Tusk to Tail: Could 2021 be the year of the Hog?

“The sun will shine in my back door someday
March winds will blow all my troubles away”
~ “I Know You Rider” (traditional)

As Tusk to Tail flipped the calendar to 2021, it did not feel like much had changed. Nobody expected the pandemic or political tension to just magically disappear, but the new year was not delivering on the promise to put 2020 in hindsight.

The dubious year had remained on-brand until the bitter end, finishing with a dud when the Razorbacks’ Texas Bowl plans were canceled at the last minute by their opponent. TCU had decided to spend New Year’s Eve at home like most everyone else. The cancellation prevented Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman from ending his first season on a winning note. The football season was over.

Hopes remained high on the hardwoods as the men’s basketball team ended December with a perfect 9-0 record, including a conference win at Auburn. But victory on The Plains had come at a cost. Senior forward Justin Smith suffered an ankle injury requiring surgery, reportedly sidelining the graduate transfer for 3-6 weeks. Somehow Smith was able to return for the January 16 match at Alabama, just the fifth game since his ankle resembled the inside of a spaghetti squash. The Hogs lost four of those five games after the injury.

Smith should consider changing his name to Justin TIme. Following his return, #20 Arkansas has reeled off nine straight SEC wins, including a rare victory inside Kentucky’s Rupp Arena. It is the longest conference winning streak since the 1993-94 national championship team won 11 straight SEC games. The Razorbacks appear to be peaking at the right time, avenging losses to Missouri, Alabama, and LSU in the past two weeks. Those three foes are expected to make the NCAA tournament. The Razorbacks, once considered outside the NCAA bubble during the losing stretch, could still play their way into a #3 seed.

Far from a one man show, the Hoops Hogs continue to develop and gel under coach Eric Musselman. Freshman guards Moses Moody and Davonte Davis fill up the box score, leading a balanced scoring attack along with Smith, JD Notae, and Jalen Tate. Forwards Connor Vanover and Jaylin Williams play well within their roles. Alabama coach Nate Oats commented that nobody is executing their game plan better than the Arkansas Razorbacks right now.

Further down Razorback Road, Coach Dave Van Horn’s Diamond Hogs faced their usual high expectations entering the season. A new year usually finds Van Horn tinkering with the lineup, but there would not be much margin for error to start this season. Arkansas was one of six Top-10 teams playing at the College Baseball Showdown in Arlington, Texas.

The Razorbacks prevailed against #3 Texas Tech, #9 Texas, and #10 TCU. After sweeping this past weekend’s series against Southeast Missouri State, #2 Arkansas is the only Top 5 team to remain unbeaten. It would not be surprising for the Diamond Hogs to be ranked first by the time this story is published. (The Hogs would be ranked first by the time the story was published.)

Arkansas’ success doesn’t end with the revenue sports. The men’s track and field team is ranked #3, winning their 24th indoor championship in the past 30 attempts Saturday. Men’s golf is ranked #12.

The women’s programs are crushing it. The Razorbacks’ women’s track and cross country teams currently find themselves on top of the polls. Other Arkansas women’s programs ranked in the Top 25 include #6 Gymnastics, #7 Soccer, #13 Golf, #16 Basketball, #20 Swimming & Diving, #21 Softball, and #24 Tennis, who remains undefeated.

Our tortured fan base hasn’t experienced this kind of success in some time. Though plenty more games remain to be played, a rare feeling of confidence and positivity has begun to emerge on The Hill. You’re starting to see some Hog swagger. A new wave of Arkansas pride extends beyond our sports fields and gyms.

While Arkansas was clobbering the three Texas schools down in Arlington, both states had been covered by record snowfall. Texas was widely criticized for its lack of planning and infrastructure to handle the catastrophic weather and ensuing demand for energy. Arkansas fared much better. The difference went viral in a shot of snow covered streets in Texarkana, Texas, as the roads remained perfectly clear just a few feet across the Arkansas state line. It was a serendipitous moment of Arkansas being better prepared both on and off the field.

So, Hell and most of Arkansas had frozen over, and TTT thinks we have figured out the reason why. The generational snowpocalypse came shortly after the Razorbacks announced that they will play Arkansas State in football in 2025.

Notably led by former athletic director Frank Broyles, previous Arkansas administrations objected vocally to the Hogs ever playing the Red Wolves. Conventional wisdom says Arkansas has little to gain and risks losing more than just a game by sharing the spotlight with another in-state school.

TTT credits athletic director Hunter Yurachek for having the balls to do something that has never happened in the 127-year history of Arkansas football. Between 1894-1904 the University played high school teams from Fort Smith, Little Rock, Missouri, and Kansas. But nobody had ever scheduled Arkansas State before now. This will be Yurachek’s lasting legacy, just as Broyles will be remembered for moving Arkansas into the SEC. Jeff Long’s legacy, of course, is an interminable contract with Pepsi.

Personally, I would rather see a new rivalry unfold than pay full price for another matchup with well-compensated tackling dummies from Samford, Nicholls, and Florida A&M. I’m glad the game was scheduled, and I’m glad Yurachek is the Arkansas AD. Of course that could all change when season ticket renewals are sent out next week.

Seriously, though. The current success of Arkansas Athletics cannot be overlooked, despite some of the winning coaches being hired before Yurachek arrived. It also seems worth noting that Hunter hasn’t beaten his chest too loudly over the department’s success on the field. Our old friend Jack joked that Long would have given himself a raise and a few awards for such.

As the calendar turns to spring, it feels good to be a Hog fan. This could be a great year after all.

Editor’s note: Now in its ninth year, Tusk to Tail is the sport of tailgating as organized, performed and perfected by a group of Hog fans who have been tailgating together sober and otherwise for more than a decade. The primary focus of Tusk to Tail will be to follow the Hogs through the fans’ perspective with their insightful, irreverent, smart-alecky and sometimes practical style. The diehards may also be followed on their Facebook page. Or follow the crew on Twitter and Instagram, all @TuskToTail.

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