In watching the Arkansas Razorbacks first two games, the broad impression I took away is that the Hogs were playing tight.
I could be totally off base, but it seemed the double-barreled weight from the stress of the Bobby Petrino scandal and the far-flung expectations for this season seemed to be weighing them down. Nothing came easy. Everything was difficult. It was almost like they were trying too hard, rather than not trying hard enough.
If there is even a sliver of a silver lining to their embarrassing 34-31 overtime upset loss to Louisiana- Monroe, maybe it’s that the pressure has been released.
Coming into this season, the Hogs figured to be favored in all their games except Alabama, LSU and perhaps South Carolina. After an unimpressive victory over Jacksonville State and last Saturday’s loss, the same absolutely cannot be said.
That may be a relief to the Razorbacks who have faced more upheaval since last November than perhaps any other team in the nation that’s not named Penn State. The Nittany Lions’ plight is on an whole another level.
Don’t get me wrong, the Razorbacks do have a grand football tradition, but it’s been since the 1960s since so much national title talk circulated around the Hogs. While the Razorbacks’ 10-3 and 11-2 marks during the previous two seasons gave some validity to that such, anyone who paid attention to last season knew that LSU and Alabama’s programs were operating at a higher level than the Razorbacks and practically ever other program in the nation.
Had this spring and summer been a normal offseason, it would not have been out of the question to consider the possibility of Arkansas upsetting either or both of the SEC’s top programs since both are to be played in Razorback Stadium.
But abnormal has become the new norm for the Hogs since Petrino’s ill-fated motorcycle ride.
Make no mistake, the outcome of last week’s game was out of the norm. Had Tyler Wilson been able to compete in the third quarter much less the entire game, we’d all be looking forward to the first "biggest game" of this young season.
Yes, had Arkansas’ coaching staff done one, two or a dozen of a hundred different hind-sighted insights brought up by fans and commentators this week, the Hogs might have still won.
But that’s not the case.
Expectations have been thrown out the window, hopes, dreams and wishes for a magical season have all been dashed and all that’s left is 10 more games.
Wow, 10 games. Yeah, that was a whole season back in the aforementioned 1960s. That’s a lot of football to be played, leaving a lot that this football team can accomplish.
In fact, the only goal that’s impossible for the Razorbacks to achieve is an undefeated season. That is lost. Realistically, a conference title might be out of reach, too, not because of last week’s loss, but because Alabama’s program looms large over the entirety of the college game.
That doesn’t mean the Crimson Tide are invincible, but Alabama is extremely talented and Nick Saban is the best coach in the game. He does not enjoy the talent advantage that say John Calipari does with Kentucky’s basketball program, but it’s close. Whatever difference there may be Saban makes it up in coaching ability.
So, while I would not rule out a Razorback upset of the Crimson Tide on Saturday. Stranger things have happened. I’m not expecting it.
What I am expecting from the Razorbacks this week and the rest of the season is improvement. While the team does lack depth in some critical spots as well as talent, particularly on defense, this is a team fully capable of finishing in the Top 20 if not even higher.
The Razorbacks can play at a higher level than they have shown thus far this season, and while that may or may not be clear on Saturday, that is my expectation and my belief as a Razorback fan.
The pressure has been released. The Razorbacks are back in their familiar roles as under-Hogs, and while that’s not where any Razorback fan wants them to be, it’s reality.
But, when accepted for what it is, reality has a lot more substance than wishes and dreams. Here’s hoping the Razorbacks and we fans embrace that reality and squeeze as much out of this season as we can.