Pearls prides itself on being unconventional, if not downright off-kilter, so for the 2012 Razorback football preview we will dispose of the customary position-by-position breakdown.
Instead, for the next month this space will examine the Hogs' prospects for success by the schedule. This week we start with the September slate of games, before plunging into October and November games, respectively, the next two weeks. After that, holy crap, the season is here and 100-degree tailgating is upon us.
Arkansas opens, yet again, with an FCS opponent. This time, though, there is a subtext. Jacksonville State comes to Fayetteville on September 1, two years removed from a memorable visit to Oxford, where the Gamecocks rallied from a 21-point deficit in the second half and bounced Ole Miss in double overtime. That upset was the flashpoint for Houston Nutt's ultimately forgettable four-year stint there, a moment when Rebel fans went from conservatively optimistic to embittered within a matter of hours. It also gave former Hog coach Jack Crowe a measure of redemption for the infamous Citadel defeat that now, amazingly, is 20 years in our rear view.
Crowe quietly has proved he was always more competent than the fateful two-year run in Fayetteville showed. He has won an average of eight games per year at Jacksonville State, and been to the FCS playoffs three times. He no doubt feels a pang of resentment for being dumped a day after the Citadel loss in 1992. You can expect that his team will play poised and smart, but there's simply no substitute for talent. Arkansas will outlast the Gamecocks after the usually sluggish opening half, and Knile Davis will score the first TD and take most of the remainder of the night off. Razorbacks 45, Gamecocks 13. (1-0)
The next week finds Louisiana-Monroe coming to Little Rock. With the LSU game now rightly diverted to Fayetteville, and Ole Miss hardly being an adequate replacement for the dwindling pro-War Memorial contingent, the Warhawks will be what they always are: pesky but grossly outmatched, and the game will be a sellout that looks like something much less by halftime.
This will be a coming-out party for a defense that wants to acquit itself well before the Alabama game the following week. Two defensive touchdowns, one via the much-derided Darius Winston, will propel the Hogs to a routine 2-0 start. Razorbacks 49, Warhawks 3. (2-0)
After Alabama's much-hyped visit to Fayetteville in 2010, and the Hogs' agonizing second-half collapse that September afternoon, this year's game against the Tide takes on even greater meaning. The facts are stark: the Hogs have not beaten Alabama since a fluky one-point overtime victory in Fayetteville in 2006, have lost all five games against Saban-coached Tide teams, and are now faced with a psychological barrier that is arguably more imposing than the actual one.
Alabama is going to be really good. Again. Big surprise. But what the Tide lack this season, at least on the proverbial paper, is defensive experience. The draft purged Bama of a uniquely seasoned batch of defensive stars, and also robbed the Tide of their best offensive weapons (Marquis Maze and Trent Richardson). That may not matter. Arkansas has amassed about six feet of rushing yardage in the past four meetings with the Tide, and pass protection last year was nothing short of horrid. This will be the close game everyone expects, but I fear it will not be the result that Razorback fans desire. Crimson Tide 27, Razorbacks 23. (2-1, 0-1)
The Hogs will bounce back to end September, starting with the home side of the two-game stint with Rutgers, which has a new coach, no feel for SEC competition, and theoretically no desire to take on the Hogs after the Alabama game, regardless of how that one shakes out. If it's a Hog team stung by a loss, Rutgers gets embarrassed by a blood-thirsty squad. Razorbacks 38, Scarlet Knights 14. (3-1, 0-1)
Closing out the month, the Hogs will apparently be playing new league entry Texas A&M somewhere in Texas. It's a familiar team, also steered by a new coach in Kevin Sumlin, and one that also had a lot of its experience wiped out by the draft and graduation.
The Hogs have hardly feared the Aggies...well, ever. And even a trip to Kyle Field likely will not alter that. Tyler Wilson will again have a monster day through the air, and Davis will churn out the first 200-yard game of his career. Razorbacks 42, Aggies 24. (4-1, 1-1)
We'll proceed with an analysis of October's games next week.
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