Resetting SEC expectations for Arkansas
As Arkansas comes down from the high of its first SEC victory in 20 games and into focusing on Auburn, one obvious question comes to mind.
Can the Hogs do it again?
Not specifically this week against the No. 13 Tigers, but in general. Do they have it in them to win another game this season? They’ll get 8 more tries, though the trek ahead is admittedly tough. Six of those opponents are currently ranked.
There’s essentially no chance that Arkansas beats Alabama and only a slightly better chance it beats Florida, thanks only to the fact that Feleipe Franks is the Razorback QB. But look at some of the games and you can convince yourself it’s possible.
Texas A&M has struggled early — perhaps that is a winnable game, especially if the Aggies have suffered another loss and are turning the page on the Kellen Mond era.
LSU lost to the same Mississippi State team Arkansas upset 21-14 this past week.
Is it more likely that Arkansas goes 0-6 in those games or 1-5? Hard to say, but it wouldn’t be crazy anymore to bet on the latter.
Then there are the 2 unranked opponents — Ole Miss and Missouri. The Rebels could be a challenge under new coach Lane Kiffin after taking down Kentucky in overtime last week. Arkansas has so far looked a lot better than Missouri, which sits at 0-2 after losses to Alabama and Tennessee and just changed quarterbacks. Defensive coordinator Barry Odom will likely be ready for that matchup after Mizzou fired him as head coach in the offseason. He’s also a former player for the Tigers.
Either way, both those games look like contests Arkansas could take.
So does picking the Razorbacks to be the worst team in the conference still hold up? I don’t think so. It’s possible they still finish last in the West, but the bottom of the East looks pretty bad. Vanderbilt and Missouri are fighting over the basement early on.
Even this week’s game has an intriguing storyline for the Hogs. Chad Morris, who failed to win an SEC game in 2 seasons as the Razorback coach, is now the offensive coordinator at Auburn. An Arkansas win against the coach that delivered them so many losses would be the ultimate irony. It also has to serve as a pretty good way to stay motivated after such an emotional week.
The point is, you can no longer disregard Arkansas.
Barry Odom has the defense playing well, ranking 33rd in the country and 7th in the SEC. It provided a crucial pick-6 last week. Franks looked more comfortable last week when he wasn’t facing the best defense in the country. De’Vion Warren emerged as another receiving option with the injury to Treylon Burks.
Keep in mind also that Arkansas won last week after Rakeem Boyd, one of the SEC’s best running backs, went down with injury. His eventual return, whether this week or later, will bring more life to an offense that scored just 2 touchdowns.
After 2 years of dreading SEC Saturdays, Arkansas definitely has a few more chances to win. Before last week, 1 or 2 victories seemed like the ceiling. Now I see 4 games as the best-case scenario.
That’s not necessarily a prediction, but it wouldn’t be a surprise either. It’s assuming they beat both Ole Miss and Missouri and pull off another upset in their remaining games. That would certainly be a tremendous accomplishment in coach Sam Pittman’s inaugural season.
Whatever happens, though, the bar has already been raised. So have spirits. It might be a while before they’re back in the conference race again, but it’s good to be talking about the Razorbacks winning football games.