Friday, July 18, 2008

Arkansas: If we would have only...

2006 SEC Championship Game

Every four years or so, Arkansas makes a good run at the Western division title. Their BCS bowl runs have been more scarce, they have had a couple of serious threats. The Hogs' best shot at both a league championship and a BCS bid was in 2006, and they actually had multiple chances. The obvious opportunity was in Atlanta against Florida, but a win over LSU the previous week would have given the Hogs an at-large BCS bid even with the loss to Florida.

The Hogs' first two tries in Atlanta were miserable failures, losing 64-6 to Florida and Georgia in 1995 and 2002. Still, Hogs fans thought they had a legitimate shot at winning it in 2006. Their only SEC loss was the previous week to LSU, when their championship game ticket had already been punched. And even so, that game was blamed on a special teams breakdown that allowed a 4th quarter kickoff return.

The Hogs came alive after giving up a 17-0 lead, and scored 21 straight by the 3rd quarter. Then, the Hogs abruptly ended their chances of an SEC championship and a BCS bowl on – once again – special teams. Rather than keeping his heels on the 10, Reggie Fish fumbled the punt in the end zone for a Florida TD. The Hogs never recovered, the Gators scored on more big plays, and eventually pounded Ohio State in Tempe. Arkansas went to Orlando for New Years and lost again.

Hogs fans will be talking about the last three games of 2006 until they finally get a win in Atlanta or get to any BCS bowl. They weren't necessarily better than LSU and Florida, but every one in Arkansas felt they lost those games more than LSU and Florida won them. After LSU and Florida won their BCS bowls in blowouts, the “We shoulda been there” cries almost cost SEC Coach of the Year Houston Nutt his job. There must have been something going against the Hogs that year, because they somehow lost the Capital One Bowl to Wisconsin despite giving up -5 rushing yards.

The 2006 SEC Championship game beats out the 1998 Tennessee game when Stoerner fumbled, mainly because the Hogs would have had to play the Vols again in Atlanta. The Hogs had a better shot at beating Florida at 21-17 in the 3rd quarter than they would have had a 0-0 against the revenge-seeking Vols in 1998.