KING: Outside UA football, good stuff


LITTLE ROCK — Good enough for box-office sequels about vampires and a wizard named Harry, Part 2 is applied to The Year in Review in Arkansas sports.

Normally, a wrap-up would begin with something Razorback and move onto other topics. Twenty-twelve was not normal and there were too many newsworthy events to simply tack them onto an extended look at Arkansas football.

This salute begins with Gus Malzahn and Arkansas State University; Monte Coleman and Arkansas-Pine Bluff; Clint Conque and the University of Central Arkansas and Scott Maxfield and Henderson State University.

Malzahn and ASU received the biggest headlines, the head coach departing for Auburn only days after guiding the Red Wolves to their second straight Sun Belt Conference championship and a second straight bowl game. ASU’s 45-0 victory over Middle Tennessee on Dec. 1 was about as complete a football game as I’ve witnessed.

UAPB’s first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship in decades was more dramatic. Quarterback Benjamin Anderson and Willie Young hooked up on a 95-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes to tie the score and Tyler Strickland kicked a 26-yard field goal in overtime.

Coleman is an exception to the rule that great players don’t make good coaches. Picked No. 289 in the 1979 draft out of UCA, he played 16 years with the Washington Redskins and has three Super Bowl rings.

In his 13th year at UCA, Conque got the Bears to the second round of the NCAA Division I playoffs for the second straight year. His quarterback, Wynrick Smothers, set all sorts of school records.

The Great American Conference Offensive Player of the Year, Henderson quarterback Kevin Rodgers, threw for more than 4,000 yards and 41 touchdowns. The Reddies were 10-0 and nationally ranked before losing to Missouri Western in the Division II playoffs.

The quarterbacks at UAPB, UCA, and Henderson are underclassmen and replacing quarterback Ryan Aplin will be on 35-year-old Bryan Harsin, hired from Texas to replace Malzahn. His contract includes a $1.75 million buyout after one year, a precaution prompted by the quick exit of Hugh Freeze and Malzahn.

On the improve is Razorback basketball, in its second year under Mike Anderson. An extremely difficult five-game stretch should help prepare for Southeastern Conference play that begins Jan. 9 at College Station.

In state, the women’s basketball teams outdid the men’s teams.

The University of Arkansas at Little Rock went to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year under Joe Foley. Playing at home, UALR lost to Delaware and Elena Della Donne 73-42 in the first round of the NCAA.

UA women, 10-6 in the SEC, earned their first trip to the NCAA Tournament under Tom Collen. In the second round, the Razorbacks lost to Texas A&M, led by former UA coach Gary Blair, 61-59, in College Station.

A few weeks later, Bodemeister won the Arkansas Derby in such impressive fashion that he was the 4-1 favorite in the Kentucky Derby where he finished second.

Speaking of photo finishes, Arkansas’ double-dip in the Super Regional at Waco qualifies. Arkansas won the second game 5-4 and advanced to the College World Series with a 1-0 victory in the third game when sophomore catcher Jake Wise delivered a single in the 10th inning. In Omaha, the Razorbacks ended South Carolina’s 22-game NCAA postseason winning streak before losing two straight to the Gamecocks.

Continuing the baseball theme, the unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year was Mike Trout. A year earlier, Trout played 91 games with the Arkansas Travelers.

Quietly, two Arkansas golfers secured their PGA Tour cards. Ken Duke was No. 57 on the money list with more than $1.5 million and Bryce Molder was No. 83 with more than $1.1 million.

Other than Razorback football, 2012 was a very good year.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.