Just end it already. (He writes, mournfully, as he did last November.)
Arkansas's final, futile bid to avoid its first-ever blank slate in SEC play, and its worst overall season in eons, lacked urgency and passion. When Brandon Allen chunked a fourth-down ball right into Taveze Calhoun's waiting arms in overtime, the Mississippi State Bulldogs left the state with a win for the first time inside these borders, possibly put a nail in the coffin that is War Memorial Stadium's place as a part-time college football venue, and worst of all, likely damned Hog fans to the longest and saddest offseason in many moons.
Cause for optimism is so fleeting. Alex Collins had been the mature and steady beacon of hope all year long, and the freshman sat the first quarter alongside Jonathan Williams for a discipline issue. Then in the fourth quarter, with the Hogs trying to surge back into the lead, the surehanded Florida product got stripped of the ball on the very next play after what was indisputably Jim Chaney's best play call in a season bereft of ingenuity, a 44-yard throwback toss to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle. Yeah, it was also probably the best ball Brandon Allen threw all year, too.
Allen missed only a few throws Saturday, but again he proved that next year the most urgent need for this team in the spring is to find competency and accuracy from someone else. Give the kid due credit for soldiering through 10 starts as a redshirt sophomore with virtually no help on the outside, but he's not mobile or instinctive enough to be a future solution. He'll be a reasonably adept backup if he can stomach serving that role behind his younger brother or possibly even incoming frosh Rafe Peavey.
Then there's the defense, which was again picked apart by an ailing quarterback. Tyler Russell wasn't completely sharp, and did get leveled a few times, but he made all the throws he had to make against cushion coverage. Eric Bennett, not two years removed from this column declaring him the unsung MVP of the 2011 squad's defense, has been victimized all season and has not provided measurable leadership to a cadre of young players. When Will Hines went down earlier this year, it robbed the Hogs of their most promising cornerback prospect in some time, so injuries have exacerbated a known issue.
With the Hogs forced to go to Baton Rouge to square off against an LSU team that just put together its most complete showing of the year, this is the season that can't end fast enough. The Little Rock crowd was paltry and indifferent Saturday, the coaches blew it almost as much as the players did, and we are now likely staring down a double-digit losing streak when you consider that the payoff for this massive write-off is an opening date at Auburn at the end of August.
I had all the optimism in the world for the Bret Bielema philosophy and style, but the parts aren't meshing at all. He and his staff have spent the past 11 months trying to impart aggression on a program where finesse had roosted, and it's been, I guess, a fairly predictable disaster. I had the team pegged for seven wins based on the presumed logic that the stylistic change would actually equip these guys well for fourth quarter slugfests. Instead, they bowed out of some games way too early, and then died by their own hands far too many times in the final weeks when they ostensibly should have made strides. Collins' cough-up wasn't his first error of the year nor was it the cause of the loss by any stretch, but it was so symbolic: Nobody is immune to self-destruction when the whole works spins violently off the rails.
I'm still supportive of Bielema and blindly optimistic that the offseason will heal a lot of wounds. We'll get some standard-issue puffery about how the recruiting class is better than what the rankings might show. Some random kid will show out in the spring and never be heard from again. We'll all spend the summer dreaming big, and the fall drinking bigger.
Pass the Tylenol.