A week ago, I wrote this: “OK, I know I sound like a homer again in picking the Razorbacks to win this road game. I correctly picked Arkansas to lose to Alabama but then turned around and picked the Razorbacks to defeat Auburn on the road. After eight games, Arkansas has yet to put together that one contest when the offense, the defense and the kicking game all come together for four quarters. I get the sense they’re due against another 6-2 team.”
Indeed, the Razorbacks did what the Alabama Crimson Tide couldn’t do: They whipped the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia.
But I don’t think even the most optimistic Hog fan was expecting the rout we saw on ESPN last Saturday night. Rarely has the Ol’ Ball Coach been whipped as thoroughly as this. Yes, this was the game in which all three phases came together.
On offense, Knile Davis rushed for 110 yards, scored three touchdowns and was selected as the SEC Offensive Player of the Week.
Ryan Mallett was 21 of 30 passing for 303 yards and a touchdown. Cobi Hamilton caught seven passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. Arkansas held the ball for 34:20.
The defense, meanwhile, came up with two interceptions and one fumble recovery while holding South Carolina to just 190 yards through the air and 105 yards on the ground.
In the kicking game, Zach Hocker booted a 51-yard field goal, the longest for a Razorback kicker since Kendall Trainor was playing back in the 1980s.
Be honest: Have you seen a bigger smile on Bobby Petrino’s face since he came to Arkansas than the one he was flashing after Hocker’s field goal? It was his way of saying to opponents: “If we get inside your 35, we’re coming away with points.”
Arkansas has now outscored its opponents 183-85 in the first half. The Hogs have scored a touchdown on their first or second possession in every game but the opener. Now at 7-2 overall, Arkansas went 3-0 against the SEC East for only the second time since joining the conference in 1992. The other time was four years ago.
So where do things stand as we approach the middle of November?
If the Razorbacks run the table and go 10-2, I now think Arkansas could find itself in the Sugar Bowl as long as Auburn goes undefeated and makes it to the national championship game. Fans should bring sugar cubes to throw on the field at War Memorial Stadium in the event a 9-2 Arkansas teams defeats LSU on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
If Auburn slips up, however, a 10-2 Arkansas team is instead in the Capital One Bowl or the Cotton Bowl.
If the Razorbacks lose to either Mississippi State or LSU and finish 9-3, they could still find their way into the Capital One Bowl. But it becomes a long shot. If Florida has just three regular-season losses (and at least performs well in the SEC championship game), the Capital One takes the team from its state over Arkansas. Or the Capital One Bowl takes a 9-3 Alabama team that has lost to Auburn while 11-1 or 10-2 LSU plays in the Sugar Bowl. All of those scenarios put the Hogs in the Cotton Bowl.
In fact, the Cotton Bowl now is likely the worst-case scenario. Even should Arkansas lose to both Mississippi State and LSU, the folks in Arlington would love an 8-4 Arkansas team. Would you rather have an 8-4 Arkansas team or a 9-3 Mississippi State team when it comes to selling tickets? Think about it.
Here’s what it boils down to for Arkansas: Finish 10-2 and go to the Capital One Bowl or maybe the Sugar Bowl.
Finish 9-3 or 8-4 and go to the Cotton Bowl.
I went 8-0 last week — that’s right, 8-0 — to go to 58-20 for the season on picks. I wish I hadn’t gone 8-0 since I had picked against Ouachita. I would rather the Tigers have held onto that 17-point lead they had in the third quarter against Delta State.
On to this week’s picks:
Arkansas 49, UTEP 14 — SEC fans will remember Mike Price from his short stay as head coach at Alabama. Price didn’t even make it to his first game due to that little misunderstanding down in Pensacola (“It’s rolling, baby, it’s rolling”). UTEP is 6-4. The wins have come over UAPB, New Mexico State, Memphis, New Mexico, Rice and SMU — not exactly a tough group of opponents. The losses have been to Houston by 30 points, UAB by 15 points, Tulane by 10 points and Marshall by four points. The goals for Saturday night in Fayetteville are to build a big lead early, get the starters some work for a half, don’t get anyone injured and then rest the starters down the stretch. That Nov. 20 trip to Mississippi State looms large. Nothing will come easy in Starkville this year.
Arkansas State 35, Western Kentucky 20 — The Red Wolves won in the rain at Jonesboro way back on Tuesday night of last week in a game played before the ESPN2 cameras. The victim was Middle Tennessee State. The score was 51-24 as ASU improved its record to 4-5 overall and 4-2 in the Sun Belt Conference. The Red Wolves led only 23-17 at the half, but Middle Tennessee turned the ball over on five consecutive possessions in the second half. Ryan Aplin was 16 of 27 passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns. Western Kentucky ended the longest Division I-A losing streak in the country back on Oct. 23 with a 54-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Hilltoppers are 1-8 with losses to Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana, South Florida, Florida International, Louisiana-Monroe, North Texas and Florida Atlantic. There’s no reason for Steve Roberts’ team not to take care of business in Jonesboro on Saturday afternoon.
Jackson State 34, UAPB 31 — The Golden Lions went to 5-4 on the season last Saturday with a 49-20 homecoming victory over 0-9 Mississippi Valley State before 14,687 fans in Pine Bluff. UAPB scored on four of its first five possessions. Quarterback Josh Boudreux had 329 yards passing and 51 yards rushing. He threw for five touchdowns and ran for two more. The challenge is much greater this Saturday afternoon in Pine Bluff against a 6-3 Jackson State team that has victories over Delta State, Tennessee State, Mississippi Valley State, Alabama A&M, Southern University and Prairie View A&M. The losses have come to Grambling State, Texas Southern and Alabama State.
UCA 27, Sam Houston State 24 — The Bears have been up, down and back up again. They won their first three games, lost their next three games and have now won three consecutive games. They thrashed Texas State down in San Marcos on Saturday by a score of 49-17 to go to 6-3 overall. UCA led 42-3 at the half. The Bears had 498 yards of offense in the game, including 246 yards on the ground. Nathan Dick was 27 of 41 passing for 252 yards, and Terence Bobo rushed for 178 yards and three touchdowns. Sam Houston State lost its first two games to Baylor and Western Illinois. The Bearkats then won four consecutive contests against Gardner-Webb, Lamar, Nicholls State and Southeastern Louisiana. They’ve lost their past three games to Stephen F. Austin, Northwestern State and McNeese State by respective margins of three points, three points and five points to leave their record at 4-5. UCA just seems to be a hotter team right now.
South Alabama 39, UAM 29 — Henderson played Division I-AA South Alabama well last Saturday in Mobile before falling 37-31. The Jaguars are 9-0 in only their second season of football. It could have been a much different season for UAM had senior quarterback Scott Buisson stayed well. Buisson should roll up some yardage on Thursday night in Mobile, but I believe South Alabama will win and UAM will finish the season with a disappointing 4-7 record.
Southwest Baptist 41, Arkansas Tech 37 — This isn’t your father’s Southwest Baptist, the team that Division II schools from Arkansas used to whip on a regular basis. I watched good Ouachita teams struggle to beat Southwest Baptist in both 2008 and 2009. The Bearcats lost their first two games to Central Missouri and Truman State before reeling off seven consecutive victories. The streak ended last Saturday with a loss to Division I-AA Southeast Missouri State. A young Tech team has struggled to a 3-7 record. Unfortunately, the Wonder Boys must end their season against a talented 7-3 nonconference opponent.
North Alabama 24, Harding 21 — This is a game Harding is capable of winning. The Bisons get better with each passing week. North Alabama is No. 15 nationally and 8-2 overall but did fall to Ouachita in Arkadelphia last month. Harding is 5-4, but the four losses have come by seven points, three points, five points and five points. The Bisons destroyed Arkansas Tech by a score of 42-7 last week. Their option offense is clicking these days. Kale Gelles rushed for 257 yards and four touchdowns against the Wonder Boys.
Henderson 33, West Georgia 21 — Talented senior quarterback Nick Hardesty plays his final game as a Reddie on Saturday afternoon in Arkadelphia. Hardesty was 23 of 43 passing for 359 yards and three touchdowns in the loss to South Alabama. Henderson is 6-4 overall and 5-2 in conference, but one of the losses was a controversial one at West Alabama in which the referee put a second back on the clock after it had appeared to run out. That gave West Alabama the chance to score on the final play. Had Henderson won that game, the Reddies would be tied for the GSC lead. As it is, the best Reddie team since the late Ralph “Sporty” Carpenter was coaching will have to be content to finish the season with a 7-4 record against a West Georgia squad that comes in with records of 3-6 overall and 2-5 in conference.
Ouachita 39, Southern Arkansas 27 — Nothing ever comes easy for Ouachita in Magnolia, and Saturday should be no exception even though the Tigers are 5-4 and the Muleriders are 1-8. Five of Ouachita’s nine games have come down to the last minute of play in this crazy season. They are 2-3 in those games. Holding onto that big lead against Delta State last Saturday would have kept Ouachita in contention for a spot in the NCAA Division II playoffs. Now, they must consider the trip to Columbia County to be their bowl game.