I’m more excited for this game than any other game that has been played in 2021. So far.

Arkansas and Texas A&M are in such a unique place. Specifically, their fans.

We know the journey for Razorback fans well. To go over 1,000 days without winning an SEC game to now being 3-0 in Year 2 with a coach as genuine as Sam Pittman is what this sport is all about. The Hogs are playing for a top-10 berth, and they’re trying to beat the Aggies for the first time in a decade.

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And while the sentiment around A&M fans might be different nationally because of the resources available, let’s not dismiss what this means to the Aggies. Being in the Playoff race from start to finish and being the true powerhouse for an entire season is still something that Aggie fans didn’t even get during the Johnny Manziel era. The last time the Aggies started and finished in the top 10 of the Associated Press poll was 1993, and even that team got its teeth kicked in by Oklahoma in Week 2 to all but end national title hopes.

That’s why this game got 3:30 (2:30 CT) CBS treatment, which it hasn’t had since 2014. Shoot, this is Arkansas’ first time getting 3:30 CBS treatment on a Saturday since 2017 against TCU.

This is a big deal, and not just because it’s No. 16 vs. No. 7.

Let’s dig into some final thoughts ahead of the showdown in Arlington:

1. This rivalry has been lopsided, but not nearly as lopsided as you might think

Nobody will deny that A&M has had Arkansas’ number since it joined the SEC in 2012. That’s when this current 9-year winning streak began.

But 7 of those 9 games were decided by 12 points or less. Five were decided by a touchdown or less. So the majority of those A&M wins went down to the wire. The past 4 years, A&M won by an average of 7.3 points. That included the overtime game in 2017 when Christian Kirk had a kick return touchdown and 2 receiving scores, including the game-winner in overtime:

A&M only got to overtime because of a last-second field goal, too. Arkansas had fourth quarter leads in 4 of the past 7 meetings.

That’s what’s been so frustrating from the Arkansas side. Even at their worst — 2018 and 2019 — the Hogs played A&M tough but wound up on the losing end.

If Arkansas gets a 4th quarter lead in this one, those flashbacks will be out in full force.

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2. What a recruiting flex a win would be for Sam Pittman

To be able to go into the Longhorn State and say you beat Texas is one thing. Shoot, Maryland could’ve done that. But to be able to complete a Texas sweep would be huge for Pittman as the SEC geographical footprint spreads a little deeper into the state.

As great of a job that Pittman has done on the recruiting trail in his short time in Fayetteville, he hasn’t landed a top-25 recruit from Texas yet (Malik Hornsby was No. 30 in Texas in the 2020 class and Ketron Jackson was No. 28 in the 2021 class). That hasn’t happened since Chevin Calloway in 2017, and he transferred to SMU after his second year in Fayetteville.

The margin for error to recruit in Texas is slim to none, and frankly, when you’ve been in the SEC basement for several years like Arkansas, it’s hard to sign top-tier talent from the state on a consistent basis. That’s obviously an important area for Arkansas to recruit. It was big to have the weekend that Arkansas did against Texas with plenty of recruits in the house.

How does Pittman take that next step into being able to recruit top 10-15 classes? By going out and pulling off another upset.

3. I undersold how important this stretch is for Zach Calzada

It really is. I’m guilty of just viewing Calzada’s time as A&M’s starting quarterback like he’s just trying not to rock the boat until Haynes King comes back and steadies the ship. But it’s a bit more than that.

For Calzada, a former Elite 11 guy who lost the battle in fall camp to younger guy, this is his shot. That can mean a couple of things. Obviously if he beats Arkansas and Alabama, there’s a legitimate conversation to be had about him keeping the job when King returns from his ankle injury.

Yeah, it would be crummy for King, but that’s the business. It happened to guys like Feleipe Franks and Jacob Eason. It could happen to King, who didn’t really take off in a limited sample size before the Colorado injury. Franks and Eason each had a season-plus worth of starts under their belts before giving way to Kyle Trask and Jake Fromm.

Of course, Calzada hasn’t looked like an upgrade. Not yet, at least.

If he doesn’t make great strides in the next few weeks — facing Barry Odom, Zach Arnett and Nick Saban is no picnic — A&M fans will be clamoring for King’s return and Calzada will go back to being the backup.

But even if Calzada plays well and doesn’t get to keep his QB1 status, he could help himself get his next opportunity. Depending on this 3-game stretch, he could have a Power 5 market with the ability to play immediately.

Now would be an ideal time for Calzada to turn some of those skeptics — like me — into believers.

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4. KJ Jefferson against this A&M pass defense will be __________.

Surprisingly effective? A mess? A little bit of everything?

A&M is allowing an FBS-best 77 passing yards per game. Granted, the Aggies haven’t faced anyone who can do this:

Still, Jefferson is still very much a work in progress. When your offensive line is dominating the battle in the trenches, you can be comfortable like that. Against Jayden Peevy, DeMarvin Leal and Michael Clemons? That’s a different story.

We don’t know how much time Jefferson will get to throw, especially if multiple Arkansas offensive linemen are out, as Sam Pittman speculated. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Kendal Briles dial up a lot of quick-hitting pass plays to try and get Treylon Burks in space. When the Aggies can get pressure with only sending 4, that’s what allows their secondary to play at a high level.

Antonio Johnson and Leon O’Neal Jr. have been All-Americans so far in Mike Elko’s defense. Testing them might not be wise. Johnson should get matched up against Burks in the slot plenty, though I’d expect Briles to move him around all over the field.

Jefferson hasn’t really been asked to win a game with his arm. Check that. Against non-Georgia Southern teams, he hasn’t been asked to win a game with his arm as the 2021 starter. Ideally, Arkansas would play with a lead and it would use that versatile rushing attack against an A&M defense that’s been excellent overall, but is only No. 88 in FBS against the run.

It’s cliché, but the quarterback who avoids multiple back-breaking turnovers could very well come out on top.

5. Please let Ainias Smith be healthy

He got sort of twisted up on a weird play returning a punt against New Mexico. Fittingly, Smith got up and returned the punt 50 yards but it was brought back because his knee was down. Jimbo Fisher said that he’s day-to-day.

I’m not saying he’s about to go 2017 Kirk, but if there’s a player on the field Saturday who could follow in those footsteps, it’s Smith. Take him off the field and that drastically changes what A&M can do. He’s an obvious candidate for the Paul Hornung Award for a reason. He’s the best bet to make someone miss in the open field and get a key chunk play.

If Smith is at less than 100%, I’d expect even more reliance on Jalen Wydermyer in between the hashes, as well as getting Devon Achane and Isaiah Spiller involved in the passing game. It was great to see Demond Demas get loose like that against New Mexico, but burning Jalen Catalon is a different beast. The same goes for deep threat Caleb Chapman, who was out with an undisclosed injury of his own against New Mexico.

Where Smith can be dangerous is when he lines up in the slot and a linebacker has to run stride for stride with him. Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool are invaluable pieces of Odom’s defense, but that’s not a favorable matchup for them.

Arkansas might not want to Smith step on the field, but for those of us hoping to see these teams at their best, his presence is a must.

6. I’m a bit worried about this A&M offensive line

The Maroon Goons of 2020 are mostly gone with the exception of Kenyon Green. So far, even he’s had to shuffle positions with injuries and depth issues up front. Even though it was with a backup quarterback thrust into the starting role, I thought it was a pretty frustrating sign that A&M didn’t rush for 100 yards against Colorado. With the talent in that backfield, that should never happen.

Blake Trainor struggled immensely in pass protection at right tackle against New Mexico. He was in because freshman Layden Robinson was out. He’s day-to-day and considered questionable for Saturday. Against that Arkansas defense, a lack of continuity up front is an easy way to get beat. Ask Texas about that.

Odom will throw a lot at Calzada. With Zach Williams, that Arkansas defensive line can get home with only sending 3 or 4 guys, which is perhaps the difference between this year’s team and last. Calzada is going to see fronts and blitzes that he’s never faced, and I wouldn’t be so sure that the Aggies can turn to the ground game to take pressure off him.

This could be a frustrating afternoon for an Aggie offensive line who hasn’t lived up to its potential yet.

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And a prediction … Arkansas 21, Texas A&M 17

Yep. Give me the Hogs to finally close it out in the 4th quarter against A&M.

I picture a scenario in which we get a back and forth game, and instead of it being one of those “last one with the ball wins,” the last one with the ball is a defensive player. A Catalon interception — his second of the day — puts this one on ice.

Yes, I said “second.” I think we see a combined 5 turnovers, 3 of which coming from the A&M side (2 interceptions and another strip sack from Williams). Both defenses dominate the offensive line for the majority of the day. Touchdowns are the product of short fields created by turnovers.

Coverage busts with 80-yard touchdowns? Nah. This isn’t the day for that. It’s a day for hat-on-hat, smash mouth SEC West football. Every yard for those backs will feel earned, and both quarterbacks will look overwhelmed at times.

But this is about making the fewest mistakes. I think Jefferson ends up being that guy and Arkansas wears down the Aggie defensive line by the fourth quarter.

Fire up the jukebox. The Hogs run Texas in 2021.

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