Arkansas gets their first real measuring stick of progress playing Georgia this Saturday. In reading some of the comments on the Atlanta Journal Constitution web page, a few things seem to be emboldening the ever-hopeful and oft-disappointed Bulldog fans.
They say that Petrino hasn't beaten a high quality SEC team yet (I suppose LSU was considered mediocre last year?) and that the Hogs are still too young and too green while Georgia has had years of top-flight recruiting. Furthermore, Mark Richt has also stated that Caleb King (their best running back) is returning for this game along with a star defensive back who has been out. Finally, they say that Arkansas only has one game under their belt and that against a cupcake where the Dawgs are battle tested at this point.
Those are valid points. However, also valid is that Georgia lost to a team (Oklahoma State) that just lost at home to a Conference USA team (Houston) . Furthermore, Georgia would be staring at 0-2 start coming into this game if they weren't gifted 19 points in the South Carolina game (10 off of turnovers, seven on a blown kickoff coverage, and two points on a safety). Without those 19 points, South Carolina beats Georgia by two touchdowns (given that the margin of victory for Georgia even with the free 19 points was only four). And that was a home game for the Dawgs where they had to have the game surrendered to win it.
Georgia has a tough schedule with a Pac 10 team (Arizona State), a Big 12 team (Oklahoma State), and an ACC team (Georgia Tech) out of conference, Florida, LSU, Arkansas, Auburn, and Tennessee in conference. No other school is playing three of their four non-conference games against BCS conference schools. And while Auburn and Tennessee are both on first year coaches, Auburn has looked pretty good. Bottom line is that, with one loss already in the books, you can make a case that Georgia is well on their way to a 7-5 type of year with many ups and downs. Which Georgia shows up at Fayetteville? We'll know Saturday.
Petrino has made no secret of the fact that the Hogs have been preparing for Georgia all summer. I don't know how much that helps the offense as Arkansas is loaded and Petrino's style will be to take what the defense is giving. But it should help a challenged defense a great deal. Arkansas has also had two games to scout Georgia and a bye week for extra preparation and to get some of the summer two-a-day injuries behind them. Yes, the bye week will cause some potential rust and lack of game experience. However, I think that goes away toward the end of the 1st quarter but I think the advantages this gives Arkansas lasts the whole game.
Arkansas has been a trendy pick among many to be the sleeper team of the SEC this year. This game is one of the more important ones on the schedule. The Hogs are a significantly better home than road team. There are 3-4 sure losses on the schedule. If Arkansas is going to reach their potential of being that sleeper, Georgia and South Carolina are must win games. Petrino has done a good job getting down to business when facing must win teams in the past.
This is truly a toss-up. While it may sound like a cop-out, I'm going to go with the team that wins the turnover battle, whoever that may be. That's because I don't think there is enough difference in whichever team is better to survive losing that part of the equation and still win. In other words, Florida is enough better than Arkansas that even if Florida lost the turnover battle, they likely still win. I don't think one of these teams, when playing each other, can lose the turnover battle and still win the game (unless it's a full moon). Therefore, winner of the turnover battle is the winner. Tie in the turnover battle, I'll take the home team...Arkansas.