We've already predicted the season's wins and losses for each SEC school, Including ::insert link from CB's predictions::, now we'll work backwards through the 2013 Alabama schedule and preview each SEC game, ending with Va Tech.
The Arkansas Razorbacks. My, what a path they've taken to end up where they are. Going into last season, they were ranked in the top 10, only to have a spectacular crash and burn (literally) thanks to Coach Bobby Petrino's dalliance.
This year, the Arky program is brimming over with enthusiasm. After what seemed like the ill-fitted hire of Bret "Dirty Bert" Bielema away from his comfy confines at Big 10 powerhouse Wisconsin, many questioned the motives for the hire. Petrino had run a pass-first, wide open, explosive offense in his time at Arkansas, stocking the cupboards with A-list QB and receiver talent. Bielema, a defensive guy by pedigree, appeared to be Petrino's polar opposite schematically speaking. In retrospect, however, it appears Arkansas' hire of Bielema may not have been as ill-fitted as initially proposed. Let us delve into the reasons why.
What Happened Last Year?
Oh, RBR brothers and sisters, this stroll down memory lane is glorious. While the Hogs aren’t a traditional powerhouse in the sense of an LSU, Florida or Alabama, they have been the craw-sticker for many an SEC West team under Petrino’s abbreviated reign. But last year, as in years past, Bama destroyed them. The 2012 contest was one of the most brutal beat-downs of a fellow SEC member that we’ve seen under Saban’s reign, as the Tide could do no wrong en route to a 52-0 shelling in Fayetteville.
How Does Arkansas Look In 2013?
In a word, they absolutely must be better, as it would be difficult for a program to perform much worse than last year's edition. Enthusiasm is high in Hog Country, as Bielema has been tagged as the Hog Messiah (insert joke here). And while the team was depleted by graduation and departures in the off-season (the Hogs lost 11 starters from 2012), there is still enough talent on the field for Bielema to get them back to .500 in his inaugural campaign.
At first glance, many were critical of the Bielema hire, considering the roster of Air Raid-like talent that was presumably left by Petrino. The former Wisky coach is seen as a Big 10 guy who prefers a power pro-style offense and stout defense in the 4-3 scheme. Ironically, it is on the offensive side of the ball that the Bielema philosophy best fits his current talent. Our friends at Arkansas Expats (specifically RandleReece) eloquently explains:
"Bielema carries a general set of ideals with him, learned from Hayden Fry, Kirk Ferentz and Alvarez (with a sprinkling of Bill Snyder). With his pedigree, Bielema's destined to turn Arkansas into a program that plays great defensive football, aided by copious ball control. But he doesn't know beans about how to implement an offensive system. The architects of the Razorback offense are Jim Chaney and Sam Pittman."
Much like our good friend, the Toothless Dentist Gene Chizik, Bielema seems content to let the OCs design and call the offense while he focuses his attention on defensive play. There is an overarching ball-control philosophy, but Bielema seems content to leave the X's and O's to the brainiacs. Bielema could have done worse than Chaney and Pittman. Pittman, a renowned O line coach, knows how to recruit and motivate the kind of line talent that Arkansas will need moving forward to assert a ball-control, smash-mouth identity. Pittman is not devoid of paint on this year's canvas, as the Hogs return a veteran offensive line, including an All-SEC performer at the all-important center position in Travis Swanson.
Jim Chaney is known in coaching circles as an offensive mastermind. Most recently at Tennessee (with stops in the NFL on his resume), Chaney has proven that he can work with the talent granted him. Despite UT's poor showing overall, their offense did manage to average 36 points a game. Chaney was also the architect of the offense that launched Drew Brees' career at Purdue. That said, we can't assume that the Hogs will resort to grind-it-out football, Big 10 style. The more likely prospect will be a pro-style hybrid not unlike our own offense.
Despite the attrition (7 starters lost on offense), there are bright spots. Projected starting QB Brandon Allen is a bit of an enigma. He did throw two interceptions vs. Bama last year in relief of the pummeled Tyler Wilson. But then again, half of all SEC QB's can sport that claim to fame. Allen doesn't need to be a game breaker in the Arky offense. In much the style of our own AJ McCarron in his first year as starter, Allen's steadiness will be relied on more than his explosiveness this year as he breaks into the new position.
The tight end roster also indicates that Arky will be running the ball prolifically, with a bevy of Y type bodies at the tight end position. Expect to see a lot of 2-Y sets in this offense, as the majority of their tight end personnel fit into that mold. This, along with the veteran line, leads me to believe the run will be the Hogs' bread and butter. When one considers a fairly healthy (and corn-fed) group of running backs, the picture becomes even clearer. Aside from returning back Johnathan Williams and newcomer Alex Collins, the rest of the backfield looks a lot like our own Nudie Fowler: big and burly. Backs Kiero Small, Patrick Arinze and Kody Walker are all 250+, and will share time between FB and RB when spelling the aforementioned, more fleet-of-foot backs.
Defensively, one would think that Bielema would be more at home with the talent around him. After all, the defense returns 7 starters, but alas, there is a disconnect between his "druthers" and the talent on the field. In particular, there are serious depth issues across the defensive roster. Bielema at Wisky was known for having a deep roster of players who rotated continuously (sound familiar?). Not so at Arkansas. Yes, there is talent on the defense, but on the whole, it's not a unit that will rival their elite brethren in the SEC. The defense will be anchored on the line by dynamic tackle Chris Smith (6'3", 268), who recorded 9.5 sacks in 2012 and is projected to be the lynchpin for the Hog D. On the other end of the line, Trey Flowers will serve as a good complement to Smith's explosiveness. At the nose, the Hogs have the bulk to compete in the SEC, at least on the first string. Seniors Byran Jones (6'3", 315) and Robert Thomas (6'3", 325) will be expected to plug the middle against the stout running games of their SEC opponents. While Arky's first tier isn't bad, behind the above-mentioned, the depth plummets. A rash of injuries will completely change the face of this defense, so Arky will have to remain healthy to compete.
LB coach Randy Shannon also has little with which to work in the middle, outside of veteran linebackers Jarrett Lake and Braylon Mitchell. Behind the top two, experienced depth is non-existent. The depth in the secondary will be much better this year, as the Hogs return four starters at defensive back. Again, however, behind those four, the drop-off is treacherous. Early injuries will change the complexion of the team, which could be trouble for the rebuilding Razorbacks.
How Arkansas Might Win
Simply put, to have a shot of winning this game, Dirty Bert will need to have his team motivated and executing to perfection. Even that would not ensure victory against a vastly superior Bama roster. The weakness of the Hogs is a strength for the Tide, as depth will likely be a problem for Arkansas as the first string gets winded. An injury at QB for Bama would help the Hog cause, but even then, the advantage would likely be psychological more than physical. Alabama has done more with less talent in the past, and this unit is salty and primed for a title run. The Arkansas recipe for vanilla is basic: play mistake free football, capitalize on any mistakes Bama makes and play sound fundamental football. An awful showing by Bama, an early lead by Arkansas, a soggy field due to inclement weather: these are the factors that could give the Hogs a fighting chance. However, their climb will be a steep one regardless of the circumstances.
Why Alabama Might Win:
By showing up. If Bama comes out hitting on all cylinders, this game could easily get to 14-0 by the time the first quarter is over. If that happens, front-running will ensue, compliments of a steady diet of T.J. Yeldon and (insert elite 5* second string talent here). Alabama is far superior in talent, depth and scheme. Arky's DB's will have a hard time keeping up with the stable of fresh legs at wide receivers, and they will tire by the second half with little quality depth to spell them. That is when things will likely get ridiculous. The same will hold true for the big bodies on the line and the LB corps. They may start with fire, but our depth and conditioning will most assuredly make their asses quit.
I don't want to throw the Molotov that starts the Gumpster fire, but come one people...I think we all know how this is going to end. Bacon for everyone!
What I Think Will Happen:
Yes, Fitty, I know we still have to play the game. And "hope for the best" and all that jazz. But I don't have an inkling of fear about this game. Yes, upsets happen all the time. I just don't see it going that way due to the aforementioned depth and personnel issues. Our strengths are their weaknesses, and one need only ask Notre Dame how those scenarios usually play out.
Look for Bama to gain the early lead, though it likely won't be a blow-out initially. Arkansas will try to hang for a few series, but they will wear down. The Tide has superior athletes, superior depth, and superior conditioning. Barring key injuries, and given the fact that Bielema poked the bear by taunting Saban upon entry into the league, I don't think the Hogs have a porker's chance in Archibald's of winning this game.
I don't think this game will be close, and with an early line of around 30 points, I would feel comfortable taking that bet.
|vs Virginia Tech
|at Texas A&M *
|College Station, Texas
|vs. Colorado State
|vs. Ole Miss *
|vs. Georgia State
|at Kentucky *
|vs. Arkansas *
|vs. Tennessee *
|vs. LSU *
|at Mississippi State *
|at Auburn *