Here is the current schedule for the 2009 Arkansas Razorback team...
9/05 Missouri State
9/26 @ Alabama
10/03 vs. Texas A&M
10/17 @ Florida
10/24 @ Mississippi
10/31 Eastern Michigan
11/07 South Carolina
11/21 Mississippi State
11/28 @ LSU
With teams like Georgia, Alabama, Florida, and LSU on the schedule and with three of those four on the road, it's certainly enough for fans to keep their expectations in check. So just what should be the over/under on wins for the Hogs this year? Here's a game by game breakdown as well as my prediction. However, as they say, this and a couple of quarters will buy you a cup of coffee (so long as it's not Starbucks).
Missouri State - Arkansas had trouble in their first two games last year and those games were the usual out-of-conference "warm-up" games. They had to have late 4th quarter heroics in both games to win them. But this team, and especially this coaching staff, made great strides as last year went on. This one should be out of doubt early on. Hogs are 1-0.
Georgia - Georgia is replacing a lot of firepower that was lost to the NFL. They may also be licking not one but two wounds before they meet Arkansas as they open with top 15 Oklahoma State on the road and follow it with South Carolina. Georgia will have growing pains this year and, if they lose both of those first two games, they may very well have a case of shot confidence by the time they arrive in Fayetteville.
Richt is one of the best road coaches in the college game, but Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso among others have picked this as a very likely upset. The Razorback defense was porous last year, but Georgia has never been an explosive team and they lost a lot of offensive weapons. Therefore, I just don't see Arkansas having to play lights out defense as long as they can score significantly.
And if Petrino has proven one thing in his previous stints and even at Arkansas, it's that his teams can score. The Razorbacks were 4th in the SEC in total offense in Petrino's first year...with Casey Dick as the QB and no "big back." Just imagine what the prospects are on offense now. This will be close, but I see Arkansas getting the win at home. Hogs are now 2-0.
Alabama - This one is tough. Bama lost some key players last year. We saw what happened when their All-American Smith was not playing (due to suspension) in the Utah game. They couldn't move the ball. Well, he's not gone for just one game but forever to the NFL. Sure, Bama has had time to replace, but there are other pieces missing too. And for those Bama fans that berated former QB Wilson, he was steady, experienced, accurate when protected, and a good game manager. Breaking in a new QB is never easy.
Bama's defense will be tough as usual but Arkansas will be tougher to stop this year too. I think Bama overachieved last year and may fall back down to earth. However, I just don't see Arkansas beating them at their place this year. Hogs are now 2-1.
Texas A&M - This team has underachieved for years. I personally don't think they hired a very good coach last year. And the coyotes will be howling if Arkansas State beat this team last year and Arkansas doesn't win this year. This is Arkansas' chance to be spotlighted in an inter-conference game at a neutral site that is supposed to have a long, perhaps permanent run in Dallas. Texas is vital to Arkansas recruiting. That makes this a near must win game.
I do believe that Petrino is a better coach than their coach, and I think he will impress the importance from a program standpoint on his coaches and the players. I see the game close in the first half and Arkansas perhaps even having to dig out of a small hole but pulling away as the game goes on. Hogs are 3-1.
Auburn - Gus Malzahn will want nothing more than to beat Arkansas and show that he was the reason that Arkansas was so good and won eight straight during his year at Arkansas. However, for those of us fans that are objective, we already know that. That's because when Malzahn was involved, McFadden and company won more games than the next year when Arkansas started off 0-3 in the conference with roughly the same group.
However, their new coach, Chizik, was 5-19 as a head coach at Iowa State. Auburn fans are hoping this is because it was Iowa State but Dan McCarney did OK there and had a couple of bowl-eligible seasons. Auburn has had a lot of turmoil and I think Arkansas will be clicking by this time.
Petrino showed that Arkansas' defense, though last in the league last year, could still slow down Malzahn's nation-leading offense at Tulsa. This year, even if Malzahn does better with more quality players at Auburn than he had at Tulsa, Arkansas is going to score more to offset that. I see Arkansas getting a close win here. Hogs are now 4-1.
Florida - Arkansas gave Florida all it wanted for three quarters last year and that became a blueprint that Nutt used when Ole Miss played Florida. Arkansas will be better and Florida can't get much better than they were. However, last year the Hogs were aided by the fact that they played at home and Florida didn't take them seriously. If Arkansas is 3-1 and has beaten Georgia, Auburn, and Texas A&M by this point, I don't see Florida not taking them seriously.
In the swamp, this will be Florida's game. However, I don't believe that they will be able to name the score. They might score a lot but Arkansas will too. Hogs are now 4-2.
Ole Miss - This is the first year that Nutt will have some of his own players in the system instead of the loaded cupboard that Orgeron left him. Nutt has shown himself to be a below average recruiter. Had McFadden not wanted to be a Razorback his whole life, we probably would have never seen him in red/white (unless Oklahoma had gotten him). And Ole Miss loses several key pieces from last year's team. Even with last year's team Nutt inherited, the Rebs won by two points and that win was on a disputed call.
Truth be told, this was the point in the season that Arkansas started clicking under Petrino and should have won this game. I see this being the year that Nutt under-performs (as is his history) and Arkansas resumes their winning ways over the Rebs. Hogs are now 5-2.
Eastern Michigan - The only thing that will keep this from being a blowout is if Arkansas has lost numerous starters to injury by midseason. Even still, I can't see it being close. Hogs are now 6-2 and bowl eligible.
South Carolina - Every year is always the "breakout" year for the Gamecocks. And every year something happens. History says that this year will be the same story. Arkansas has a very good record over South Carolina, the team that entered the league at the same time and became Arkansas' permanent cross-divisional game. Arkansas could have had a much tougher perennial opponent.
Spurrier is always a wild card. He is the only coach in South Carolina history to have beaten Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia as the South Carolina coach. But, those wins have been few and far between and losses to Vandy and Kentucky have also been in the mix. This one is a toss-up, but I give the edge to Arkansas if they have remained fairly injury free and for home-field advantage. Hogs are now 7-2.
Troy - This is a team that should never be overlooked. They have hung with the big dogs and absolutely clobbered Oklahoma State two seasons ago. That game nearly got the OK State coach fired. It was embarrassing. However, Arkansas has a tendency of letting teams like this play closer than they should, but they also have history of not losing to them (Jack Crowe's lone game as head coach excepted). Hogs are now 8-2.
Mississippi State - There are prediction services that are predicting that Mississippi State won't win a single conference game. That sounds about right to me. They are a paycheck game in the conference. They get paid a lot of money to get beat up on every week. Yes, they beat Arkansas last year. And that's only the second time in the last 13 years that's happened. Petrino's offense will be way too good for this team.
Mississippi State is in trouble with a revitalized Ole Miss team collecting most of the "big time" talent coming out of high school there. When both Mississippi schools were down, State had a chance on the recruiting trail. Now they will be at a serious disadvantage with Ole Miss being relatively good again. Hogs are now 9-2.
LSU - I would not have picked Arkansas to beat LSU either of the past two years but they did. I would have picked Arkansas to beat them the year before but they didn't. So what I'm saying is that, with Miles at the helm at LSU, you just never know what to expect but whatever that is, it usually goes the other way. However, again going with logic, I expect LSU to win this game. Hogs are now 9-3.
Bowl Game - I'm predicting Arkansas to go 9-3 but, since I'm predicting them to be 4-0 outside of conference play, that means I'm predicting 5-3 in the conference. That will not be good enough to win the West. Therefore, Arkansas will play in one of the second tier bowls affiliated with the conference.
The top bowls are the national championship game, the Sugar Bowl, and the Capital One Bowl. Below that are the Cotton Bowl, Outback Bowl, and Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl. One of these is the destination I foresee for Arkansas. Bobby Petrino is good in bowl games. It gives him a chance to game plan for several weeks and to get all possible players back to healthy (unless they've had season ending injuries). I can't predict the opponent or analyze this game but I think Arkansas wins. Hogs end the year 10-3, ranked in the top 15, and fans are thrilled.