The number of days until God's favorite time of year is down to single digits. As a faithful Arkansas fan, you have read every supposed expert and pundit's prediction to how the 2012 season will unfold for the Razorbacks but still crave more.
I write this as a true Arkansas expatriate making his pilgramage back to the homeland. Stuffed with Jarius Wright's and Greg Child's favorite Redneck Sammich from Molly's Diner in Warren, I am not going to give you coachspeak and tell you that the next game is the most important. You are smarter than that. Some games matter more than others.
It goes without saying that the SEC Championship and BCS Championship would be more important if Arkansas makes to either of those games, but here are the most important games on Arkansas' regular season schedule.
1) vs. Alabama- Was there any question here? Not only is it the first SEC game of the season, but the Razorbacks are looking avenge a bitter home loss from 2010 when it appeared the Hogs had all but beaten the defending national champions. Now, with the aid of a now established Knile Davis, Arkansas must win their biggest game early.
2) vs. LSU- If LSU is not as mighty without the Honey Badger (not likely) or Arkansas drops early games to opponents they should beat (more likely) this game will not matter as much as it does now. However, if both teams play like they should, there is a distinct possibility The Battle for the Golden Boot is a top-5 matchup for the second year in a row (hopefully likely). Please keep this the last game of the season, Jeff Long (unlikely).
3) at Texas A&M- A win here is important because Arkansas needs to establish dominance over one of the SEC's newest teams. The Hogs have long-needed a stronger recruiting presence in the state of Texas. A win here would help that cause and also let A&M know their place in the heirarchy of the SEC West.
4) at Mississippi State- If the odds are in our favor, and the Hogs are undefeated at this point, the Bulldogs pose as an easy upset game before looking towards LSU at home only six days away.
5) at Auburn- Arkansas can look back now and laugh at Auburn's misfortune with Michael Dyer, though he did help bring the Tigers a national championship. But Dyer is part of a trend. Top Arkansas talent heading for Alabama to play their college ball: Lee Ziemba and Keihl Frazier come to mind as well. This is a usually entertaining battle on the Plains and will end a long two weeks of travel for the Hogs, after a game at Texas A&M the week before.
6) at South Carolina- If the Hogs can win at home against Alabama, the next true test should come two months later in Columbia. The Gamecocks could be rolling along their merry way to an SEC East crown and eventual rematch with the Razorbacks in the Georgia Dome. Arkansas must not become lackluster in their preparation, as they have played lesser opponents for the past seven games.
7) vs. Ole Miss- Houston Nutt is gone from the SEC... for now. Instead the Fightin' Black Bears are led by former Arkansas State head coach Hugh Freeze. It is important for the Razorbacks to welcome Freeze to the SEC properly and show him of things to come, a regularly scheduled Arkansas beatdown of Ole Miss.
8) vs. Kentucky- By the time this game rolls around, there is a chance the Wildcats are down a head coach. At least we get a John L. Smith press conference, right?
***No non-conference game is as important as any conference game. Heck, defensive end coach Steve Caldwell referred to them as "preseason games" after Monday's practice. With that, here are the other games that will matter in order for the Razorbacks to reach Miami in January
9) vs. Jacksonville State- John L. Smith's first game as Arkansas' head coach is arguably the easiest game on the schedule, but no one wants to see him go the way of the former Arkansas coach and now current Gamecocks head coach Jack Crowe, who was fired after losing his first game as the Razorbacks coach in 1992 to The Citadel, another FCS school.
10) vs. Rutgers- Because of its place in the schedule the Razorback's date with the Scarlet Knights will be a let down. Getting his players to play hard after coming off either an emotional win or loss to Alabama will be some of the hardest coaching John L. Smith and his staff do all season. Go ahead and send them your best hype videos for this week.
11) vs. Tulsa- Homecoming, where athletic director Jeff Long will try to convince well-off alums to continue giving at record pace to help pay for stadium expansions and new practice facilities. This game should not be overlooked. The Hurricanes have had a strong air attack of late and will surely test the Hogs' defense.
12) vs. Louisiana-Monroe- If you were ever going to see Arkansas play this season, this non-conference game in Little Rock may be your best bet. I just ask that the players not pull a 2011 Troy game and look forward to Alabama.