Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
SEC title gets Hogs slap of disrespect
Members of the Arkansas track & field team celebrate their SEC championship Saturday in College Station, Texas.
FAYETTEVILLE - For repeating as champions of the SEC, the Arkansas Razorbacks fell from No. 1 to No. 2 in the national rankings.
Ranked No. 1 going into the NCAA Men’s Indoor Championships running Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque, N.M. are the Florida Gators. Yep, those same Florida Gators that defending NCAA Indoor champion Arkansas outpointed, 121-106 in College Station, Texas for the Razorbacks’ third consecutive SEC Indoor title.
Surprised by that turn of events, Chris Bucknam?
“Unfortunately, no,” Bucknam, the sixth-year Razorbacks men’s track head coach, said Sunday.
The ranking, provided by the USTFCCA (United States Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association) “is not a poll but a computer ranking based on individual performances,” Bucknam said.
Florida’s Dedric Dukes, previously unranked in the 200-meter dash, burst on the national scene at the SEC Indoor with a second-place finish to teammate Arman Hall 20.59.
Dukes’ clocking of 20.61, plus the performance of the Gators’ 400-meter runners, who outran Arkansas’ Neil Braddy, added about 25 points to Florida’s computer ranking, moving the Gators (161.12) over Arkansas (150.90).
“That was enough to make Florida the favorite,” Bucknam said.
Bucknam’s men have become victims of their own conference success, just like John McDonnell’s teams before him, in that conference championships in cross country, indoor and outdoor track have become routine.
McDonnell’s teams won 84 Southwest Conference and SEC titles, and Bucknam’s men are two-thirds of the way through a third consecutive SEC Cross Country-Indoor-Outdoor triple crown.
“The bigger story would have been if we lost,” Bucknam said. “It’s a little frustrating that way, but I would rather have it that way than the other.”
It could be ascertained that it is more impressive for a team to win the SEC Indoor, going head to head with top-ranked Florida and No. 3 Texas A&M, than winning the NCAA Indoor Championship, which features a widespread array of talent.
SEC members Florida, Arkansas and Texas A&M rank 1-2-3 nationally. The SEC’s collective Indoor power rating is 642.78, compared to the Big Ten’s 397.16, which is second best.
But Arkansas track gets measured by national championships, thanks to the 40 won by McDonnell.
Bucknam knew his program wasn’t deemed completely measuring up until fitting itself with last year’s NCAA Indoor title in Fayetteville.
Bucknam said he believes his Hogs will improve from their SEC performances, striving for diversity in the field events and the distance medley relay to offset the Gators’ power in the sprints.
One key component, reigning NCAA Indoor heptathlon champion Kevin Lazas, missed the SEC meet to be with his family in Brentwood, Tenn. following the death of Donnie Lazas, his older brother.
“He had an outstanding practice Saturday with his other family,” Bucknam said, referring to his teammates. “Obviously he has a family back home, but this also is an important place to him surrounded by his teammates and coaches.”
Sports, Pages 16 on 03/10/2014