Every game is important and every coach is certain to tell you that from Day 1 of spring football, "We're only concentrating on (insert FCS school name here)." But some are more important to us, the fans.
With the Razorback football season just around the corner, and nothing more to talk about now than the Hogs' schedule, we had a schedule draft of sorts. Graham had the first pick of selecting the "Least Important Game" and then we alternated selections, with dxf04 picking second, back to Graham for the third... You get the picture
All in all, it seems to be a pretty cohesive list with each of us explaining why we picked each opponent where we did.
#12: Samford (Graham)
While no game is "not important" this game is as certain of a win that there is on the schedule. It will provide the defense a chance against a not-as-mobile quarterback in Andy Summerlin. He has experience, as he is a third-year starter, but there should be no worries about a "W" in week two. So if you miss watching this one because it is on pay-per-view, you should be alright.
#11: Alabama (Drew)
If Samford wasn't on the schedule, this would be the de facto least important game on the schedule.
"But, but, Alabama is the defending national champion - beating them would be a defining win!," you might say.
That's true, of course, but it's not happening this year. In 4 tries, Petrino got close once - a heart-breaking 4-point loss in a year when the Tide finished with three losses. We're just too young across the board, too many questions on defense, etc. If anything, this is an opportunity for a dreaded "moral victory" if the Hogs can somehow keep it closer than the last two times they've faced Alabama.
#10: Southern Mississippi (Graham)
The Golden Eagles went from playing Houston in the Conference USA Championship game under then coach Larry Fedora to a perfectly defeated season a year ago (0-12). While they surely have improved from last season, they should not pose any real threat.
#9: Auburn (Drew)
Gus' offense has traditionally been relatively ineffective against the Razorbacks (point of clarification: Cam Newton was NOT running the offense that Gus typically fields). The Auburn roster benefits from having quite a few recent highly-regarded recruiting classes, but they've got major problems at QB - Kiehl Frazier, the prototypical Gus system QB and heir apparent when Malzahn took the helm was just moved to safety. I'm unconvinced that the defense will be improved from last year, either.
There may be some manufactured excitement stemming from the minor firestorm that ignited between Bielema and Malzahn at SEC Media Days (and further fanned by Auburn coach Tim Horton perhaps overstepping his bounds on commenting on an Arkansas player's injury), but otherwise, I'm expecting a repeat of the 2009 or 2011 game.
(Editor's Note: Graham says this game should be much more important on the list (see below) and Drew doesn't think much of Gus or Auburn)
#8: Florida (Graham)
Here is a game that many are saying might be the best chance of an upset during that awful four-game stretch during the middle of the season. Arkansas has come close in their last couple of trips to the Swamp, and if it weren't for a couple of questionable calls in 2009, Urban Meyer's perfect regular season would have been ruined in Week 6. At least that 23-20 win knocked them down in the polls to No. 2 that following week. Serves them right.
As for 2013, if the Hogs are coming off of a win against a Johnny Football-less TAMU, then confidence will be skyrocketed to a new level. Winning here would do a number for a recruiting presence in the Sunshine State, too
#7: Mississippi State (Drew)
This game was hard for me to place, because I'm truly conflicted about what I think about the Bulldogs. Frankly, we own them: 8-2 over the last ten years. Dan Mullen is not a good coach: Never finished above 0.500 in conference, and never higher than 4th in the West. And, interestingly, MSU has never, ever won a game in the state of Arkansas. Last year's blowout loss was embarrassing, but I don't expect a repeat of that this year.
My colleague indicated that he thought that I picked MSU too low, since we'll probably need a win against the Bulldogs to have any hope of bowl eligibility. While that is true, the way I see it, if we're a bowl-quality team this year, we will win this game. Call it optimism.
#6: South Carolina (Graham)
Here is another game that could be the Hogs chance at playing Cinderella. Traditionally, we have played the Gamecocks well, winning six of the last eight. The Gamecocks are going through what we went through over the last two seasons with Bobby Petrino, an abnormally good stretch in their history.
Sure they have experience at quarterback and a defensive player that is not lacking the national media's attention, but can they withstand the pressure? I like to think if this game was played not right after TAMU and Florida, but later in the season, the Hogs would stand a chance.
#5: Ole Miss (Drew)
This was another difficult game for me to pick. Along with Auburn and MSU, I think Ole Miss is one of the most likely SEC wins next year. I honestly don't understand the love that the Rebels are getting - one 6-6 season (that coincided with both Auburn and Arkansas being uncharacteristically bad), and suddenly they're going to "challange for the West?" Please. Sure, they got a good recruiting class, but let's see if they can do anything with it first.
#4: Texas A&M (Graham)
Even if there is no Heisman-winning quarterback playing, the Hogs will be overmatched here. It's important for all of the recruiting reasons (which is why it is more important to me the other SEC games) and to make up for 2012. Doesn't that seem to be the theme? Getting back at teams that kicked us while we were already curled up in the fetal position, begging for the misery to end? A strong first four games will get attention. Throw in a win here... and I'm getting ahead of myself. Having the game in Fayetteville will help, no doubt, and is the only of its kind for now.
#3: LSU (Drew)
The LSU game holds a certain sentimental value among some Hog fans, especially the Thanksgiving week aspect. As it turns out, this will be the last time for the foreseeable future that the Hogs will finish the season with LSU. My take on that situation? Fine. If LSU wants to play us earlier in the year, I'm more than happy to give them a loss in October. But it sure would be sweet to give them a loss as a parting gift this year.
#2: Rutgers (Graham)
Drew already took Auburn off the board for me at this point. I like the Auburn game in this spot because, assuming (big assumption here) the Hogs start out 4-0, they MUST beat the War Eagles for a chance at a bowl bid.
Nevertheless, after what happened a year ago, an embarrassment on our home turf, getting revenge at the birthplace of college football seems fitting. Arkansas really let the SEC down a season ago by not beating teams out of conference that SEC teams usually do, so here is a chance to make up for some of that humiliation.
#1: Louisiana-Lafayette (Drew)
Yes, Louisiana-Lafayette is the most important game on the Hogs' schedule next year. More than anything, this game will effectively set the tone for the Bret Bielema era at Arkansas, especially in light of what happened last year. I know there are sometimes extenuating circumstances when upsets like this happen (See: about half a dozen starters carted off the field last season against ULM, plus the John L./Paul Petrino effect), but losing to a Sunbelt school for the second year in a row would be hard to live down.
So now for your input. What school is too high? Too low? Do you like Drew's strategy of going with the Crimson Tide as the 11th most important game? Or why do we have two non-conference foes atop the list?