A week from today, the Arkansas Razorbacks will begin preseason workouts for the upcoming season in the sweltering heat, and before we know it, the 2023 season will be underway.
Now, you’ll never hear a coach say one game is bigger than the other, and you’ll rarely hear a player say it, but for fans, it’s different.
Every Razorback game is a big game to thousands of Hog faithful, but not every game means as much to each fan on an individual as another. Some games just take on more meaning whatever the reason may be. It’s a personal thing.
Just for fun, here’s how I’d rank the top 10 games on the Razorbacks football schedule and why.
10. Alabama – Oct. 14 in Tuscaloosa
I know for many the Alabama game is THE highlight of the season. It’s a chance for the Hogs to test themselves against the SEC’s best overall program for the last decade. But for me, the Razorbacks’ date with the Crimson Tide at Tuscaloosa, Ala. on Oct. 14 in Bryant-Denny Stadium is much lower on my priority list. The Hogs haven’t beaten Alabama since Nick Saban became the Crimson Tide’s head coach in 2007, and too few of the games have been close. It would rank among the biggest upsets in both programs’ history — for different reasons — if Arkansas upended Alabama this year. As optimistic as I usually am, I don’t think the Hogs are going to break ‘Bama’s winning streak this year, considering the Razorbacks play LSU, Texas A&M, and Ole Miss away from Razorback Stadium the three weeks prior to their trip to T Town. The Razorbacks will likely be tenderized before they get there.
9. Western Carolina – Sept. 2 in Little Rock
O.K., there is a good chance that the Catamounts will be the worst team the Razorbacks face this year. This game should be all but over by halftime. So, why did it make the top 10? The only reason is that it is the season opener. By the time the Hogs are ready to kick off the season at Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium on Sept. 2 with Western Carolina, every Razorbacker will be on their toes in anticipation of the first Hog call and victory of the year. Hopefully the Razorbacks will take care of business, so we will get a chance to see much of the roster enjoy some playing time.
8. BYU – Sept. 16 in Fayetteville
I would certainly understand if others ranked this game higher on their personal list of most-anticipated Razorback games. It should be a good one. No doubt the Cougars will be looking for some payback after Arkansas upset their applecart last year in Provo, Utah. This is BYU’s first season in the Big 12, and I’m sure they will want to represent. This is a very good intersectional game, and one Razorback fans will no doubt be ready for on Sept. 16 with ESPN2 in town to televise. It’s the last home game for a full month, and the Hill will be rocking for what should be a high-scoring affair.
7. Mississippi State – Oct. 21 in Fayetteville
After the way the Bulldogs manhandled the Razorbacks last year in Starkville, the Hogs should be looking for some payback against Mississippi State. This will also be the first Razorback game within the state’s borders in a month after that dreaded SEC Death March through Baton Rouge, La.; Arlington, Texas; Oxford, Miss.; and Tuscaloosa. Right now, the Bulldogs are perhaps the biggest unknown in the SEC with Zach Arnett taking over for the late Mike Leach, who died of a heart attack last December. This will be a huge game for the Razorbacks, and likely a bounce-back game that the Hogs can’t afford to lose with it being sandwiched between road trips to Alabama and Florida.
6. Auburn – Nov. 11 in Fayetteville
The fact that Arkansas’ hard-luck loss to Liberty last year in Razorback Stadium likely secured the Auburn job for Hugh Freeze adds a little more flavor to this game that already is a big one for the Razorbacks. The Hogs can ill afford to drop another game to a Freeze-coached team in Razorback Stadium. A stumble here on Nov. 11 , and even reasonable Razorback fans will be grumbling. Sam Pittman’s Razorbacks could be 3-0 against the Tigers, but the refs bailed Auburn out in 2020, and the Hogs played one of their worst games of Pittman’s tenure against Auburn in 2021. This needs to be a meaningful game for the Hogs regardless of either team’s record, and they need to show up ready to play their best.
5. Florida – Nov. 4 in Gainesville
Arkansas has never won at the Swamp. This would be a great year to do it. Florida is coming off a bad year for their program, but Gator fans never expect to lose at home and particularly not against a program like Arkansas’ that has struggled to be middle of the pack in the SEC for nearly a decade. A victory at Florida on Nov. 4 no matter what the program’s record is at the time would be a huge one for the Razorbacks, and it might be the key to returning to the Sunshine State for a bowl game.
4. Missouri – Nov. 24 in Fayetteville
Arkansas’ hand-picked rival by the SEC office usually doesn’t fire up Hog fans, but considering Arkansas has lost seven of the nine games the programs have played since Missouri joined the SEC in 2014, maybe Razorback players and fans should take the Battle Line Rivalry more seriously. It’s clear the Tigers enjoy beating the Hogs all too routinely. This game set for the Friday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 24) in Razorback Stadium is one the Razorbacks need to win for this season to be all it can be.
3. Texas A&M – Sept. 30 in Arlington
The Ballad of Jimbo and Bobby will be played out across the SEC this season, and with Fisher being less than eloquent in answering questions about Petrino, his new offensive coordinator, last week at SEC Media Days, it appears to already be off to a rocky start before the first preseason practice. Now, that’s just talk and perception that’s fun to gig the Aggies with. No one outside the A&M program really knows what Fisher and Petrino’s working relationship is like. That aside, this is a huge game for the Razorbacks, falling between the Hogs’ SEC opener at LSU and their trip to Ole Miss. On neutral ground at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 30, this is the closest thing to a home game the Hogs have for a month. Like so many times in the recent past, the Razorbacks let this game sift through their fingers like sand last season in a turnover-prone and mistake-marred performance. The Hogs will need to play much better this season to come out victorious.
2. Ole Miss – Oct. 7 in Oxford
Arkansas dominated this series when it resumed in 1981 while the Razorbacks were still in the Southwest Conference, but since the Hogs joined the SEC in 1992, it has been a back-and-forth affair with the Razorbacks winning 18 and the Rebels 14. Not coincidentally, a Razorback victory over Ole Miss is usually a solid indicator for at least a good season for the Razorbacks. It’s hard for the Hogs to have a good or great year without whipping the Rebels. With me hailing from the Memphis area and with kin who attended Ole Miss, this game takes on a bit more significance among my relatives than most Razorback games. Other than Texas, there probably is no football opponent I enjoy the Razorbacks beating than Ole Miss. I have a feeling this game is big for Arkansas quarterback K.J. Jefferson, the Hogs’ undisputed leader who hails from Sardis, Miss., which is very near Oxford. He and the Hogs came within a whisker of topping the Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium two years ago in a shoot-out. I imagine he’s looking forward to getting the job done this year.
1. LSU – Sept. 23 in Baton Rouge
Arkansas’ game against LSU at Baton Rouge on Sept. 23 is a huge one. The biggest of the season by my estimation. Brian Kelly’s Tigers are likely to be ranked in the top 10 going into this contest, which is the Hogs’ SEC opener. LSU plays Mississippi State the week before. It will be a true test for the Hogs in one of the toughest environments in college football. Windy conditions made offensive play a chore in last year’s contest, which the Tigers’ won 13-10. It hampered both teams. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson did not play because of an injury, and Kelly did not allow quarterback Jayden Daniels to throw much into the swirling wind with the Tigers maintaining control of the game or LSU would have likely won by a greater margin. One hopes the weather conditions and the health of the quarterbacks are steady in what should be one of the best early season SEC matchups. The Tigers will probably be heavy favorites going in, but maybe the underdog Hogs will make it a memorable contest for Razorback fans.