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After Outback Bowl win, Hogs look ahead

by Tom Murphy | January 3, 2022 at 7:05 a.m.
Arkansas Razorbacks celebrate on the field after winning the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2022. ( Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

TAMPA, Fla. -- A joyous celebration on a sun-splashed early afternoon in Florida with players making confetti angels on the grass at Raymond James Stadium and fans calling the Hogs over and over will be some of the final memories of the Arkansas Razorbacks' 2021 season.

The University of Arkansas capped off a 9-4 season with a 24-10 win over Penn State at the Outback Bowl on Saturday to put an exclamation point on a strong second season under Coach Sam Pittman.

The list of superlatives for the Razorbacks was intense. They won their first bowl game against a Big Ten opponent (though the NCAA later vacated Ohio State's 31-26 win in the 2011 Sugar Bowl). The Hogs won a bowl game in Florida for the first time since the historic 31-6 Orange Bowl upset of No. 2 Oklahoma after the 1977 season.

The Razorbacks won nine games in a remarkable bounce-back season, two more than their combined victory total in the previous three seasons.

The midfield celebration after backup quarterback Malik Hornsby took a knee twice inside the Penn State 20 to polish off the 361-yard rushing effort was loaded with hugs, back-slapping and good cheer.

Pittman and Outback Bowl MVP KJ Jefferson met with members of the media afterward, and Pittman described the potential momentum from the season.

"I think it's got to be easier," he said. "I think the recruiting has to become a little bit easier. We don't have a discipline problem on our team or anything of that nature, so they're going to do what we ask.

"KJ can answer that better than me. I think it will make our kids a little bit hungrier, understanding we can be a top 25 team, somewhere in there. Certainly we want to get higher than that and start into the top 15, top 10 in the country."

The Razorbacks will finish in the top 25 after entering the postseason ranked No. 21 in the College Football Playoff rankings, No. 22 in the Associated Press poll and No. 24 in the USA Today coaches poll.

"I feel like heading into the next season, we always have an advantage with the young guys coming in, being able to play out there in the game, giving those guys an opportunity," Jefferson said. "We're ahead of some programs right now. We're just going to move forward."

There will be a series of initial steps as the players have time off before the start of winter conditioning, typically an eight-week period that lasts into mid-March and funnels into spring drills.

For Pittman and his coaching staff, there's the business of re-negotiated contracts. Pittman is likely in line for a hefty raise and UA Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette on Dec. 17 he has already had some conversations with Pittman's representative, super agent Jimmy Sexton.

Coordinators Barry Odom, Kendal Briles and Scott Fountain will have the opportunity for bigger salaries, along with the rest of the staff.

Yurachek also is due for a new pact, as he enters 2022 believed to be the only Power 5 athletic director whose contract is set to run out at the end of the calendar year. Yurachek and former Arkansas Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz had gotten well into contract extension talks before covid-19 and Steinmetz's abrupt departure slowed things down.

Then there are player personnel questions.

Seniors like cornerback Montaric Brown and running back Trelon Smith have already announced their intentions of leaving the program.

Senior offensive tackle Dalton Wagner, who suffered an injury to his ribs against the Nittany Lions, has already declared his intention to return.

A handful of others who have the opportunity to return are still weighing their options. Among them are linebacker Bumper Pool, defensive tackle John Ridgeway and safety Joe Foucha.

Ridgeway has a Senior Bowl invitation in his pocket, which is a hard enticement to turn down.

Pool has been invited to the NFL Players Association Collegiate Bowl, along with teammates Grant Morgan and Tre Williams. Those inside the program believe Pool is on the fence about his decision.

He laughed Saturday when asked if he might get caught up in the emotion of the bowl win and "make an announcement."

"No, the only announcement I'm making may be where I'm eating tonight," Pool said.

Foucha told the Democrat-Gazette he was "leaning" in a particular direction but he did not disclose it.

"I'm going to go back and talk to my coaches and make a decision in a couple of days," Foucha said.

Print Headline: After bowl win, Hogs look ahead


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