This is the game Razorback fans have been waiting for since the clock ran out at the Sugar Bowl in January.
Arkansas is 3-0.
Alabama is 3-0.
Both teams are ranked.
More than 100,000 fans will be in attendance at one of college football’s most famous venues.
Verne Lundquist and Gary Danielson will be in the broadcast booth. Cute little Tracy Wolfson will be on the sideline.
A CBS Sports national audience will be watching the game.
This is the type of game you were wanting the Razorbacks to be in when Bobby Petrino was hired.
A game that really matters.
A game that football fans across the country will watch.
So why all of the gnashing of teeth this week?
I sometimes think Arkansas fans subscribe to this maxim: “Always expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed.”
We said before the season began that the goals in the first three games were to win all three, get out of them without major injuries, get the starters some quality time and get the backups some time.
Arkansas accomplished those goals. But a number of Razorback fans seem to be in a state of depression after that less-than-stellar second half against Troy last Saturday night in Fayetteville.
Look, you couldn’t expect this team to remain focused for 12 consecutive quarters while running up the kind of big leads it ran up in the first three games. Look on the bright side: The second half against the Trojans gave Petrino and his staff something to harp on in practice this week.
That staff, which works as hard as any coaching staff in college football, has been designing plays and schemes for Alabama since spring practice. You think they were going to unveil any of those against Missouri State, New Mexico or Troy?
Of course not.
So rest easy.
Arkansas will play well. It might not win, but the Hogs won’t embarrass you Saturday.
After you recover from that game, you can watch UCA travel to Jonesboro to take on Arkansas State. The Bears simply aren’t the same team without Nathan Dick at full speed at quarterback. With Dick experiencing concussion problems, this might not be as good a game as the last time the two schools met on a football field. ASU scored in the final seconds to win that 1997 game.
Most of the state’s Great American Conference teams, meanwhile, must go up against former league foes from the Gulf South Conference. The GSC should hold the upper hand this weekend.
We were 7-2 last week, making us 17-7 on the season.
On to the picks for Week 4:
Alabama 30, Arkansas 27 — The Tide moved to 3-0 with a 41-0 victory over North Texas in Tuscaloosa. Trent Richardson had 167 yards rushing, including touchdown runs of 58 and 71 yards. Eddie Lacy had 161 yards rushing, including touchdown runs of 43 and 67 yards. It was the first time in the storied history of Alabama football for two Bama backs to gain more than 150 yards in the same game. Arkansas must find a way to slow Richardson and Lacy on Saturday. Alabama will attempt to use its ground game to eat up the clock and keep Arkansas’ explosive offense off the field. The Alabama defense is stout, and that might be an understatement. North Texas had only 91 yards of offense. At halftime, the visitors had 25 yards and one first down. Petrino, though, is among the best in the business at coming up with an offensive game plan when on the big stage. If only I had the same faith in Willie Robinson on the defensive side of the ball. For Arkansas to stand a chance, it’s going to need to score a lot of points. A low-scoring game certainly favors Alabama. Bama has the better talent, but the talent gap has narrowed. I’ll say just what I said last year: Alabama should win; Arkansas might.
Arkansas State 35, UCA 20 — It was fun to listen on the radio to the first part of ASU’s game at Virginia Tech last Saturday afternoon as I drove south through the “pine tunnel” to El Dorado to see Ouachita take on UAM in the Boomtown Classic. The Red Wolves jumped to a quick 7-0 lead in that game. That would be the highlight of a 26-7 loss to No. 13 Viriginia Tech, but the Red Wolves didn’t play badly. On the other hand, UCA did play poorly in its 31-10 Southland Conference loss to Sam Houston State down in Huntsville, Texas. After the Bears had almost defeated Louisiana Tech the previous week in Ruston, UCA fans were expecting a better performance in the conference opener. Dick left the game with a concussion in the second quarter. His replacement, sophomore Wynrick Smothers, was just 7 of 17 passing for 99 yards. Hugh Freeze has generated genuine excitement in Jonesboro. The Red Wolves should roll before a crowd of about 30,000.
UAPB 35, Clark Atlanta 32 — The Golden Lions get to play in the Edward Jones Dome at St. Louis as part of the Gateway Classic. UAPB steps down in classification to take on Clark Atlanta. The last time the Golden Lions stepped down in classification, they lost their season opener to NAIA Langston at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. Since that time, Monte Coleman’s squad has won two consecutive SWAC games. Last week, UAPB scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Prairie View A&M, 36-29.
Ouachita 34, Texas A&M-Commerce 24 — The Tigers ran their record to 2-0 overall and 2-0 in the GAC with a 38-20 win in the Boomtown Classic against previously undefeated UAM. Ouachita had 519 yards of offense in that game, with 302 of it coming on the ground. A&M-Commerce fell to 0-2 with a 63-17 loss to Midwestern State in one of the three games that made up the Lone Star Football Festival last Saturday at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington. This is a Thursday night game in Commerce. Ouachita is off to a good start in trying to make it four consecutive winning seasons for the first time at the school since 1965-68.
Delta State 28, Henderson 17 — The Reddies were a disappointment last week, tallying only 139 yards of offense in a 24-21 loss at Arkadelphia to Southwestern Oklahoma. Henderson fell to 1-2. The Reddies just aren’t the same team they were in 2010 when they earned a share of the GSC championship with Nick Hardesty at quarterback. Delta State comes to Arkadelphia with a 3-1 record and a No. 6 national ranking in the American Football Coaches Association Division II Top 25. Delta went on the road last week to beat Arkansas Tech in Russellville, 47-32.
West Georgia 24, UAM 21 — UAM started the Hud Jackson era 2-0, but the Boll Weevils came back to earth a bit last weekend as Ouachita won convincingly. Still, this is a well-coached team that’s much more disciplined than last year’s UAM squad. The Boll Weevils face a 1-1 West Georgia team that’s the weakest in the GSC. Still, we’ll give a slight advantage to the home team as the Weevils make the long trip east.
North Alabama 42, Harding 33 — Harding has had nine days to prepare for this game after a 75-0 win over what was basically an intramural team, Shepherd Tech of Memphis. The 2-1 Bisons must travel to Florence, Ala., to do battle with a 3-0 North Alabama team that’s ranked No. 2 nationally. In the second game of last Saturday’s Lone Star Football Festival at Cowboys Stadium, North Alabama beat then No. 3 Abilene Christian, 23-17. Terry Bowden’s Lions are loaded with Division I transfers.
Valdosta State 49, Southern Arkansas 21 — Valdosta State is ranked No. 5 and is 3-0. The Blazers never trailed last week in beating then No. 6 Albany State, 30-27. Southern Arkansas fell to 1-2 with a 24-21 loss in Magnolia to Southeastern Oklahoma. Mulerider quarterback Tyler Sykora completed 23 of 35 passes for 218 yards. The Muleriders, who should improve on last year’s 1-10 record, simply can’t hang with Valdosta State after the road trip to Georgia.
West Alabama 29, Arkansas Tech 28 — West Alabama ran its home winning streak to seven games and its season record to 2-1 with a 45-7 win last week over Central State. This week sees West Alabama on the road against a 1-2 Arkansas Tech squad that has struggled early. This should, however, be an interesting game. I’ll pick West Alabama but wouldn’t be at all surprised if Tech were to win at home.