Arkansas can emerge from BCS slop

BY Peter Schrager • November 7, 2011

With the latest “Game of the Century” now behind us and both LSU and one-loss Alabama still ranked ahead of undefeated Stanford and Boise State in the latest BCS rankings, it’s easy to assume LSU’s a shoo-in for one of the two spots in January’s BCS National Championship Game.

It’s also easy to assume that Alabama’s still very much alive for the other. Based on the latest rankings and no rules barring a team that doesn’t win its conference -- or division, in this case -- from qualifying for the BCS National Championship Game, it’s quite possible that we’re headed for a rematch of the “Game of the Century” on Jan. 9.

The Tigers have beaten two quality out-of-conference foes (Oregon and West Virginia), won in Alabama’s building and have dominated every SEC East opponent they’ve faced. The Tide, meanwhile, has just one loss (to LSU) and has taken down a very strong out-of-conference foe (one-loss Penn State), themselves.

But you know what they say about assumptions. And to assume ‘Bama and LSU are headed for a rematch would be ignoring the giant elephant — or, in this case, Hog — in the SEC West standings.

Quietly, like the Homecoming Queen candidate who’s neither the head cheerleader nor the teacher’s pet, Arkansas has gotten very little national media attention this season. As the SEC West’s “third” team this year, the Hogs have been relegated to a string of ESPN2 Saturday night contests and showered with zero media spotlight. After their September loss to Alabama, the Hogs were — perhaps fairly — written off as one of several second-tier SEC squads in a season where the conference’s strength rested with just two teams. Sure, Arkansas was capable of a favorable season and a Chick-fil-A or Cotton Bowl showing, but a BCS Bowl?

Well that Alabama loss came six weeks ago, and since that humbling September defeat in Tuscaloosa, the Hogs have very quietly rattled off five straight wins, including a Saturday night 44-28 victory over one-loss South Carolina that barely even made the ESPN bottom line ticker. The Razorbacks are now 8-1, with wins over three different teams that were ranked in the top 15 when they played them, and in the very thick of the BCS hunt.

In the latest computer rankings — compiled by averaging six different computer systems, none of which include magazine cover stories, the amount of times “ESPN Game Day” posts up on campus, or Erin Andrews visits — the Razorbacks are ranked 6th in the nation. The Hogs face Tennessee and Mississippi State in two very winnable games at home the next two Saturdays, and then head out to Baton Rouge for their own version of “The Game of The Century.” Want to see some chaos? Just wait. If a one-loss Arkansas squad topples LSU on national television Thanksgiving weekend, it could cause a three-way tie atop the SEC West.

Assuming (again, with the assuming) Alabama handles their business from here on out and LSU does the same until a hypothetical upset loss to the Hogs, there’d be more than just a little national interest prior to that Sunday night’s BCS rankings release. In one of the quirkier rules in college football, three-way ties atop divisions and conferences are broken by the team with the highest BCS ranking.

So, let’s dissect this one. Arkansas would have had dropped their only game of the year to Alabama; Alabama would have dropped their only game of the year to LSU; and LSU would have dropped their only game of the year to Arkansas. Of those three teams, though, Arkansas would be riding high on the strength of the longest winning streak of the three, including a much-respected road victory in the building of the No. 1 team in the land — something LSU’s being widely applauded for doing this weekend. Sure, Oregon and Penn State are far more flashier out of conference wins than Arkansas’s now less impressive comeback win over Texas A&M, but in the eyes of the human voters, it’s very often more an issue of “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” than “Who Did You Play Way Back When?” Arkansas, with a win over LSU, would be winners of eight straight, dating all the way back to September. If Arkansas — with the nation’s undivided attention — shocked the Tigers, the pollsters would take notice. Trust me. With the computers already digging them, the Hogs — just like LSU, but not Alabama — could control their own destiny in the top-heavy SEC West.

Perhaps the reason the Razorbacks aren’t getting even half the “respect” of their two division foes is because of the way they’ve won many of their games this season. Arkansas needed a spectacular 20-point second-half comeback to beat Texas A&M in Dallas, somehow came back from double digits to beat a woeful Ole Miss squad two weeks ago, and were beyond fortunate to sneak past Vanderbilt. Heading into Saturday night’s game with South Carolina, Arkansas had been outscored 87-59 in the first half of their past four games. Even in the win over the Gamecocks, the Razorbacks were forced to overcome a pair of missed field goals and several dropped passes. The offense is shaky and the defense is shakier.

But they win.

And what makes them so threatening for a team like LSU is that they never go away. No game with the 2011 Razorbacks is ever over, making them the exact type of team that could get motivated on the road in front of a national television audience and pull a magical upset.

This is the best time of the college football year. When everyone else is crying about the need for a playoff and worrying about the Heisman, my mind is filled with “what ifs” and mathematical equations. I’m the John Nash of college football, minus anything “beautiful” surrounding my sick and twisted mind.

And this season, I can’t help but see the Hogs as that mystery team; the special sauce that splatters the BCS picture.

No one’s talking about them now and there’s been no reason to. I get that.

But come Nov. 25, Bobby Petrino’s boys could be controlling their own BCS National Championship Game destiny. Not bad for the third pony in a two-horse race.

Oh, and if the Hogs somehow do represent the SEC West in the SEC Championship Game? They could be going up against a two-loss Georgia team, riding their own 10-game winning streak dating back to mid-September in the Georgia Dome.

Say Georgia wins that one. Do they then deserve to go to the BCS National Championship Game?

Ah, early-November — truly the best time of the college football year.
 


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