THE DOWNFALL OF 2012
Jan. 7 -- Arkansas defeats Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl to cap an 11-2 season that results in a No. 5 ranking, the program's first top-five finish since 1977.
April 1 -- Head coach Bobby Petrino is injured in a motorcycle accident, and he claims to have been alone.
April 10 -- Petrino is fired after it was revealed that 25-year-old Jessica Dorrell was on the motorcycle and that he misled university officials about their relationship.
April 23 -- John L. Smith is named interim coach and signs a 10-month contract for $850,000.
Sept. 8 -- Starting quarterback Tyler Wilson suffers a concussion in the second quarter against Louisiana-Monroe, and Arkansas blows a 28-7 lead in a 34-31 overtime loss.
Sept. 15 -- Arkansas is humiliated in a 52-0 home loss to Alabama, and a sidelined Wilson tells reporters that there were times when the Razorbacks gave up.
The turbulence within the Arkansas football program was evident in Saturday's 52-0 home loss to Alabama and again Monday, when Razorbacks coach John L. Smith was asked if he regretted taking the job.
A season that began with a No. 10 national ranking met an early derailment Sept. 8, when Arkansas blew a 28-7 lead in a 34-31 overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe. Then came last week's humiliation against the top-ranked Crimson Tide, and the vastness of this wreckage suddenly seems to have no limits.
"Our goal was definitely to win a league championship, but we just have to get back on track with a win," Smith said. "We are readjusting everything."
Arkansas players promised throughout the summer that they had survived the calamitous departure of former coach Bobby Petrino, who directed the Razorbacks to 21 wins the past two seasons but lied to school officials in April about an extramarital affair.
What they weren't able to overcome was the loss of senior quarterback Tyler Wilson, who suffered a concussion during the second quarter against Louisiana-Monroe. Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell shared quarterback duties against Alabama, combining on 11-of-25 passing for a paltry 79 yards.
Wilson watched from the sideline as the Razorbacks were shut out in Fayetteville for the first time since 1966, and he had a passionate address afterward.
"Do I feel that at times we gave up out there? Yes. Absolutely, and as a leader it [stinks] to see people not do their jobs," Wilson said. "As a leader at this point, you've got to look forward. There have been a lot of people jump off the bandwagon, and it's my responsibility to keep everybody in this organization and on this team together."
Wilson was not cleared for practice last week but began working Sunday in preparation for this week's test against 3-0 Rutgers, and his teammates reacted Monday to his comments.
"It was tough love," senior defensive end Chris Smith said. "He's the captain, and he saw it better than we did. I don't feel like guys gave up. Mistakes were just the biggest thing to me.
"We just gave them too many turnovers, and you can't do that against a really good team like Alabama."
Wilson's message was simply about accountability, according to his coach, who already has taken responsibility for a program nowhere close to last season's 11-2 version that finished fifth nationally.
Arkansas has been disastrous across the board, ranking 86th nationally in total offense (359.33 yards a game) and 93rd in total defense (436.67). The Razorbacks have committed 10 turnovers, which is tied for the most nationally, and their turnover ratio of minus-2.67 a game ranks 119th out of 120 Bowl Subdivision teams.
The biggest collapses in recent SEC history are the 2000 Alabama Crimson Tide, who started the season No. 3 but finished 3-8, and the 2005 Tennessee Volunteers, who also started No. 3 before winding up 5-6. A healthy Wilson would be a good start in getting Arkansas back on track, but a loss to the Scarlet Knights would certainly further the fracturing for a coach who's operating on a 10-month contract.
"They're going to hang together," Smith said. "They know how to work, and I have total confidence in these guys. I don't think they're going to splinter. It's easy to quit, and it's easy to criticize.
"That is the coward's way out. These young men are not cowards, and they are not going to do that."
David Paschall is a sports writer for the Times Free Press. He started at the Chattanooga Free Press in 1990 and was part of the Times Free Press when the paper started in 1999. David covers University of Georgia football, as well as SEC football recruiting, SEC basketball, Chattanooga Lookouts baseball and other sports stories. He is a Chattanooga native and graduate of the Baylor School and Auburn University. David has received numerous honors for ...
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