I was waiting for the subway with a co-worker the other day when he struck up a conversation with me.
"So who does Arkansas play this weekend?"
"Texas A&M in Fayetteville."
He looked at me and winced. "Yikes."
I told him how it was all downhill after the first quarter against A&M last year. There was a pause.
"Where do they play Alabama?"
He winced again.
I replied, "Yeah, this is a tough stretch for us. We may not win a game the rest of the season."
He got on the subway a few minutes later.
But after he left, I kept thinking - there's really no way Arkansas could put up a goose egg in SEC play, right? This team isn't coached by Houston Nutt, after all. And they only need three wins to make a bowl game... so could the Hogs really go to a bowl this year?
A win over Rutgers would have helped a lot, but since that's not the case, let's take a look at the Razorbacks schedule and try to prognosticate which games the Hogs can win - and whether or not they can make a bowl game. (Also, let's not ever speak of this home-and-home with Rutgers ever again. Unless it involves glorifying Cobi Hamilton.)
There are eight games left this season, and I've ranked them all on a scale - 1 equals the most winnable game left on the schedule, while 8 equals the least winnable game on the schedule.
vs Texas A&M: 6. Johnny Manziel made the Arkansas defense his personal playground a year ago, and he's not exactly slowing down this season. However, A&M's run defense was tortured by Alabama two weeks ago, so maybe the Razorbacks have a chance of reeling off a few long drives that keep the score in check. I really, really don't see Arkansas winning this one, but I guess it's always easier to pull a big upset at home if you're gonna do it.
at Florida: 3. The Gators are going to be on upset alert pretty much every week from now on due to the fact that Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley have both been lost to season-ending injuries this week. Remember when a much-better Arkansas team almost upset a much-better Florida team in the Swamp? This might be the ugly sequel of that. (The Caddyshack 2 of Arkansas-Florida games!) I think Arkansas really has a shot to win this one, especially if Brandon Allen plays, because it'll probably be an ugly, low-scoring game.
vs South Carolina: 5. I don't know how good I really think South Carolina is, but if North Carolina or Vanderbilt couldn't beat them, I don't think Arkansas can either.
at Alabama: 8. Going to Tuscaloosa... after last year... yuck. Alabama hasn't been sharp so far, but they shouldn't have any trouble dispatching the Razorbacks at home.
vs Auburn: 2. Much like Arkansas, the Tigers have been sewn together into a team that can actually play football this year, but they're still a team on the rebound. Both Washington State and Mississippi State scared them at home, so it looks like this might be one of Arkansas' best bets to win an SEC game this year. Also, the Hogs will be looking to extend their two-game win streak against Auburn!
at Ole Miss: 4. Ole Miss is the flavor of the year in the SEC this season, and I think the Rebels have given everyone good reason to be excited about their team. Their ability to move the ball so quickly will be hard for Arkansas to stop, and their defense is improved thus far. I think this game will be tough to win, but Arkansas and Ole Mis typically play close games - so the Hogs may pull off the upset if they can get a few turnovers.
vs Mississippi State: 1. The Bulldogs are straight-up awful, and they'll be coming off a three-game stretch where they play South Carolina, A&M and Alabama. Their spirits may be broken and Dan Mullen may be fired by November 23rd. If Arkansas can beat Auburn and Florida or Ole Miss, this game may be to go to a bowl game.
at LSU: 7. Obviously we'll have a little clearer picture of how good LSU is after this week's game against Georgia, but the Tigers are starting to impress just about everyone. LSU has been waiting for years for an above average quarterback, and Zach Mettenberger might be the best one in the SEC. He's gonna be tough to beat in Death Valley - especially if the Tigers still have a shot at the SEC West title.
So let's return to the original question: Can Arkansas make it to a bowl game? My conclusion: Yes. Is it likely? Probably not. But this team has some good pieces - including a powerful running game - and the Hogs could definitely win one game they're not supposed to - and put Birmingham back on everyone's minds.