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Taking Stock of the Season So Far

Here we are in mid-October and it already seems like we've had a full season worth of story arcs...high initial hopes followed by great disappointments followed by renewed optimism. We've seen more big plays by the Hogs than we'd dared to imagine and more big plays against us than we'd care to remember. So, it seems like a good time to take stock of the situation and examine what we've learned after five games.

On the plus side, Ryan Mallett has proved to be very much the real deal (understatement alert!), living up to the high expectations and then some. We have a gaggle of talented young players at the skill positions. The team faced adversity after a couple of tough losses and, rather than fading like the 2008 team would have done, they bounced back with two huge wins. Even the defense and special teams are showing signs of improvement.

On the minus side, the defense and special teams still have a long way to go and will cost us some games along the way. Injuries are starting to thin our depth, with Michael Smith battling another hamstring problem and Joe Adams and Jarius Wright each suffering from brain-related issues...Adams' case especially being the kind that makes decisions about football readiness seem pretty trivial in the grand scheme of things. The running game is surprisingly shaky. And that schedule still looks like a brutal slog against great team after great team.

With all that in mind, how will the rest of the season play out? Follow me after the jump for three possible scenarios:

Best case: the Hogs pull off the miracle win in Gainesville, which propels them to a true "Ole Miss in 2008" scenario, complete with a solid winning streak, a New Year's Day bowl win and exceedingly high expectations for 2010 (during which point we'd certainly hope to avoid the "Ole Miss in 2009" scenario). As an added bonus, the loss to Arkansas inspires Tim Tebow to issue a second edition of his famous promise, delighting plaque-makers across the state of Florida.

Middle case: the Hogs lose to the Gators, but in much more respectable fashion than against Bama. They win a few more games along the way, including a possible upset or two (Ole Miss and LSU don't look quite as intimidating as they once did), but in classic fashion also drop at least a couple more (including a game they should have won). In this case, Rasputin's preseason prediction of 7-5 and a bowl win seems about right, and would certainly provide ample cause for optimism going into next year.

Worst case: the Hogs limp into the Swamp without Adams, Wright and Smith and promptly get annihilated by the Florida defense and a rejuvenated Tebow. It's all downhill from there as the running game stalls, the defense falls apart and the dispirited Razorbacks struggle through the rest of the conference season (and against Troy!) to finish with an identical record as last year. Fans begin to grumble about the fade and the big fence-sitting recruits decide to go elsewhere, leading to a long and unpleasant offseason during which we're forced to pay attention to the basketball team.

Out of those options, the middle case seems most likely, which certainly isn't a bad thing given where we were last year at this time. What do you think?