As the 2010 season moves ever closer to reality, it becomes easier to identify the games that stand out on the horizon. With that said, the Alabama v. Arkansas game is generally one of particular importance -- a close, hard-fought game on both sides -- but the 2010 showdown in Fayetteville looks to take on an even more combative air than usual .
Put yourself in the shoes of an Arkansas football player for a moment, and consider your mental mindset moving forward into a new season. 2008 was a rough year with the coaching transition, as most expected, but 2009 was much improved. Despite playing a brutal schedule, an 8-5 record resulted, which included a Liberty Bowl victory and some quality wins over the likes of Texas A&M and Auburn, and furthermore you had both Florida and LSU on the ropes before they slipped away in the waning seconds (the former largely the result of poor officiating). Moving forward into the 2010 season, your immediate goal is to win the SEC West and then move forward and pursue all of the glorious spoils that can follow in the wake of that achievement.
From that perspective, look at the teams who stand between you and a trip to Atlanta.
To begin with, Mississippi State is not a concern. The Hogs have beaten them ten times in the past eleven years and are coming off a three touchdown victory over the Bullies a year ago in Fayetteville. Likewise, Ole Miss really is not a major concern either. The Hogs have traditionally fared well against Ole Miss, and while Houston Nutt has gotten the better of his old team the past two years, given all that Johnny Reb loses from their semi-disappointing 2009 team Arkansas ought to be able to get the job done in late October when Ole Miss heads out west to the self proclaimed Land of Opportunity.
And, moving on, while LSU and Auburn present greater difficulties, Arkansas undoubtedly feels confident regarding their chances there. Arkansas has taken three of the past four from Auburn, which includes wins in the past two years. The Hogs had little trouble with Auburn in 2009, rocking them by three touchdowns in Fayetteville. Furthermore, Arkansas pulled off upsets over LSU in 2007 and 2008, and the Bayou Bengals needed a last-second, game-tying field goal, overtime, and a missed Alex Tejada field goal to squeak out a narrow 33-30 victory last year in Tiger Stadium. Neither victory will come easy, of course, but the Hogs undoubtedly have to feel confident that they can once again emerge victorious against those two foes.
The point is that, whether or not they can actually get the job done once foot meets leather, Arkansas has to feel very confident about their chances against LSU, Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. They have had a great deal of success against those teams in recent years, and must feel confident that they can beat them once again in 2010.
And that leaves Alabama, which must come to Fayetteville. The Crimson Tide has annihilated the Hogs the past two years just by looking at the scoreboard -- a combined score of 84-21 -- but those games have been closer than the final tallies indicated, and rest assured that the Hogs can smell the proverbial blood in the water at the thought of Alabama having to travel to Fayetteville to attempt to use a thin and inexperienced secondary to stop Bobby Petrino's complex aerial assault.
That will be the general mindset of Arkansas when we make the trek to Fayetteville in the final weekend of September. That team will be thinking, "Beat Alabama... win the SEC West, then what? BCS game? SEC Championship? National championship contention?" Bank on it. Perhaps that is all wishful thinking on their part, and perhaps Arkansas is not ready for the limelight. Admittedly that may be the case, but nevertheless that will be the mindset that the Hogs will have on that day, and you can bet the proverbial farm that they will play with the appropriate level of energy and intensity given that mindset. We'll have to match that accordingly if we want to survive in the Ozarks. Be prepared for a slobberknocker.