Let’s add some perspective to what has already been written about Auburn 65, Arkansas 43:
1. Those were perhaps the two worst defenses I’ve ever seen in a matchup of Top 12 teams. Schools normally don’t make it into the Top 12 without some semblance of a defense. Will Auburn come crashing down this Saturday against LSU? I don’t think so. That’s because LSU’s offense is so bad that it will make Auburn’s defense look much improved from the previous game. If Auburn wins Saturday, the Tigers could very well go into their game against Alabama on Thanksgiving weekend with an 11-0 record. And you can bet that I’ll be picking the Tide in the Iron Bowl. In fact, a 12-1 Alabama team might very well work its way into the national championship game.
2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. No team will consistently be in the top tier of the Southeastern Conference while focusing only on offense. The Hogs don’t play in the Big East or Conference USA (although their uniforms look like it). When the university decided to pay its head coach almost $3 million annually, it sent a signal that it wishes to be a top-tier program. Why won’t they just go ahead at this point and pay a defensive coordinator $1 million annually in order to ensure that Arkansas has one of the nation’s best coordinators? Surely Bobby Petrino realizes he has a problem.
3. Arkansas is 4-2 at the halfway point of the season. I think the Razorbacks will go 4-2 in the second half, finishing with an 8-4 overall record, a 4-4 SEC record and a trip to the Cotton Bowl. That would mark steady progress in Petrino’s three years — from no bowl in his first season to the Liberty Bowl in his second season to the Cotton Bowl in his third season. The irony is that an 8-4 finish would leave many Razorback fans disappointed. I always thought that those calling the radio talk shows all summer to predict a 12-0, an 11-1 or even a 10-2 season were far too optimistic. That’s not where this program is. Recruiting will have to go to the next level for Arkansas to finish 10-2 or better on a consistent basis.
4. Let’s face it: Arkansas is a middle-of-the-pack SEC program right now. Granted, a middle-of-the-pack SEC program would be at the top of the pack of most other conferences. But let’s not pretend we’re something we’re not. And let’s quit whining about officials. It got old in the Southwest Conference. It has gotten old in the SEC. Yes, two calls went against the Hogs. But I also can remember a pass interference penalty against Auburn that should not have been called and a play on which Arkansas was given a first down (scoring a touchdown just afterward) when the replay seemed to show the Razorbacks were short. The calls tend to even out over time.
5. An interesting stat for you Nutt haters: Houston Nutt was 11-8 in his first 19 SEC games at Arkansas. Bobby Petrino is 6-13.
That said, I believe Arkansas will beat Ole Miss in Fayetteville on Saturday. I also thought the Hogs would beat an Auburn team that had been forced to come from behind week after week. There was no way to predict that both the Razorback defense and kicking game would melt down on the same Saturday.
I had by far my worst week of the year on picks, going 3-5. As already noted, I picked Arkansas. In picking against UAPB, I admitted that it’s almost impossible to call SWAC games. All of those teams are up and down. And we melted down when it came to picking Gulf South Conference games. To wit:
— I didn’t think injured UAM quarterback Scott Buisson would play against West Georgia. The Boll Weevils simply cannot win GSC games without their senior quarterback. But he returned sooner than expected and led his squad to a 31-24 homecoming victory.
— Harding had been close in all of its three losses. I knew the Bisons would upset someone along the way. I just didn’t think it would be last Saturday against No. 12 Delta State on the road. The Bisons had never won in Cleveland, Miss., prior to Saturday.
— Of the Henderson-West Alabama game, I wrote last week: “This could be the best game of the weekend in the Gulf South Conference. … Both have explosive offenses. The Reddies get the ball last Saturday and win.” Unfortunately, the Tigers of West Alabama got the ball last and won. And talk about controversy! Auburn-Arkansas had nothing on this game. Henderson seemed to have won the game when Benny Anderson blocked a punt and returned it 51 yards for a touchdown with just two minutes left. That gave the Reddies a 38-34 lead. However, West Alabama quarterback Deon Williams completed six of nine passes on the final drive. With time running out, Williams scrambled for a first down. The clock stopped to move the chains. The Tigers rushed to the line, and Williams spiked the ball. It appeared to everyone that time had expired. But the referee put one second back on the clock. Williams then threw a touchdown pass as time expired. Henderson gets hosed in Alabama.
We’re now 39-16 on the season. Let’s move to this week’s picks:
Arkansas 48, Ole Miss 34 — The Razorbacks will give up quite a few points to Masoli & Co. They’ll also score a lot of points. This is, after all, an offense that had the most first downs (30) in school history against Auburn. The previous record was 29 against TCU in 1980. Arkansas outgained Auburn 566-470. Tyler Wilson was most impressive in going 25 of 34 passing for 332 yards and four touchdowns. Joe Adams and Greg Childs had a combined 16 receptions for 251 yards and three touchdowns. This is without a doubt an offense that can score points. Now if only the defense and the kicking teams will show up.
Arkansas State 30, Florida Atlantic 24 — Just as it did last year at Iowa, ASU played well against a Big 10 team and lost a close one. The Red Wolves fell to 2-5 Saturday with their 36-34 loss at Indiana. The school’s only victory against a team from a BCS conference remains that season-opening win two years ago against Texas A&M. Red Wolf sophomore quarterback Ryan Aplin continues to improve. He was 33 of 44 passing at Indiana for 275 yards and two touchdowns, breaking the school record for completions. The previous record was 32 by Johnny Covington in 1995. Howard Schnellenberger’s Florida Atlantic team is 1-4. It defeated UAB to start the season and has since lost to Michigan State (we know how good the Spartans are), North Texas (not good), South Florida and Louisiana-Monroe. We’ll give the advantage to the Red Wolves since the game is in Jonesboro.
Alcorn State 21, UAPB 18 — Who knows? It’s the SWAC. UAPB evened its record last Saturday night at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in conference with a 21-14 victory over Alabama A&M. The winning play came on a 40-yard pass from Josh Boudreaux to Dezmond Beverly with 4:09 remaining. Boudreaux was 18 of 33 passing for 254 yards and two touchdowns. The Golden Lions must go on the road this week to take on a 3-3 Alcorn State team that won its first three games against Langston, Mississippi Valley State and Alabama State before losses to Mississippi State, Texas Southern and Grambling. We’ll go with the home team in a close one.
UCA 27, Nicholls State 25 — After starting 3-0, the Bears are hurting. They’ve lost to Tulsa, Northwestern State and Stephen F. Austin. The game at SFA was not pretty as UCA fell 30-7 in a televised contest. UCA’s defense allowed 452 yards. The 3-3 Bears had 411 yards of offense but were just five of 17 on third down and one of four in the red zone. Nathan Dick was 37 of 48 passing for 307 yards and one touchdown. Nicholls is 2-4. The season opened with losses to San Diego State, Western Michigan and South Alabama. There was a win over Bacone College that was followed by a loss to Sam Houston State. The Colonels beat Texas State in overtime Saturday. We’ll go out on a limb and say the Bears play much better this week.
Valdosta State 30, UAM 19 — As noted, Buisson makes a difference. The senior was 17 of 28 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns in the win over West Georgia as the Weevils improved to 3-4. Valdosta, however, has the best defense in the Gulf South Conference. The Blazers shut out the team previously ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II, North Alabama, on Thursday night of last week. Valdosta is 5-1 and now ranked No. 14 nationally. The Blazers’ lone loss was by four points to Delta State.
West Alabama 45, Arkansas Tech 28 — The Tigers shouldn’t need help from the officials this week. A young Tech team has struggled for most of the season in compiling records of 3-4 overall and 2-3 in the GSC. Tech did manage to beat 0-7 Southern Arkansas, 35-19, in Russellville on Saturday night. West Alabama is 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the conference. It’s hard to see the Tigers losing this game at home.
Henderson 42, Harding 38 — Henderson knows how to score. The Reddies’ losses have been by 17 points to North Alabama, four points to Delta State and two points to West Alabama. So they’re a couple of plays away from being 6-1 rather than 4-3. Meanwhile, the 3-3 Bisons have had losses of seven points to West Georgia, three points to Ouachita and five points to West Alabama. So with a break here and a break there, Harding could be 6-0. Henderson senior quarterback Nick Hardesty was 44 of 68 passing for 415 yards in the loss to West Alabama. Harding, meanwhile, beat Delta State when Josh Powell threw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Watson with 28 seconds left. This should be an entertaining game Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia.
North Alabama 29, Ouachita 28 — Ouachita has had two weeks to prepare for Terry Bowden’s Lions. A talented Ouachita team is 4-2. Its losses were by six points to UAM when Buisson was at his best and by two points to Valdosta State on the road. A Tiger squad that could be 6-0 should not be ruled out against the 6-1 Lions, who have 31 Division I transfers. In the fourth quarter, though, superior depth may make the difference for North Alabama as a big homecoming crowd in Arkadelphia roots for Ouachita.