Most conferences have their top tier (perennially elite) programs, their middle tier programs, and their bottom tier (cellar dweller) programs. The SEC is no exception. Arkansas has traditionally been in the middle tier.
The key for middle tier programs to have successful years is to win your non-conference games, beat the teams on the schedule from the bottom tier, and split the games on your schedule against the other middle tier teams and occasionally beat a team that you shouldn't. That leads to 8-4 or 9-3 seasons and good bowl games.
Early this season, I wrote that Arkansas should beat their non-conference teams, Mississippi State, and Auburn. So far so good.
I also wrote that Arkansas would lose to Bama, Florida, and LSU. Again, so far that's holding up.
And I wrote that Arkansas needed to win two of the three against Georgia, Ole Miss, and South Carolina. And it's here's where the Hogs are off track.
These are the games that matter the most. This is what decides if a team is 6-6 (if they lose all three) or 9-3 (if they win all three). That's a significant difference in record. Bobby Petrino's first priority should be splitting these games 2-1 and upsetting one of the big boys. That would make a 9-3 record every year. And that is what Arkansas should realistically hope for.
It's tough to have 10-win seasons in the SEC. Even if Petrino eventually has a couple of them, by no means should they become "expected." But being 8-4 or 9-3 with this formula is not unreasonable.
It's too late to split these games 2-1 this year as Arkansas lost to both Georgia and Ole Miss already. This is the last opportunity to avoid being winless in these three important games.
This concept is not unlike Presidential elections. Republicans are going to win certain states (Utah, for instance) even if they run a fall-down drunk on the ticket.
Likewise, Democrats are going to win certain states under the same circumstances (Massachusetts, for example). It's the "battleground states" that end up mattering.
For Arkansas, with Georgia being average this year, those "battleground games" were Georgia, Ole Miss, and South Carolina.
Improvement can be measured by the fact that Arkansas' cupcakes were taking the Hogs to the wire last year, where this year they aren't.
But that's not enough. Improving the record in these type games is where the "rubber meets the road." Good luck, Bobby P.