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Out of Their League

The Southwest Conference had a Texas-sized grin after Arkansas lost to Baylor

The last Southwest Conference game ever played in Fayetteville, Ark., was a cold, hard occasion, memorable more for its oddities than for any historical significance. It snowed. The scoreboard clock broke. And Arkansas's chances of winning a bitter farewell title in the league it has belonged to since 1914 diminished in the freezing gloom. Even the score was perplexing, an old-fashioned thing that belonged in sepia tones: Baylor 9, Arkansas 5.

The final Southwest Conference game in Razorback Stadium was played before nearly 8,000 empty seats, and among the fans who attended, the most impassioned chant was "SEC! SEC!" in anticipation of the Razorbacks' controversial departure for the Southeastern Conference next season. This was a wretched afternoon, with temperatures in the 20's and snow flurries. It was also an untidy one, with each team scoring a safety. And a sad one. "My daddy always told me, when a friend dies you wear a coat and tie," said Baylor coach Grant Teaff afterward. "So I wore a coat and tie."

How sad you were depended on how much of a purist you are about Southwest Conference football. For the eight Texas schools that make up the rest of the SWC, Teaff's remark spoke volumes about the Razorbacks' defection to the wealthier, more highly regarded SEC: The Hogs are dead. The truth is, Baylor's victory came as a great, if unacknowledged, relief to the Southwest Conference, which had been aghast at the Razorbacks' run at the league title. "We didn't want them playing in our Cotton Bowl," said Bears defensive tackle Santana Dotson.

Instead, it looks as if 12th-ranked Texas A&M, the only unbeaten team in Southwest Conference play, will represent the league in Dallas on New Year's Day. Arkansas, 5-3 overall and 4-1 in the conference, visits Texas Tech this week and Texas A&M next Saturday, before concluding its regular season against Rice in Little Rock on Nov. 23. However, without precocious redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Allen, who was lost for the season when he suffered ligament damage in his left knee in the third quarter of the game with Baylor, the Razorbacks could lose all three of those outings. Allen had been the only bright spot in a young, punchless offense. Moreover, the Razorbacks' second-string quarterback, Doyle Preston, was also lost because of a knee injury in a scrimmage last week.

So when Allen went down, with Baylor leading 7-3, the defense-dominated game turned decidedly in favor of the Bears. Arkansas was left with Wade Hill, a sophomore walk-on who runs the scout team. Still, the Hogs were not out of the game. Arkansas is a team that has been touched by weird magic this season—indeed, the defense has scored a remarkable 52 points. The Razorbacks had won three games by four points or less and had collected a pair of conference victories in wondrous ways. On Oct. 5, Arkansas beat TCU by rallying from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit, thanks to a pair of interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Two weeks later the Hogs edged Texas 14-13 thanks to the Longhorns' missing two field goals and an extra point. "We are totally unexplainable," said coach Jack Crowe last Friday.

The Razorbacks appeared on the verge of beating Baylor, which is now 7-2, and 4-2 in the conference, in similar fashion after they stopped the Bears inside the Arkansas 15-yard line on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter: Linebacker Mick Thomas picked off Bears quarterback J.J. Joe's pass on the Arkansas 14, defensive back Michael James intercepted a Joe pass in the end zone, and Baylor kicker Jeff Ireland missed a 37-yard field goal attempt 37 seconds before intermission. So the Bears led only 7-0 at the half.

But the Razorbacks would not be the same team without Allen. Hill completed only 3 of 12 passes for 25 yards, and Arkansas's last three possessions ended disastrously: Tailback Tony Jeffery tried a desperate dive into a pile of jerseys at his own one-yard line, only to be tackled by Baylor linebacker Curtis Hafford for a safety, and Hill threw two interceptions in the final three minutes.

Thus was a delicious scenario ruined: that Arkansas could go unbeaten in its final year of Southwest Conference play. The Hogs' announcement in July 1990 that they would leave the conference had provoked outrage throughout Texas. That the Razorbacks were 3-8 last fall—losing to every league team except SMU—was at least partly a result of the enmity felt by conference opponents eager to avenge the perceived insult. Teaff even called the SEC "the Iraq of college football" for pirating such a long-standing Southwest Conference member.

The Razorbacks were expected to slink off to the SEC in mediocrity. Instead, they are evening some scores on their way out, and in the face of Arkansas's refusal to go quietly, Southwest Conference schools have resorted to treating the Hogs' departure with great, if feigned, indifference. Who cares? Let them go. The state of Arkansas is nothing but a road-company Texas, anyway, a charmless, backwoods haven for truckers, poultry farmers and discount-store magnates. So good riddance. "It's sad," said Longhorn coach David McWilliams earlier this season, "but it's not sad sad. It's not like your cat got stuck up in a tree."

Only SMU among Southwest Conference schools has scheduled the Razorbacks as a nonconference foe. Texas athletic director DeLoss Dodds sees no reason to keep the Hogs on the schedule. Arkansas isn't worth the trouble, he says, as a television market or as a source of recruits. In fact, Dodds isn't sad at all to see the Hogs go. "No, not really," he says.

But surely there would be nothing more distasteful to Texans than to see Arkansas land the league's automatic berth in the Cotton Bowl. The very possibility has engendered the writing of scathing letters to Texas newspapers and howling on call-in radio shows. Regardless of how the Razorbacks finish the season, they will go out respectably. And they may well surprise the SEC next year, when Allen will be back, along with eight other sophomore starters, four on each side of the ball. In the meantime, said Crowe in reference to the defeat at the hands of Baylor, "I think we can piece this thing back together. But this is a tough one. You won't get over this one in a day."



E.D. Jackson led all Razorback rushers with a mere 34 yards on 13 carries.