J.R. and Henry Sports Column: Hogs vs. LSU | Rock Candy

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

J.R. and Henry Sports Column: Hogs vs. LSU

Posted on Wed, Nov 22, 2006 at 5:30 PM

J.R. and Henry: Beat LSU for the BCS

With a trip to Atlanta and the SEC Championship game already sewed up, this Friday’s game against LSU is about putting an exclamation point on a season that has already exceeded most everyone’s wildest dreams. With a win over LSU, that exclamation point will come in the form of a BCS bowl in all probability, regardless of the outcome of the championship game against Florida.

But there’s even more on the line for Arkansas than a mere BCS bowl. A win over LSU, combined with a Notre Dame win over Southern California on Saturday, could mean the Hogs are playing not just for the SEC title on Dec. 2, but also for a shot at mighty Ohio State in the BCS title game in Glendale, Arizona, on Jan. 8.

Notre Dame and Arkansas are separated by the slightest of margins right now in the BCS standings, .007. While an Irish win over the Trojans would no doubt boost their rating a bit, an Arkansas win over Top 10 BCS LSU and Top 5 BCS Florida would probably be enough to push the Hogs past Notre Dame in the standings.

Moreover, Michigan owns a win over Notre Dame. That will probably ensure the Irish’s elimination from title game possibilities. If it comes down to Notre Dame and Michigan, it’s hard to say Notre Dame deserves to go instead of the Wolverines. The same can be said for Arkansas and USC. While that opening day Labor Day weekend blowout seems like it was played years ago, it happened, and not many credible fans can say that Arkansas deserves a national title shot ahead of a one loss Trojan team.

But if it comes down to Michigan and Arkansas, there will be strong sentiment across the country against a rematch. The Harris Poll and Coach’s Poll voters will have a decision to make: Do they want to see the same game they saw in late November? Or do they want to see somebody new get a shot?

If that somebody new is Florida, it will most likely get the opportunity at Ohio State. Florida sits fourth in the BCS rankings. If the Gators win out, they will own victories over Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, Georgia, Florida State, Alabama, Kentucky and South Carolina. Some of those teams are down to be sure, but all are bowl eligible. And the rivalry games against Georgia, Tennessee and Florida State are every bit as intense as the Ohio State-Michigan rivalries, something which the national press doesn’t seem to get. Plus, the Gators' only loss was to a Top 10 ranked team on the road at Auburn, in a game the Gators led at halftime and fumbled away in the closing moments. Even if USC wins out, can the Trojans claim as many impressive wins? And their loss to Oregon State is not in the same ballpark as losing on the Plains late in the day in the SEC.

So, if Florida gets the chance, why not the Hogs? Winning out will give the Hogs 12 in a row, and victories over Alabama, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Florida and South Carolina. Their only loss was to a Top 5 BCS team. Notre Dame’s only real quality wins of the year would have been over USC (a great one, to be sure) and to a lesser extent Georgia Tech, and to a far lesser extent, Penn State. That does not match Arkansas’ body of work.

As for those who think that Notre Dame beat the team (USC) which beat Arkansas, so therefore Notre Dame should go ahead of Arkansas, that argument has little merit. Does anybody outside of Idaho think Boise State should be playing for the national title? They beat Oregon State which beat USC, so they’re better than USC, right? Hardly.

As for a Michigan-Ohio State rematch, can we stop with all the revisionist history please? That was an entertaining game, but it was not a great game. Ohio State controlled the whole game, from beginning to end. The Buckeyes racked up more than 500 yards of offense. Despite committing three turnovers to Michigan’s zero, OSU was in control of the game with an 11-point lead with three minutes to play. Anybody who watched that game with objective eyes knows OSU is clearly the better team, and would win 4 out 5 times the two played. The only thing different in a rematch would be the margin of victory.

But before we talk any more about the national championship, there’s the little matter of LSU this weekend. While LSU leads the conference in total offense and defense, the Tigers have been inconsistent on the road. In losses at Auburn and at Florida, LSU moved the ball well between the 20s, but struggled to score in the red zone. Quarterback JaMarcus Russell can be hot or cold, but when he’s on, he is dominant. He’s a big man with a big arm and he is not afraid to throw the ball in traffic. The Razorback secondary must create some turnovers. If Russell begins to think he can wing the ball all over the field with impunity, there’s little chance Arkansas wins the game. After all, LSU hasn’t given up more than 24 points all year.

On offense, the Hogs have to be able to control LSU’s very talented front four and force the Tigers to bring safety help to stop the run. If the offensive line doesn’t push around LSU’s defensive front, it will be up to the passing game to beat a secondary with talent and without the handicap of a missing safety helping out at the line of scrimmage.

But at this point, it’s hard to pick against Arkansas. They’ve won in every way imaginable this year during the 10-game win streak. With opponents' missed field goals, with trick plays, and with interception and kick off returns. At home with so much on the line, and so much confidence, and Darren McFadden, Arkansas does just enough to win again. Probably on some wacky McFadden throwback pass.

JR & Henry Prediction: Arkansas 27 LSU 24 (Miracle on Markham Part Deux)

J.R. and Henry would normally blog their pick on Thursday, but because they'll both be stuffing their faces with stuffing this Thursday, and since the game is Friday, they're a day early. Read their sports column on Little Rocking twice a week, including next week's recap of the LSU game and the preview of the SEC Championship game with Florida.



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