How Arkansas and Ohio State Met in the 2011 Allstate Sugar BowlThe most visible position on any football team – quarterback – stood out even more than usual for the opposing teams.
The poster-boys of the 77th Sugar Bowl were dual-threat Terrelle Pryor, who guided sixth-ranked Ohio State to its third straight Big Ten championship, and Ryan Mallet, whose bazooka-arm propelled eighth-ranked Arkansas into its first berth in a BCS bowl.
These were teams with different but focused missions. Ohio State, an old hand at playing in BCS bowls, this being the Buckeyes’ sixth straight, and for national championships, was determined to throw off the yoke of being 0-9 in postseason games with Southeastern Conference opponents. Fired-up defensive end Cameron Heywood, who played in the BCS game in the Superdome three years before, a loss to LSU, said, “To end it out here would be great for me.”
Arkansas was playing in its first BCS bowl, having “joined the club,” as its players said, and was determined to show it belonged on college football’s highest tier.
The fate of each team was in the hands of towering quarterbacks, both physically and in their play. The 6-foot-5 Pryor, a 67 percent passer, threw for 2,551 yards and 25 touchdowns, and rushed for 754 yards and four touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 11-1 regular season. In contrast, the 6-foot-6 Mallett was immobile in the pocket, but passed for 3,592 yards and 30 touchdowns in the Razorbacks’ 10-2 rise into the ranks of college football’s elite.
Even with Heisman Trophy recipient Cam Newton of Auburn playing in the BCS national championship game against Oregon and Darron Thomas, Arkansas defensive coordinator Willy Robinson, who had to prepare for Pryor, said reflectively, “There won’t be two better quarterbacks in one bowl game.”
Unless anything unforeseen happened, everyone could fully expect a blazing shootout with the two signal-callers pulling their respective triggers.
But something unforeseen did happen: Pryor and four teammates were flagged for selling some of their Ohio State memorabilia for money and tattoos, violating the NCAA’s extra benefits rule. Running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey, offensive tackle Mike Adams, backup defensive end Solomon Thomas and Pryor were suspended, meaning the team that won the Big Ten co-championship would not resemble the Buckeye team taking the field in the Sugar Bowl.
Eventually, Ohio State and the NCAA agreed an appropriate punishment would be to let the players participate in the postseason game they helped achieve, but that a five-game suspension in the 2011 season would be enforced.
Later on things would get far worse. Coach Jim Tressel would lose his job when it was discovered he knew of the transgressions months before and didn’t report them. Under fire, Pryor would leave school early to test the NFL. And Ohio State would voluntarily vacate all of its 2010 victories to try to placate the NCAA.
But for now, the decision of the five-game suspension put the principals – Ohio State and the NCAA – at ease.
The Sugar Bowl game, with all hands aboard, was on.
Recap by Sugar Bowl historian Marty Mulé, an award-winning sportswriter who covered college football and the Sugar Bowl for the New Orleans Times-Picayune for 33 years.