The perception is 2019 was a bad year for college football in Arkansas, based primarily on another dreadful performance by the Razorbacks, who finished 2-10 again.
But I will argue it was a pretty good year for football in our state, especially when you include Harding University (10-2) and Ouachita Baptist (11-1), which both made the NCAA Division II playoffs. Here's a closer look at the four primary programs in the state.
I won't fault UCA fans for declaring their team the best in Arkansas after the Bears went 9-4 and beat a Western Kentucky team that embarrassed the Razorbacks on their home field.
Central Arkansas is coached by Nathan Brown of Russellville, who assembled a roster with 45 in-state players, including an all-conference running back (Carlos Blackman) from Gosnell, an all-conference kicker (Hayden Ray) from Bryant and an all-conference quarterback from Conway (Breylin Smith), who is backed by players from Greenwood (Luke Hales) and Fayetteville (Darius Bowers). Plus, Fort Smith Northside standout Derrick "Deuce" Wise was among the early signees for the Bears, who will open the 2020 season against Missouri and play away games against Arkansas State in 2021 and Ole Miss in 2022.
Central Arkansas may not be an FBS school like Arkansas or Arkansas State. But UCA is on the rise, and the Bears are as close to an All-Arkansas team as you can get at the college level.
There's plenty of talk in college football about overcoming adversity, and no one did that more admirably in 2019 than Blake Anderson, the ASU coach who lost his wife, Wendy, on Aug. 19 after a 2-year battle with cancer.
ASU deserves much credit for going 8-5 with a bowl victory, considering what all Anderson and his players went through. The video that shows Anderson returning from a leave of absence to join his team in Las Vegas for a game still elicits plenty of emotion, especially to those of us who've lost loved ones to cancer.
You don't have to be an Arkansas State fan. But I doubt there's anyone in our state who isn't a fan of Anderson, a good man who somehow did his job in the face of tragedy.
Did you know Arkansas-Pine Bluff finished with a winning record in 2019?
I didn't either, and I had to double-check just to make sure it was true.
Arkansas Pine-Bluff finished 6-5 to earn its first winning season since 2012. The winning record is just the sixth for UAPB since rejoining the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 1997, and the Golden Lions tripled the number of wins from 2018 during Cedric Thomas' first season as head coach.
We'll get a closer look at Arkansas-Pine Bluff when the Golden Lions face the Razorbacks for the first time in 2021.
Our man, Tom Murphy, thoroughly chronicled 10 years of misery for the Razorbacks under the headline "Decade of Downers" last week in this newspaper.
Arkansas went 58-67 in the 2010s for a winning percentage of .464, which is the second-worst decade in the program's history. Not only did Arkansas lose 10 games again in 2019, but former in-state stars like Taylor Powell, Barrett Bannister, Akial Byers and Ty Storey returned home and played major roles on teams that beat the Hogs.
The Razorbacks are a mess, but many of us remember the decades of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s when Arkansas won over 70 percent of its games in those decades. Sure, the SEC is tough, but talk of fleeing the league to join the Big 12 Conference as some have suggested is nonsense.
The slobbering Hog runs toward its opponents, not away from them.
Maybe Sam Pittman and the staff he's been able to assemble will be steps in the right direction. It can't get worse for Razorback fans, who hunger for the days when the football program was nationally respected.
Success can happen again, especially if this latest batch of Arkansas coaches do a better job of evaluating talent and keeping the top high school players at home.
Preps Sports on 01/05/2020
Print Headline: Despite Hogs, football was good in Arkansas in 2019