Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans
Two-thirds of the Hog schedule now behind us in our three-part, ritualistic, sometimes-self-immolating season preview, we turn to the final month of action. In both of Bret Bielema's two seasons here, this has been a pretty good month, or at least as good as a 2-6 record in those months can be.
The Razorbacks were a downtrodden, rudderless squad in 2013, but Brandon Allen's health improved and the team definitely benefited. Arkansas nearly knocked off Mississippi State and LSU to end the 0-8 SEC slate and was exceptionally competitive against Ole Miss and Auburn late in the year as well. Last fall, the Hogs fought off weeks of narrow margins to blow out LSU and Ole Miss at home in the cold November rain, and bookended the month with close losses at Starkville, Miss., and Columbia, Mo.
This time, it's a month that can and should determine just how deeply into the playoff season Arkansas can go. Sporting a 7-1 record by our projections after the September-October gauntlet, the Hogs enter the final quartet of games with big aspirations, but it's not the same kind of schedule this year, at least as far as difficulty goes:
Nov. 7 at Ole Miss — The buzz that continues to linger around Oxford as Hugh Freeze recruits in a manner that seems to defy odds, convention and possibly ethics (just kidding, I think) is deafening again. The Rebels are still well equipped to win the division, and undoubtedly stinging after Arkansas won 30-0 last year. Bo Wallace is finally departed, which despite his three years of copious production may yield more consistency.
The Hogs will score some in this one, but the Rebels shock the defense by running straight through it. And it's that power game that befuddles Robb Smith's crew, so much so that the Hogs end up giving up a season-worst rushing total and give away hopes of a division crown. A bright spot for the good guys: Hunter Henry crosses 1,000 yards receiving for the season in only the ninth game with a 185-yard effort. Rebels 33, Hogs 23.
Nov. 14 at LSU — Reeling from the physical torture that Ole Miss meted out, the Hogs struggle from the start in Baton Rouge. Leonard Fournette scores twice in the first quarter to ensure that the Tigers will not suffer the ignominy of consecutive shutouts at the hands of the Hogs.
Arkansas never reclaims the lead, tying it twice in the second half on Brandon Allen scoring throws, first to Kody Walker and next to Jeremy Sprinkle. But the Tigers show resiliency and finish the win late thanks to Brandon Harris relieving Anthony Jennings and firing a couple of big throws to Travin Dural late. Two straight losses big down the feel-good for a tick as the Razorbacks plummet in the rankings. Tigers 27, Hogs 20.
Nov. 21 vs. Mississippi State — The Bulldogs are well beyond bruised at this point. Heisman hopeful Dak Prescott has to sit this one out due to lingering ankle issues, and the Hogs benefit from that, as well as the return to Fayetteville and the hospitable circumstances there.
Without the rugged and mobile Prescott to deal with, an angry Razorback defensive line tees off on anyone and everyone populating the Bulldog backfield. A rousing first half in which Arkansas outgains Mississippi State more than 300 yards to 50 ends with the Hogs up 24-3. It gets worse thereafter as two backup quarterbacks, Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey, get extended looks and each throws a scoring pass in a decisive rout. Hogs 44, Bulldogs 13.
Nov. 27 vs. Missouri — Oddly, the rivalry game that never felt like a rivalry takes on a decidedly spicy tone because of a pregame skirmish and the controversial officiating that bottlenecked a potential Razorback rout last year. Gary Pinkel does not bring in a stacked team this time, and in fact, Mizzou is barely bowl eligible and scraping for better placement in December, a role reversal of last year's game.
The Hogs are chippy and fiery for the finale. Motivated by all these factors, Allen closes out his senior season in high style. Throwing on the run and having a blast doing it, the normally stoic passer hits 400 yards for the first time as Dan Enos loosens the leash. Keon Hatcher also joins Henry with a 1,000-yard receiving campaign and the Hogs wrap up a 9-3, 5-3 regular season.