC, but they did win enough games to get them to a bowl game. Once there, Arkansas defeated historic rival Texas in pretty historic fashion. In their 31-7 win over the Longhorns in the Texas Bowl, the Hogs held their old Southwest Conference opponent to the lowest offensive output of any team in Division I-A (or FBS) this season:
The final record for the Razorbacks was 7-6 overall and 2-6 in the SEC. What do we make of that given the experts’ pre-season prognostications?
1. The expert predictions came closest to being on-target when it came to the conference record. Other than the SB Nation blogger, most sportswriters put Arkansas at 1 or 2 conference wins. Since they ended up at 2-6, we should give credit where credit is due. The Hogs played a brutal schedule, and they did that as a member of the brutal SEC West. (It’s interesting to think about where they would have finished if they had been in the SEC East, or even if they were to switch places with Texas in the Big XII. The Longhorns finished the regular season with the same 6-6 record, but they were 5-4 in their own conference—and this is the same team the Hogs absolutely blew out in their bowl game.)
2. Non-conference play was the area that most experts tended to get wrong. Based on comments by a couple of the stories I’ve cited (SB Nation and ESPN), it appears that a lot of people who were offering up their predictions thoughts Texas Tech was going to be a loss and that Northern Illinois was a toss-up. (For the record, Arkansas dominated both games.)
3. No one gave Arkansas a serious chance of making a bowl game. Even beyond the articles to which I’ve linked here, I remember hearing and reading a lot of commentary back in August that suggested that Arkansas’ likely improvement would have a hard time registering in wins and losses due to their extremely difficult schedule. Given that, Coach Bielema’s ability to get to 7-6, with a Texas Bowl victory to boot, should be seen as very encouraging.
4. Expert predictions really aren’t worth the pixels they’re published in. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict that we’d lose to Alabama and Georgia this year. Nor did it take much courage to predict that we’d beat Nicholls State and UAB. If there were such a thing as a truly expert prediction, it would be in the ability to predict wins like the ones the Hogs got over LSU and Ole Miss. And nobody did that before the season started. The best anyone ever said was, “The Hogs will likely beat someone they’re not supposed to.” If that’s the extent of what the experts can offer, then they don’t really offer anything more than you and I could come up with on the living room couch.
Think about this: Close games against SEC opponents like Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State, and Missouri showed just how much improvement Arkansas made from 2013 to 2014. If they had been able to finish out those games, they easily could have ended up with a 6-2 record in conference rather than 2-6. This team was a handful of plays away from finishing the regular season at something like 9-3.
Now, we all like to play the game of “ifs and buts.” But in the end, that’s all just wishful thinking. The Hogs got the record they earned. We all know that, and frankly I’m satisfied with it all things considered. The improvement of the team over the course of the season does make for an intriguing 2015, though. What’s my prediction for next year? I’ll leave that to the experts. I’m just happy to be a Hog fan and excited about what the future holds.
Here is the complete 2014 record courtesy of ESPN: