As we approach the release of this season's first BCS rankings, the Arkansas Razorbacks find themselves on the outside looking in. The Razorbacks have endured injuries and the toughest stretch of their schedule with games against Alabama, Texas A&M and Auburn.
Yet at the halfway point of the season, Arkansas is off to a 5-1 start, which is their best start under Bobby Petrino, and the schedule gets a little easier going forward.
While losing handily to Alabama puts the Hogs at a disadvantage, there are some scenarios under which Arkansas can find themselves in the BCS picture
Here is what needs to happen for Arkansas to be in the BCS conversation by the end of the season.
Nov. 5 is a date that college football fans around the country have circled. That is the day that Alabama and LSU faceoff in Tuscaloosa for what many believe will be a de-facto berth in the BCS National Championship game.
If Alabama wins, they have a very manageable schedule the rest of the way. including the SEC Championship Game against the winner of the beleaguered SEC East. If, however, LSU comes away with the win, they will most likely go into the Arkansas game, the day after Thanksgiving, as the undefeated No. 1 team in the country, and Alabama will be able to do no better than a tie for the SEC West championship.
For reasons that we'll get into later, Arkansas needs this to be a decisive victory of seven points or more for the Bayou Bengals over the Crimson Tide. No small order for sure.
Let's be honest, unless a team from the SEC East pulls off the biggest upset in SEC Championship Game history, the SEC West will have two representatives in BCS bowl games. If Arkansas is going to get one of those two slots they need for quality wins to remain quality wins.
In particular they need for Texas A&M to get their head on straight and for Auburn to find some offensive balance, so what have been two good early season wins for the Hogs don't lose their luster as the season rolls on.
Usually playing in the SEC West takes care of any strength of schedule issues a team might have, but as you look forward to the remaining teams on Arkansas' schedule there are few chances to garner momentum in the polls by winning high profile games.
Wins over Tennessee, Ole Miss, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State will do little to bolster the Hogs' resume. The Razorbacks need for South Carolina to win all of its games before the two teams meet in Fayetteville on Nov. 5.
If this game features two one-loss teams, then a win would be a nice resume filler for the winner. The only other chance for a quality win for the Hogs will be the LSU game.
The bye week couldn't have come at a better time for the Hogs, who have had injuries to five defensive starters as well several key offensive players. Most Hog fans are hopeful that this rash of injuries is behind Arkansas at this point in the season, and with good reason, because the Razorbacks can hardly sustain any more losses to personnel.
Tyler Wilson has helped to carry the offense in the absence of Knile Davis, but he has also taken a lot of abuse from opposing defenses. If he or any other key player were to go down, it could quickly change the trajectory of Arkansas' season.
If Arkansas wins the rest of their games and LSU beats Alabama, then the two will square off in Baton Rouge on Nov. 25 for a share of the SEC West Championship. While Alabama has owned the Razorbacks for the last half-decade, Arkansas has won three out of the last four versus LSU.
If the Hogs have just one loss, they figure through attrition to be ranked around No. 5 in the country going against a No. 1 ranked LSU team. A win in this game would then give Arkansas, Alabama and LSU a three-way tie in the West with Arkansas most likely being the top ranked team out of the three.
If Arkansas, LSU and Alabama are all tied with one loss, it could go all the way to the eighth tiebreaker to decide who plays in the SEC championship. The top ranked team of the three gets the nod for the championship unless the second team is ranked within five spots of the first.
At that point it would come down to whether or not LSU drops below Alabama and whether either of them is within five spots of the Razorbacks. This is why Arkansas needs LSU to do more the merely beat Alabama and the Hogs want to beat LSU by as little as possible.
Otherwise Alabama figures to be the second highest ranked team and within five spots of the Razorbacks. That scenario would send Alabama to the SEC Championship Game by virtue of the head-to-head victory over the Hogs.
Now, the path laid out is for Arkansas to win the SEC, but if the Hogs were to win the rest of their games and Alabama beats LSU, then Arkansas would likely be the second representative from the conference.
If all of this seems a little confusing, the bottom line is that if Arkansas wins the rest of their games to go 11-1, they could either earn a BCS bid by winning the SEC Championship or by earning an at-large bid.
This college football season has gone mostly according to script so far, so we are due for some surprises down the stretch. It should be fun to see how it all shakes out.