It's hard to put Arkansas' 2010 season into historical context. After all, there was no division title, and the Razorbacks' first-ever BCS bowl appearance (and fourth major bowl appearance since joining the SEC in 1992) went poorly. This might not matter a great deal in the history books when the NCAA finishes with Ohio State, but I digress.
No question, this was Bobby Petrino's best team at Arkansas, and -- given that his Louisville teams played in Conference USA and the Big East and his Falcons team was a train wreck -- maybe Petrino's best team ever. But it falls somewhat unevenly in the annals of Arkansas history.
It was only the second 10-win season since Arkansas joined the SEC. And a bowl loss is nothing new for the Hogs, who are 3-8 in postseason games since joining the league. (For context, they were a less-than-stellar 9-14-3 before that.) But going to a BCS bowl, again, is something Arkansas has not done since the series began more than a decade ago. So this was not your run-of-the-mill Arkansas team.
On the other hand, the Hogs have won the SEC West three times in their history -- and didn't in 2010. (They did finish tied for second place with LSU, whom the Hogs defeated.) And while the rarefied air of the BCS has eluded them, the almost-equal air of the Cotton Bowl has not. Before the Razorbacks joined the SEC, they went to one of the postseason games that would become BCS bowls eight times as a member of the Southwest Conference.
But this time felt a bit different. After all, Arkansas might have had a shot at the SEC West title and the conference championship if it weren't for Cam Newton's transfer to Auburn. (And given the shelling they delivered to South Carolina in the regular season game, it's not difficult to see the Hogs demolishing the Gamecocks again in the Georgia Dome.)
And it's not like Arkansas has always earned its showing in the title game. In 2002, the Razorbacks went because a certain team was banned from postseason play. (Alabama. I was going to make you guess, but then I realized there are so many candidates in the SEC West. Apologies.)
It was also different because, right or wrong, this is the way Arkansas fans seem to want to win games. They chased Houston Nutt from Fayetteville because his offenses had become predictable, and his results just as predictably erratic. Petrino's pass-happy scheme meaning rang up yardage in 2010 -- quarterback Ryan Mallett's 3,869 yards passing -- despite injury -- was the best in Arkansas history by more than 200 yards, beating out Mallett's 2009 campaign. The closest competitor after that was the 2,629-yard season Clint Stoerner had in 1998.
Of course, Mallett is gone. But he exits with one of the better seasons in Arkansas history under his belt.
And maybe the question of where that season stacks up isn't all that important. What's more critical is whether Petrino and Arkansas can repeat without Mallett.