The 1964 Arkansas Razorback football team capped off an undefeated season with a 10-7 Cotton Bowl victory over Nebraska.
With the win, Arkansas finished 11-0 and was the only undefeated team in the country, making them the national champions of college football. Or were they?
Going into the season, UA head coach Frank Broyles knew his team would have a shot because of recent rule changes, which allowed for more two-platoon football.
This allowed Broyles to play certain players specifically on offense or defense, and not both ways.
“The NCAA loosened up the rules,” Broyles said. “We were probably one of three teams in the country with two platoons (an offense and defense). We needed platoon football.”
With the new rules in place, Arkansas started the season 4-0, outscoring Oklahoma State, Tulsa, TCU, and Baylor a combined 91-44. In week five, Arkansas traveled to Austin and faced archrival Texas.
The Longhorns were ranked number one in the AP poll at the time, but this didn’t matter to Broyles.
“Playing Texas was the biggest game of the year,” Broyles said. “They were THE team you wanted to beat.”
Loyd Phillips was a sophomore defensive lineman on the 1964 team, before going on to be an All-American in 1965 and ’66, while winning the Outland Trophy in 1966.
“Before the game, it was very tense, but we still felt confident,” Phillips said.
Arkansas pulled off the upset, winning 14-13. The Hogs were aided by senior Ken Hatfield’s 81-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“In the Austin newspaper that morning, a sportswriter wrote ‘I guarantee Arkansas will not return a punt this game,’” Hatfield said. “I still remember that. And our guys hustled (on the play), and once I got to the wall, everyone picked up their blocks, and I scored.”
Phillips’ only concern following the game was getting back to Fayetteville.
“We couldn’t land the planes because the fans and students were on the runway,” Phillips said. “There were about four or five thousand students waiting for us.”
“That was a wild affair,” Hatfield said. “It was an electrifying moment and made me proud to be a Razorback.”
The upset over the Longhorns vaulted Arkansas to number four in the AP poll.
Over the course of the next five games, the Hogs beat Wichita State, Texas A&M, Rice, SMU, and Texas Tech to close out the regular season.
During those final five regular season games, Arkansas didn’t give up a single point, outscoring their opponents a combined 116-0.
Arkansas took “great pride” in their shutouts, Broyles said.
“After the third (shutout), people were talking about it a little, but I wasn’t thinking about it,” Phillips said. “But when we played Texas Tech, it was on everyone’s mind. We wanted a shutout.”
Phillips said the “most outstanding thing” in the Texas Tech game was senior Bobby Roper blocking three field goal attempts to preserve the shutout streak. Roper had never blocked a field goal before that game.
With the win, Arkansas rose to number two in the AP and UPI polls and earned a spot in the Cotton Bowl. During this time, the college football national champion was determined by various polls.
The two largest and most recognized polls, the AP and UPI, chose their champion at the conclusion of the regular season, before the bowl games. Since Alabama and Arkansas were both undefeated, they awarded the Crimson Tide with their titles.
However, several smaller polls waited to name their champion after the bowl games, including the Football Writers Association of America and Helms Athletic Foundation. This meant the Hogs still had a chance to win a national championship, although they weren’t necessarily thinking about it.
“It wasn’t even talked about, and if it was, we were more concerned with Nebraska,” Phillips said. “We knew if we beat Nebraska, we had a chance.”
Then, Arkansas won the Cotton Bowl, beating Nebraska 10-7.
They still needed Alabama to lose, though.
Ironically, Alabama was playing Arkansas’ archrival, Texas, in the Orange Bowl. It and the Cotton Bowl were both played on New Year’s Day 1965, but the Cotton Bowl was played in the afternoon.
Once the Hogs returned to the hotel, all of the players gathered around TVs to watch the Orange Bowl.
“It was the first time we ever rooted hard for Texas,” Hatfield said.
Texas eventually beat the Crimson Tide 21-7, making Arkansas the only undefeated team in the country.
“We did all we could do,” Broyles said. “We won them all.”
The FWAA and Helms Athletic Foundation rewarded the Razorbacks by naming them their national champions.
As a result, in 1965 the AP experimented with naming their champion after the bowl games and permanently did so after the 1968 season. The UPI, now known as the Coaches’ Poll, made the switch after the 1974 season.
Alabama still claims the 1964 national championship, but the only team that finished the season undefeated was the Arkansas Razorbacks.
“The defense took great pride in being a dominant factor and made it much easier on our offense,” Broyles said. “It was a great thrill.”