When reviewing Arkansas’ football schedule before the season started, many broke the schedule down into three distinct sections.
The first four games composed the relatively soft nonconference schedule, the next four a murder’s row of sorts featuring squads which all figured to be in the hunt for the Southeastern Conference title and the third four games that would no doubt be tough but more manageable than the previous four SEC contests.
The general consensus seemed to be the Razorbacks would win between four and six games, maybe seven if the Hogs were better than expected and ambushed an opponent.
Thus far that general assessment has been on target. Many feared the Rutgers road trip, and they were right to do so. The Scarlet Knights erased a 17-point deficit by wearing down the Hogs, who missed opportunity after opportunity to put the game away. It is a fair assessment that the Razorbacks likely would have won the game had starting quarterback Brandon Allen been healthy. But he wasn’t, and the Hogs didn’t. That loss hurt, but others would hurt more.
The next four games largely went as expected. The outcome was four losses to teams that were all ranked at the time. The Razorbacks were competitive in the losses to one-dimensional squads Texas A&M and Florida, but South Carolina and Alabama ground the Hogs into porkburger.
The Gamecocks broke the Razorbacks’ will, and Alabama hit them while they were down like a Mack Truck barreling over road kill on its way to a third national title. If a team ever needed an open date, the Hogs did last week.
Now, the Razorbacks enter that third stage of the schedule, and the question that haunted even the most optimistic Hog fans in the summer rears its ugly head just in time for Arkansas’ post-Halloween matchup with Auburn, “How much fight will the Hogs have left in them going into November?”
Everyone knew Arkansas lacked depth and experience when the season started, and at this point in the season, all teams have struggles to varying degrees with the physical nature of the sport. Teams that are mentally tough, though, fight through the pain, gain experience and continue to improve. Teams that lack the ability to move forward just wallow and flounder.
Arkansas (3-5, 0-4) vs. Auburn (7-1, 3-1)
When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013
Location: Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
The Razorbacks let down against South Carolina and Alabama, and that’s saying it nicely. Arkansas head football coach Brett Bielema acknowledged as much last week in a news conferences when he said some Hogs who were not playing winning football would move aside for others who would at least give effort as the season progresses.
Look for freshmen like Brooks Ellis, Drew Morgan and Korlis Marshall who have seen some playing time get even more. Maybe the energy and excitement that they will naturally generate by being able to contribute can spark some life back into the Razorbacks. It might even prompt some of the older players, who were benched, to work harder to get back on the field.
Auburn is no pushover to say the least. Along with Missouri, Auburn is the surprise of the SEC, moving from the ranks of the also-rans to a legitimate contender for a share of the league crown even as a one loss team. As good as Alabama is, the Crimson Tide lost games on each of their last two national title runs.
But the No. 8 Tigers’ success should give the Hogs some measure of hope. Auburn went 0-8 in the SEC last year and has had a truly stunning turnaround with Gus Malzahn taking control of the program.
The Razorbacks don’t have to wait until next season to turn their fortunes around. Win or lose against Auburn, the Razorbacks can begin to compete and even improve, which is something the Hogs failed to do in their last two games.