This is the 29th in our series 30 Thoughts on Razorback Football in 30 Days leading up to the 2012 Kickoff.
The quest begins tomorrow.
For the past month we have spent time considering what makes a good or bad season for Arkansas. From the emergence of complimentary receiving threats to which uniforms this Hogs could/should wear, Adam and I have tried to cover as many bases as possible. Now that we’re approaching 24 hours until kickoff, Hog fans have tired of the talk and simply want some football. So we leave you with two more posts before the Razorbacks run through the “A” at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Today I try to finish this sentence: It will be a good season if….
Let’s knock out the easy ones first.
It will be a good season if….the Hogs go undefeated.
No shit, Sherlock.
It will be a good season if … Tyler Wilson and Knile Davis don’t miss time to injury.
It will be a good season if….the Hogs end up 6-6 and John L. Smith is fired.
Now we’re talking!
See, the first two answers are easy. Of course Arkansas will have a good season if the first two things are true. Those are essentially objective answers to a subjective question. The last one, though, starts to peel back the onion just a bit. For some people – for the record, I am not one of them – a “good” season means we start over in December with a “name” head coach to finally put the Bobby Petrino Era in the rearview mirror.
To other people a “good” season constitutes nine wins and a trip to the Cotton Bowl or maybe even the Chickfila Bowl. I contend that most of these people probably lined up around the corner just to eat Chickfila a few weeks ago and still believe the world was created in a mere 7 days. But in their simple little world, nine wins should be sufficient. The world ends on 12/12/12 anyway, so playing in the BCS won’t really matter too much.
Back to reality…
Let’s break down the schedule into four quarters and see if we can define a “good” season for Arkansas.
- v. Jacksonville State
- v. UL – Monroe (Little Rock)
- v. Alabama
If Arkansas loses tomorrow against Jacksonville State, I think we can safely say that there is no chance of a good season. Thankfully lightning doesn’t strike twice, and Jack Crowe has already been part of a one-in-a-million loss in Fayetteville. The following week Arkansas ups the competition against UL-Monroe. The wannabe Cajuns have an up-tempo offense that can disrupt teams much like the old triple-option, but the Hogs are just too good. There is no rational excuse for Arkansas to be anything but 2-0 heading into the SEC opener on September 15th against Alabama.
Get your towel ready, bubba.
That sets up the second consecutive Top Ten meeting of these two squads in Fayetteville. Even if Bama loses against Michigan (aint gonna happen) they’ll still be Top Ten. Alabama should be pretty explosive offensively – especially with an experienced, talented offensive line – while still feeling their way on defense. Quite honestly this team looks very much like the 2010 team. Lots of talent back on offense with a few questions at running back, an experienced quarterback, and several new starters in place on defense.
If Arkansas escapes the first two weeks without injury, I honestly believe they can and will beat Alabama on September 15th. The main reason Arkansas lost in 2010 was a lack of running game. Ryan Mallett threw 3 interceptions, but he shouldn’t have even had to throw those last two. The Hogs should have been cramming the ball between the tackles. With Knile Davis, Dennis Johnson, and Ronnie Wingo, Jr. in the lineup this year, I expect a Razorback rushing attack far more powerful than what we’ve seen in the past.
At the end of the First Quarter, Arkansas should have a 3-0 record.
- v. Rutgers
- at Texas A&M
- at Auburn
This will be tough for the Hogs. There’s no way to get around it. Rutgers comes to town the week after Alabama in one of the two big trap games I identified earlier this summer. For the purposes of this column, we’ll assume Arkansas pushes through the tough mental week and beats the Scarlet Knights. The following week means a trip to College Station, Texas. If the Aggies were just a little bit better than they are, I’d be worried. But Arkansas will probably welcome the road trip and continue their domination of Texas A&M with a big road win.
The following week the Hogs have to travel to Auburn, Alabama. The War Eagle Tigers have a chance to put together a strong season, but as we noted earlier this week they have a pretty strong home field advantage. Even if Auburn stumbles out of the blocks they’re a tough out at home. I feel like this is where the Hogs finally take their first loss. It’ll be an easy loss to explain to voters in November, so this may not be much more than cosmetic – as long as Arkansas beats LSU.
At the end of the Second Quarter, Arkansas should have a 5-1 record.
- v. Kentucky
- v. Ole Miss (Little Rock)
- v. Tulsa (Homecoming)
Kentucky was the second trap game I identified earlier this summer. It could be a tough bounce-back game, especially if Arkansas faces significant injuries after six consecutive weeks of football. After two weeks on the road, my hunch is a Razorback home crowd rejuvenates the team as the Hogs slide into their open week bowl-eligible at 6-1. After a week to rest the Hogs head to Little Rock for their second and final central Arkansas visit of the 2012 campaign against Mississippi. Hugh Freeze would love to bring the Rebels back across The River and to steal a win, but a rested Razorback team should crush a thoroughly overmatched Mississippi squad. A week later I expect Arkansas to face an early test before salting away a big win over Tulsa. That’s homecoming week in Fayetteville, and the parties should get off to a good start with a Razorback win.
At the end of the Third Quarter, Arkansas should have an 8-1 record.
- at South Carolina
- at Mississippi State
- v. LSU
This is man football. All three will be ranked when Arkansas plays them. At least two of them will likely be Top 15 if not Top 10 teams. And Arkansas has to travel to two of them. This is the stretch where Arkansas earns or loses its BCS bowl game.
History is on Arkansas’s side in Columbia, South Carolina. The Razorbacks humiliated ol’ Cocky in 2006 and 2010. If last night’s offensive pillow fight with Vanderbilt is an omen, Steve Spurrier will once again be throwing his visor all season thanks to lingering offensive ineptitude. South Carolina hasn’t defeated Arkansas since 2008, and it may be a few more years before it happens the next time.
Heading to Starkville, though, sends shivers down my spine. I think back to the 1998 loss, when everything was lining up for Arkansas to head back to Atlanta to avenge the loss to Tennessee. I think back to two near-losses in 2006 and 2010, both of which would have smashed successful seasons. And I think about how Dan Mullen has quietly built a very competitive team in Starkville. With a very, very favorable schedule the Bulldogs could easily be sitting at 8-2 when Arkansas visits. The thought of a 10-win season and finally getting over the hump versus Arkansas should motivate Mississippi State to play its best football of the season. Because this is a “positive” column, let’s say Arkansas manages to hold them off and win. That would set up the biggest of big games.
LSU finally heads to Fayetteville. It’s hard to imagine LSU has more than two losses at this point, and maybe just one – or none. If things go according to plan, Arkansas will enter at 10-1 with a chance to win the SEC West on the line. It’s the day after Thanksgiving and could definitely be a #1 v. #2 matchup in the Ozarks. Give me the Hogs in this scenario. Tyler Wilson, Knile Davis, and Tank Wright have earned the right for me to give them the benefit of the doubt if this scenario plays out.
At the end of the Fourth Quarter, Arkansas should have an 11-1 record.
If we’re defining a “good” season here, overtime won’t matter. Winning the SEC West at 11-1 makes 2012 a good season. Winning the SEC overall and a BCS game makes it great. While I won’t be satisfied at the time, for now I’m happy to settle for good.
Feel free to post your predictions in the comments section. Adam will be along before kickoff to wear the black hat and spell out what a bad season looks like for Arkansas.