Arkansas football: As Hogs continue to ascend, moral victories still have value
In my preview for this game, I talked about moral victories and their value. When building a program as Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman is doing, there’s still room for them. A couple of years down the road, if the process is furthered along as we are expecting it will be, then almost beating the No. 2 team in the country won’t be as meaningful.
What is the value of Saturday’s 42-35 loss? It’s confirmation that the program is moving in the right direction. It’s a gauge that shows just how close the Razorbacks are to contending for bigger and better things. Think about it — Arkansas came within a touchdown of equaling the team by which all others are compared.
It wasn’t a victory, but you can bet that Pittman is as proud of his team as he could be. At the same time, you can also be sure that Pittman is extremely disappointed that the Razorbacks couldn’t get over the hump. That’s the response you want from your coach. You want him disappointed in any loss. You want him to stay up at night and figure out what he could have done to make up the 7-point difference.
A year ago, after Arkansas was dismantled 52-3 by Alabama at Razorback Stadium, who among us would have thought that it could make up this much ground in this short of a time? Who would have taken Saturday’s result, on Alabama’s home field, after what happened a year ago?
That’s the value in Saturday’s result. Of course you want the “W,” and of course you’re frustrated that the Razorbacks came up a touchdown short. But the 35 points that Arkansas put on the scoreboard was the most scored on Alabama outside of its only loss, a 41-38 setback at the hands of Texas A&M. That says something.
The Razorbacks said something in defeat. And that’s the value in it. They made a statement. They sent a warning to the rest of the SEC that the Hogs are back. They are on a trajectory that should put the rest of the conference on alert.
Another important factor in Saturday’s performance is the value the Razorbacks created for the postseason. Remember, Arkansas is already bowl-eligible, and playing as exciting a brand of football as it displayed on Saturday will certainly attract the better bowl committees.
Yes, the SEC will theoretically place the Razorbacks in a competitive situation where their bowl game is concerned. But fake field goals and throwing scares into the top-rated teams in the country will surely give the selection committee reason to place the Hogs in a nice bowl against another highly-competitive opponent.
Granted, Arkansas must take care of business on Friday in the regular-season finale against Missouri at Razorback Stadium. It can’t afford to slip up and take a step back.
Take care of business Friday and finish the regular season at 8-4, and who knows where the Hogs might be playing in December, or maybe even January. Don’t look now, but should Kentucky slip up on Saturday at Louisville (6-5) — a definite possibility — then the Cats will also finish with an 8-4 mark.
If the SEC gets 3 teams in the NY6 bowls as most are predicting, that could very well put Arkansas in Tampa for the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.
And that doesn’t even take into consideration an 8-3 Texas A&M team that the Razorbacks beat convincingly, 20-10, back on Sept. 25. Should the Aggies stumble at Tiger Stadium on Saturday, they, too, would finish at 8-4.
Could Orlando be Arkansas’ destination on Jan. 1?
Yes, all these possibilities are why Saturday’s result was so important. That’s the significance of the moral victory.
Yes, down the road a game like Saturday’s won’t be viewed the same way. But for now, as the Razorbacks continue to trend upward, they have definite value.