FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. —
The Razorbacks had improved their win total in four straight seasons under Petrino, including a 21-5 mark in 2010-11, and finished last season ranked No. 5. They had talked openly in the spring about competing for the school's first SEC championship and perhaps a national championship.
Then came the April 1 motorcycle accident that led to Petrino's downfall. The former Atlanta Falcons' coach initially lied about being alone during the wreck, though the married father of four later admitted to riding with his mistress — a former Arkansas volleyball player he had hired to work in the athletic department.
Smith, who had been an assistant the last three seasons at Arkansas under Petrino, was chosen by Long to keep the same system intact for a team that returned first-team All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson and a host of other key playmakers. The decision was lauded by the Razorbacks, who welcomed the personable Smith back with open arms.
The season hit the skids with a stunning overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Sept. 8, starting a four-game losing streak that dropped Arkansas out of the rankings. The Razorbacks were unable to recover and finished with the school's lowest win total since 2005 — missing a bowl game for the first time since Petrino's first season in 2008.
"It's very difficult for me to believe that is not a bowl-eligible team," LSU coach Les Miles said following the Tigers' win over the Razorbacks in the season finale. "Watching the talent there, (it's) very capable."
Arkansas has yet to win the SEC since joining the league in 1992, though it's played in the conference's championship game three times. It lost to Florida in the title game in 1995 under then coach Danny Ford and lost twice (2002, 2006) there under Houston Nutt.