Liberty Bowl Win an Exclamation Point on 2015 Turnaround Season

The Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 45-23 to cap off one of the most impressive mid-season turnarounds in recent memory.

We’re going to spend a lot of time this offseason asking some “what if” questions about this 2015 Arkansas Razorback football team. What if these injuries hadn’t of happened? What if we didn’t choke games away in September? What if 4th and 25 hadn’t worked out?

As we dive into the offseason, expect myself and many other writers to ask those questions, and to point out how close this team was to 10 or 11 wins, and how close they were to not even making a bowl game. In the same season, this team was inches away from national recognition and the basement of the SEC west. But as the curtains close, the Hogs finished somewhere in-between those two extremes.

Jan 2, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks tight end Jeremy Sprinkle (83) catches a touchdown against Kansas State Wildcats defensive back Morgan Burns (33) during the second half at Liberty Bowl. Arkansas Razorbacks defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 45-23. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

One thing is for certain, though. That since Bret Bielema took over this team, he’s made it better. There have been some mighty struggles, for sure. But we’ve won back-to-back bowl games, we’ve increased the overall number of wins year by year, and recruiting is getting better and better. All this is happening while the program is seeing it’s lowest number of arrests and off the field issues, and the highest team cumulative GPA that I can remember.

It would appear that Bielema learned more than just X’s and O’s from his time under KSU head coach Bill Snyder.

The 2016 Liberty Bowl was a perfect metaphor for the 2015 season, honestly. The Hogs came into the game being picked to win by at least 2 scores, and promptly crapped the bed. On just the third play of the game, Brandon Allen threw an interception, which was only his 8th of the season, which led to a KSU score a few plays later.

The Hogs would have to battle to get the momentum back on their side, and they did it by relying on each other to make plays. Alex Collins on the ground, Allen under center, and Hunter Henry, Jeremy Sprinkle, and Drew Morgan downfield. Just like in the regular season, these were the guys that made the plays to get us back to even. When we needed a road win in Tennessee, they got it for us. And when we needed a score to answer, Collins was there for his first touchdown run. 

It was around the Tennessee game this season when we finally started to see the Arkansas offensive line look as dominant as they were projected to be. And it was on the second possession, as Sebastian Tretola cleared the hole for Collins, that we saw just how good this running game could be on the day.

For the Razorbacks, a much needed BYE week gave them the time needed to reorganize and come out on fire, where they would rattle off 4 straight wins to become bowl eligible and surprise the nation. After halftime, the Razorbacks came out and did what they were projected to do by experts before the game: dominate.

Jan 2, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen (10) passes the ball against the Kansas State Wildcats during the first half at Liberty Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Razorbacks Sprinkled, Dabbed, and Ran Off On The Plug Twice on their way to a dominant victory that left us all wondering “Just how in the hell was Kansas State within 4 in the third quarter?” The same we we watched this team beat the Sugar Bowl, Texas Bowl, and Birmingham Bowl champs and wonder “Just how in the hell did Texas Tech and Toledo beat this team?”

We’ll talk more about that later, I’m sure. But as it stands, the 2015 Arkansas Razorbacks did something that no one thought they’d do when September ended: Win, and win big. The dominance the Hogs showed in the Liberty Bowl demonstrated that they certainly belonged in a better game against a better opponent, but you don’t get to do that when you lost to Toledo.

So even though the Razorbacks beat teams like Tennessee, get ready for a whole offseason of why the Vols are the team to beat in the SEC. And I’m fine with that. The Razorbacks are losing some big time players for their offense. But if I’ve learned anything after watching these last 3 years, and especially after watching this season, it’s that I should not worry too much about it. The team is trending upward, and they don’t intend to get off this ride.

Woo Pig.