Can the Hogs stand the spotlight?
During a week when most of the college football talk centered on one-loss teams, the BCS No. 6 Hogs couldn’t have drawn flies with a pail of slop much less any meaningful national attention for their accomplishments.
With the national media’s aim trained on No. 1 LSU and a possible national championship rematch with No. 3 Alabama or No. 4 Oregon should No. 2 Oklahoma State tumble, Bobby Petrino’s Razorbacks were barely mentioned in the conversation, although their lone loss came seven weeks ago in their conference opener at Tuscaloosa, Ala. with several defensive starters out or shelved with injuries during the game.
Certainly, Arkansas’ 38-14 loss to the Crimson Tide was ugly, but for some reason it stuck in the nostrils poll voters like sulfur, while they were much more forgiving of Oregon’s loss to LSU and Oklahoma’s to lowly Texas Tech.
But during a 24-hour period when the Iowa State stunned the No. 2 Cowboys, 37-31, in overtime Friday night, Baylor outgunned the No. 5 Sooners, 45-38, in another Big 12 score fest and Southern Cal plucked the No. 4 Ducks, the Hogs took care of their business, dispatching an upset-minded Mississippi State, 44-17, at Little Rock.
The Hogs’ victory was televised by CBS during the SEC’s highlight television spot, but it only garnered that honor because of the odorous nature of Saturday’s SEC schedule. LSU destroyed Ole Miss, 52-3; Alabama stroked Georgia Southern, 45-21, and SEC Eastern Division champion Georgia defeated woeful Kentucky, 19-10.
CBS didn’t want any part of those stinkers, so the Hogs and Bulldogs got CBS’ spotlight.
The Razorbacks in their characteristic methodically explosive nature picked apart the Bulldogs behind the deft passing of quarterback Tyler Wilson, who broke Joe Ferguson’s single-game completion record by hitting 32 of his 43 throws for 365 yards and three touchdowns, and the work of a surging defensive unit that is finally playing up to its preseason promise.
With No. 2 OSU, No, 4 Oregon and No. 5 Oklahoma all suffering their second loss of the season, it’s only logical that No. 3 Alabama would move into the No. 2 spot and the No. 6 Hogs should ascend to No. 3 with LSU reining at No. 1 when ESPN announces the latest Bowl Championship Series ratings at 7:15 p.m. (CST) Sunday night.
However, one wonders if the voters and the computers will be bold enough to rank three SEC Western Division squads in the top three spots?
Will that pass their “eye test” and was Arkansas victory “stylish enough?”
With SEC schools winning the last five national titles, I sense a growing dislike for the SEC outside its native region. In fact, if you ask more than a few SEC observers, ESPN has harbored a slight bias against the league ever since its on-air talents championed Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson over Tennessee’s Peyton Manning for the 1996 Heisman Trophy.
Call me paranoid, but until the rankings are released, and I see a 1-2-3 SEC West sweep, I have a hard time believing it.
Regardless of the BCS ratings, the events of Friday night and Saturday have certainly thrust the Razorbacks to the forefront of the college football world. Every year, the Razorbacks’ meeting with LSU is meaningful for both programs’ fortunes, but this year, the game has become huge.
One way or the other it will decide the Western Division title and go a long way in deciding which squad will play Georgia for the SEC title and in turn which squad will have a shot at a national championship.
It may not be nicknamed the Game of the Century, but it certainly has become the most important SEC game of the season because of its direct implications.
While Arkansas has toiled, maybe even enjoyed and possibly benefited by flying under the radar since its loss to Alabama, the Razorbacks can’t avoid the spotlight this week.
Friday’s 1:30 p.m. contest at Baton Rouge, La., will be what every college football fan is talking about and looking forward to this week. It’s just what former Arkansas athletic director and football coach Frank Broyles imagined it could be when he lobbied for the LSU-Arkansas game to be each team’s season finale when the Hogs joined the SEC in 1992.
It’s great for Arkansas fans and it could be great for the program if the Hogs step up to he challenge.
No doubt, Petrino has guided the Razorbacks into college football’s national picture the last two seasons, and the future only looks brighter, but it has to be said that when his Hogs have had an opportunity to grab an even piece of the national pie, the Razorbacks have fallen short.
Arkansas did it this season and last in their annual meetings with Alabama, and they did it last year in the Sugar Bowl. Last spring senior receiver Joe Adams freely admitted the Hogs were awed by the big stage in their first BCS appearance.
Even if the Hogs upset LSU there is a good chance they will miss out on a BCS bowl this year. BCS rules allow on two teams from any one contest into the party. Arkansas not only needs to tame the Tigers but also needs Auburn to upset Alabama to insure it a shot at a BCS game.
But the key to everything the Razorbacks have desired for themselves and their fans comes down to defeating a LSU squad, whom most consider more talented.
Petrino’s Hogs have a great history against LSU, beating two of the last three years with the other game being decided late. The Tigers may be more talented overall, but if Iowa State, USC and Baylor can do it, the Hogs are talented enough to shock the world with an upset.
But the question remains: Will the Hogs rise to the occasion, or will the Razorbacks blink once again when the spotlight focuses on them?