All fans can look at their teams’ schedules and identify the stretches that will likely determine whether the season will be a success.
That’s our objective this week as we examine the schedules of all 14 SEC teams and attempt to identify the toughest two-to-four-game stretches for each club.
Up next: Bret Bielema’s Arkansas Razorbacks.
Toughest stretch: Oct. 8-22 (Alabama, Ole Miss, at Auburn)
Why: There are a pair of daunting three-game stretches on Arkansas’ schedule: Oct. 8-22 (home games against Alabama and Ole Miss and a visit to Auburn) and Nov. 5-19 (home against Florida and LSU and a visit to Mississippi State).
Although the November run won’t be much fun -- Florida is a defending division champion and LSU could be one of the country’s best teams, after all -- we have to give the nod to the stretch that includes the defending national champ. Arkansas has not beaten Alabama since Nick Saban became the Crimson Tide’s head coach, having dropped nine in a row in the series. Granted, the past two meetings have been competitive games, but the Razorbacks still have not found a way to break through against the conference’s preeminent program.
The Ole Miss series has been very much neck-and-neck in recent seasons, with the two programs splitting the past eight meetings. Arkansas’ 53-52 overtime win over the Rebels last season, which featured Hunter Henry's famous game-saving lateral to Alex Collins, was one of the most memorable games in modern SEC history. The Hogs have had Ole Miss’ number in the past two seasons, and they have the benefit of playing this one at home. Arkansas is 8-2 against Ole Miss in Fayetteville since joining the SEC in 1992.
The Auburn game is a bit of a wild card for the Razorbacks. It’s difficult to predict how effective either of these offenses will be, as both teams have quarterback questions and multiple important skill players to replace. However, playing at Jordan-Hare Stadium has not traditionally been a problem for the Razorbacks. Arkansas has won three of its past five visits to the Plains and also edged the Tigers in overtime last season in Fayetteville. Conversely, Auburn will be coming off an open date, which will presumably help Gus Malzahn’s staff formulate a plan to attack an Arkansas team worn down by consecutive games against division heavyweights.
Few college football experts will project Arkansas as a likely SEC West contender this season after losing key players such as Henry, Collins and quarterback Brandon Allen. If the Hogs are still in the hunt at the end of this October stretch, though, Bielema’s rebuilding project will be progressing much more rapidly than most of us will have expected.