USA Today Coaches' Poll 2012: How Does Poll Alter Arkansas' BCS Path?
Coming into the 2012 season, Arkansas football finds itself ranked No. 10 in USA Today’s preseason poll despite finishing sixth in the BCS rankings after last season and returning most of its starters.
The low ranking by USA Today will serve the purpose of making the Razorbacks' season slightly more difficult by giving them a smaller margin of error and no time to break in new head coach John Smith.
The poll will also make the few big games that Arkansas has throughout the season much more important, which is sure to lead to an exciting year for Razorbacks fans.
This article will break down exactly how much of an impact USA Today's preseason poll will have on Arkansas' 2012 season.
Arkansas Should Be Ranked Higher
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Being ranked No. 10 by USA Today seems to be a slight to a very good Arkansas football team who finished sixth after last season.
It is likely that the other polls will end up giving them more respect, but that remains to be seen.
Certainly the loss of Coach Petrino will hurt the team, but they are still left with a very talented roster. Nine starters from both the offense and defense will return, including quarterback Tyler Wilson, who threw for more than 3,600 yards last season.
The team will also bring in a very good recruiting class, which includes two 4-star wide receivers to go along with three other 4-star recruits and a large group of 3-star players.
Being ranked this low will no doubt hurt them—it will be difficult to overcome some of the higher-ranked teams who also have the ability to go undefeated over the season.
The Razorbacks Have a Weak Non-Conference Schedule
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While Arkansas plays in the difficult SEC, their non-conference schedule may be too weak to make up for. In the BCS era with signature wins being key, it is hard to give yourself a good name playing the likes of Jacksonville State, Louisiana-Monroe, Rutgers and Tulsa.
Essentially the team must look dominant in all of these games in order for the wins to even be noticed. The lack of signature games outside of their conference also puts more pressure on the Razorbacks to win big games against South Carolina, Alabama and LSU.
Furthermore, since Arkansas isn’t ranked within the top five, they cannot afford to lose without dropping out of BCS contention. The Razorbacks will need to take at least two out of three games against those big three teams or else they will only have one big win for their resume at the end of the season.
On the other hand, if they had a more challenging schedule, they could lose two games and still recover from the inevitable drop in the rankings.
Only having three big games this season gives Arkansas a much smaller margin of error, which is something they may not be able to afford with first-year coach John A. Smith.
The Week 3 MatchUp with Alabama Is a Must-Win
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Given that Arkansas has a weak schedule beyond games against Alabama, LSU and South Carolina, their Week 3 matchup against the Crimson Tide has become a must-win.
The Razorbacks will almost certainly win both games before their Alabama matchup, but two victories over Jacksonville State and the ULM Warhawks aren't exactly the best indication of a great team.
After Week 3, if they lose to Alabama, Arkansas will have two low-quality wins and a loss against the only good team that they have faced. That shouldn’t and won’t reflect well upon the team.
Beyond that, Arkansas needs signature wins to make it to the BCS Championship game, and winning against No. 2 Alabama would certainly be an important one in a season that will give them few opportunities.
Finally, losing a very important game in the third week may set off a losing streak with Arkansas following the Alabama game by playing teams who will be able to put up a fight, including Texas A&M and Auburn and eventually South Carolina and LSU.
LSU-Arkansas Will Be One of the Best Games of the Year
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The final-week matchup between Arkansas and LSU could be one of the most exciting games of the year.
LSU will definitely be in contention for the BCS Championship, and the Razorbacks could be there as well.
If Arkansas is able to win their games against the Crimson Tide and South Carolina, they could easily come into this contest undefeated.
Even if they lose against Alabama, having only one loss for the season would likely warrant them a top-five finish in the polls.
This game could be a lot like LSU-Alabama at the end of last season and could give Arkansas another quality win for their resume. It will also feature the Razorbacks' star quarterback Tyler Wilson against LSU’s terrific pass defense, which features the Heisman trophy finalist Tyrann Mathieu, also known as the Honey Badger.
If the season goes as planned for the Razorbacks, this game should be both extremely important and thrilling to watch.