I had an old high school English teacher who used to use the phrase "rarefied air" for when I would tell him about the upper-level courses I was taking in college. I thought about that phrase again last night when I saw the Hogs make their appearance in the BCS at number nine with plenty of season left to move even higher. What I would like to discuss in this post is the second half of the season and what the Hogs have in front of them, including where our beloved Porkers might end up spending the holidays. How about we start with the schedule that remains.
OLE MISS / OCTOBER 22nd: Our next opponent got half a hundred scored on them by Alabama last Saturday. There was no Houston Nutt miracle upset in this one. And that makes me all that more nervous about the Hogs playing in Oxford next week with a top ten BCS ranking. The way I see it, the Hogs are more talented and have the better team, but Nutt and company really will be fighting at 2-4 for their bowl existence come Saturday. They aren't going to beat Auburn at Auburn. They aren't going to beat LSU. But if they can beat the Hogs and then beat Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, and then Miss. State, (all within reason), Nutt could rescue this season with a bowl invite and a victory over their in-state rival. All that to say, please Hogs, don't overlook Ole Miss! Jump on them early and don't look back. Sidenote: Ole Miss lost two starting players on defense for next week thanks to the Alabama thrashing. Here is hoping the Hogs can take full advantage of that.
VANDERBILT / OCTOBER 29th: Franklin has brought some spunk and energy to this Vandy team that would love to get some payback for the beating they took last year in Fayetteville. This game and the Ole Miss game are both early starts, so advantage road team, I believe. Vanderbilt has Army before playing the Hogs, so they could be at 4-3 with the prospect of going bowling in Franklin's first year, for after us they only have SEC East teams (same as saying "weak) and Wake Forest. I would like to see Greg Childs have a big game in this one as payback of our own for the injury he suffered last year against the Dores. Maybe Greg Childs catches passes in the Sugar Bowl? All in all, even with the Nutt factor and the spring in Vandy's step, I don't think the Hogs could have asked for a more favorable road schedule at this point unless it involved Kentucky. But as I mentioned once before, the SEC won't let us play Kentucky in football unless they are having a better than average year, haha.
SOUTH CAROLINA / NOVEMBER 5th: I liked the Hogs' chances in Fayetteville against these guys before Garcia and Lattimore became non-factors; I like them even more now. Alshon Jeffery will have to beat the Hogs, and I don't think he can do it alone. I think Shaw's great performance on October the 8th had more to do with Kentucky than it had to do with Shaw at this point. I hate to see a player, for the player's sake, get a season ending injury, but you know our opponents were sorry for Knile Davis back in August, but they were also glad that they wouldn't have to face him. I feel the same way about Lattimore. My guess is that this will be a night game in Fayetteville on ESPN. Advantage, home team. We know Alabama and LSU will get the afternoon SEC spot on CBS.
TENNESSEE / NOVEMBER 12th: It remains to be seen if this will be a Tyler Wilson vs. Tyler Bray affair. Bray is out with an injury to his throwing hand, but he could be back in time for this November 12th matchup. Tennessee remains the one opponent in the SEC Petrino has not yet faced. Nutt faced his first Tennessee team when they were having their national championship season; that sure isn't the case this year! The Vols have yet to pickup their first conference win and might not have one still by the time they arrive in Fayetteville. Like Ole Miss, they have to play Alabama before playing us, so no telling what ragged shape the Vols might be in come November 12th. Justin Hunter, their best threat at wide receiver has already been lost to an ACL.
MISSISSIPPI STATE / NOVEMBER 19th: This very well could be the hardest fought game we have before we arrive in Baton Rouge. I wouldn't expect MSU to beat us in Little Rock, but I will expect a tough game out of them. They don't beat Arkansas as a rule, but the Bulldogs love to give us very physical and hard fought games. With that said, if the Hogs have not gotten too banged up themselves by this date, I expect the Hogs will just have too much firepower for this low scoring MSU offense to keep up with.
LSU / NOVEMBER 26h: If the Tigers and Hogs are playing at 10-1 each, then this could be for the Sugar Bowl if Alabama stays undefeated. If the Tigers come in with a spotless record, the Hogs (with a lot of help) could be playing for a trip to Atlanta and possibly (with a lot more help) a trip to the National Championship Game. If the Tigers are undefeated, they who sit at the number one spot in the BCS will most certainly have a trip to the National Championship Game on the line. However it works out, this is still MUST SEE TV on the day after Thanksgiving, and thank goodness it has returned to its traditional Friday afternoon spot on CBS! Could this year's Hog team beat LSU? I believe so. If our defense gets stronger with each passing game and Tyler Wilson isn't injured, then yes, most certainly so. Could the Hogs lose? Yes, indeed, they could. But I don't think they would lose in the same domineering fashion as how they lost to Alabama. The Hogs and Petrino always give LSU more than they want.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Everybody knows that the Hogs have to win out and Alabama will need to lose twice. LSU could beat them in Tuscaloosa. But which other team? Tennessee, not going to happen. They do play at Auburn, but Cam Newton isn't going to put on an Auburn jersey that Saturday. At Miss. State? Very, very, doubtful. It sucks, but it looks like the Hogs lost their ticket to Atlanta after the first SEC game of their season.
BOWL GAME: If the Hogs win out, I believe they have at 11-1 a good shot at a BCS bowl, most likely Sugar. A better chance if LSU has two losses, so there is a positive to Alabama beating LSU on the 5th. If the Hogs end the season at 10-2, then I think the Cap One Bowl in Orlando is their likely destination. The Cotton Bowl looms if the Hogs experience a defeat in the games leading up to LSU.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Hogs, stay focused. One game at a time. You are now the hunted from here to Baton Rouge. You'll be favored in every game ahead, so don't, as you have in the past, play down to your competition. Don't let teams hang around and make games of games you should win by double digits. Being the hunted, breathing rarefied BCS air, those are things I trust this coaching staff to prepare you for, and I believe you have the senior leadership to compliment what the coaches tell you. Now, just go out there and make the second half of the season even more impressive than the first half. You won't be lacking for fans to cheer you on.