1. After last Saturday, it's clear this is a new year in the SEC and the offseason expectations can basically be thrown out. Where does Arkansas fit now? Are the Hogs still the favorites to finish last in the West in your mind?
Adam F: I don't think Arkansas is expected to finish last anymore. Arkansas has a serviceable quarterback. LSU does not. Really, nothing LSU is trying is working. Quarterback play has been horrendous, the running backs are average (although Leonard Fournette will be really good), and the big issue is that the offensive line and defense are both painfully average. LSU has had some dysfunctional offenses under Miles, but never with a defense this bad.
Ryan: The Hogs are still close to the bottom. I was wrong in the preseason when I said A&M would finish last in the SEC West. That crown looks to go to LSU. I did say not to be surprised if the Mississippi schools finish in the top 3 of the west. The Hogs finish 2-6 with wins over LSU and Missouri which puts them, IDK, like tied for fifth in the West.
Devan: Arkansas' obviously better. LSU looks to be falling apart at the seems. Arkansas should finish no worse than 6th in the West.
Mitchell: Arkansas still could be ranked last in the West at the end of this season, but that doesn't reflect how much better this team is. They may be favored only against LSU at this point, but I'd be shocked if LSU was the West bottom feeder. Arkansas realistically may be last in the West, but they'd probably rank 8th in the SEC overall.
Josh: It may well be a scenario where they finish last even with a couple SEC wins. The game with LSU just might come down to deciding who takes the trophy for being at the bottom of the West, which I doubt anyone would have predicted.
Jamie: I don't think anyone gets out of the SEC West clean. After the progress we've seen from this young Arkansas team, and the status of the competition in the West, I think we'll be giving out a few of those losses. I think LSU has thrown in the towel on this year and very well may pass us on the way to the basement of the West. I think we probably take out LSU and end up 6th.
Robert: I hate to be the buzzkill, yeah, probably going to be last in the West. LSU is not going to be a pushover and they get to play Florida and Kentucky. And when we expect to upset somebody, I think they do too. Even if we get a win against them and take care of business against Mizzou, we could still end up in 7th.
Mark: Just musical chairs, that's all. At this point, I wouldn't be completely surprised to see anybody finish last in the West. 5-3 may yet win the division. Until we win an SEC game, we have to considered the favs to finish last, sadly. That changes this week.
Adam P: Playing in the SEC West can bite you in the foot at the worst possible time since every team in the division is looking for that elusive "spot." Arkansas is right on Madonna's "Borderline" to knock a few contenders out of their top spots, but with everyone playing really well, can we forget about the A&M game and choose to win in the final quarter? There's still a lot of football left, but it's gonna be hard for the Hogs to get out of the bottom, unless LSU decides to give up after their Auburn whoopin'.
Doc: I'd pick Arkansas to beat LSU as things stand today. However, LSU gets Kentucky and Florida from the East while Arkansas gets Georgia and Missouri. It's entirely possible LSU could finish with a better SEC record than Arkansas even if the Hogs take the Boot back.
2. After Arkansas blew the A&M game, there was a lot of talk that the Hogs just didn't know how to win SEC games yet. Do you buy that, and is it a concern going forward?
Mark: Well, unfortunately, we kind of have to buy it. The Hogs under Bielema haven't yet learned how to finish off a big game (Tech notwithstanding). That's no diss, just the way it is. But we've made huge progress. I've got a feeling we're fixin' to break through in a big way.
Jamie: I do buy it. I think it's both the players and this coaching staff. They haven't learned how to close out these games, but I think as they continue to grow up right in front of our eyes, they'll get there. I think they'll get there this year too.
Adam P: You have to buy it until they prove differently, Mr. Bo Mattingly. Domination of 3.5 quarters means nothing if you get the L on your record. These are just growning pains, I believe, and we'll find the way here real soon.
Mitchell: It definitely is a concern. The wording is wrong though. Arkansas knows how to win games, they just don't have the depth yet necessarily to compete at the SEC level late. Without at least a 17 point lead in the fourth I wouldn't consider a game a win.
Ryan: The Hogs may have to have someone give them a game so they can finally break the SEC losing streak. LSU will give them one they simply can't lose.
Adam F: There's definitely a pattern of the team struggling to pull out close, winnable games. However, I don't buy the idea of some big hex on the program. They'll pull one out sooner or later. Alabama, for its part, has really struggled in close games over the last few years under Saban.
Devan: I don't think its going to be as big as a problem going forward. They are getting closer and closer every game. I think once that SEC victory finally comes, playing 4 quarters of Real American Football will be easier to do.
Robert: I think the truth lies in the mental and physical task of executing through 4 quarters. The Hogs first game that required the full 60 minutes and then some was always going to be tough after 2 seasons of blowouts and checking out in the 2nd half.
Josh: I don't buy that this team has a block on winning SEC game, they will, and the confidence will roll on. Some of these games are going to be battles in the 4th quarter and it comes down to enough quality bodies in depth and coaches who make the right decisions when it counts. In the A&M game there was obviously a lack in both of those areas and closing out an SEC win will not be easy.
Doc: No, I don't think it's fair to lump the A&M mistakes in with the problems from last season. I have a lot of thoughts on this and will try to write a full column on it, so stay tuned!
3. If Arkansas loses to Alabama on Saturday, what is the single biggest problem the Hogs won't be able to overcome? What's your biggest concern?
Ryan: Depth. The Razorbacks are still one or two recruiting classes away from having the depth needed to close out games against someone like Alabama.
Josh: Covering Cooper. If Alabama wins it will be because Amari Cooper had another monster game where he made the Arkansas DBs look silly in whatever coverage they threw at him. Media like to hype and some are claiming he is the best WR Alabama has ever had, (sorry Julio) and is an NFL ready player right now. If the game ends and he has less than 100 yards receiving, Robb Smith deserves to be paraded down Dickson St. like the goal posts after beating Tennessee in 1999.
Adam F: It could be any number of things. Amari Cooper may go off for 200 receiving yards. T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry may roll up over 200 rushing yards, or the offense can't move the ball.
Jamie: Undefeated and on the way to the National Championship,or bruised off of a defeat in the Grove, there is no team in the SEC tougher to tackle that Alabama. That'll be the key, can our defense match the physicality of their offense and can we tackle their skill players in open space.
Mark: Again, finishing in the 4th. Being forced to pass when we don't want to. It'll be interesting to see how much movement we can get on offense up front.
Adam P: I don't see this Alabama game as a "must win" for the team, and I don't think they see it that way, either. Remember, this is the team that's hung 52 points on this team for the past two years. The Hogs have to know they can be competitive with Alabama and even feel they can beat them, however, as long as they're in the game, I think we'll be okay. I know, what kind of fan am I!?
Devan: I've seen enough from the defense against A&M and the offense this season to say they can come up with the plays that they need to. It's that damn kicking game. I've said it all year it was going to come back and bite Arkansas at some point. I'm not sure if pulling Cole Hedlund's redshirt is such a bad idea anymore. Missed field goals are momentum killers, and Arkansas will likely need every little bit they can get against Alabama.
Robert: The passing game. Brandon Allen and the wide receivers haven't shown enough of a threat yet, and unless we see their best game of the season, Alabama will have no trouble bottling up our running game.
Mitchell: As an objective person, Arkansas doesn't have a great chance to beat Bama, maybe 20% at most. So I won't lose my mind if we don't beat them. There is still so much to play for after the Bama game. They get to play UGA, both Mississippi schools and rival LSU. Don't let one loss dictate play for the second half of the year.
Doc: The stat gurus give Arkansas about a 25% chance of winning, which is better than what my gut's telling me. I'm with Robert, though. I'm not convinced Arkansas' passing game is effective enough to keep Alabama's defense honest, and I'm not sure yet how great the running game will be against their defense. But if Arkansas is able to run effectively Saturday, that will tell us a lot (although I think Ole Miss may have the best defense in the SEC right now).
4. We all know about Arkansas' SEC losing streak. How possible is it that it could end this week against Alabama, of all programs? If so, what is the best case you can make for Arkansas winning?
Jamie: It sounds like a lot of fans seem to think that Bama losing this past week to Ole Miss makes it much less likely that Arkansas has a chance to do the same this week. I know it's been forever since Bama lost back-to-back SEC games, but I honestly think if we are able to play the way we did for 3 quarters against A&M for a full game, why can't we pull off the upset? That said, it would definitely be an upset and I'll give us a 25-35% chance of pulling it off.
Adam P: There wouldn't be a better story than the Hogs beating the Crimson Tide. Just go back to 3 years ago with Brandon Allen's first start against the Tide filling in for Tyler Wilson. Bert's first SEC win against the messiah. You couldn't write anything better, but let's be honest, we've got to have our best game out there to have a puncher's chance.
Ryan: I don't have a clue how Arkansas wins this game. I guess Alabama commits 5 turnovers, or something like that. I thought the 8 point spread was a little low, but if the game was at Alabama then it would be 15, which sounds about right.
Mark: I think we've got a decent shot. Best case scenario entails us getting up early and making Bama press. No turnovers or drive-killing penalties. The D continuing its progression. Not making SportsCenter highlight plays, necessarily (though we'll take 'em, of course), but just getting off the field.
Adam F: Alabama is changing its offensive identity in a year that its defense is a little bit down. The Tide may move the ball all over but miss field goals and turn it over. I think those two things is what we'll look back at if Arkansas wins.
Josh: It is absolutely possible. The Arkansas running game will move the ball. A huge part of the game will be based on the play of the QBs. If Sims or Allen make a costly mistake it could be very difficult to overcome.
Mitchell: I said 20%, but really it comes down to how well Bama plays after a loss to Ole Miss. We could get a weakened "screw it" type Bama. However, I really doubt Saban, will let his team have a hangover performance after an emotional loss. We could be a physical wake up call for a Bama team that never expected a test. We need to come out aggressive and energetic, and our D has to play nasty, 100% all game.
Devan: Not sure how possible it is against Alabama. They could come out flat after losing to Ole Miss, but then again how often does a Nick Saban coached team lose two games in as many weeks. Best case is Arkansas comes out guns blazing, gets a lead, gets the crowd into the game, and then Alabama just isn't able to recover from there.
Robert: This season, Alabama is just an SEC West team, but it still being Nick Saban and Alabama means the chances are less than 25%. The best case for Arkansas winning? Amari Cooper has a bad day, and Arkansas is able to load the box to stop Yeldon and manages to sack Sims a few times.
Doc: I'll believe Arkansas has a good chance when they put some sort of points on the board and Alabama misses a field goal. Then we'll be in business. Also, Alabama losing their starting center is a bigger deal than people are realizing, and the "Arkansas coming off a bye, while Bama slugged it out at Ole Miss and makes their 2nd straight road trip" effect might also be in play.
5. If Arkansas beats Bama, should everyone rush the field a la Ole Miss and Kentucky last week? What's your stance on field/court rushing?
Jamie: I'm typically of the mindset that says "Act like you've been there before" but since we've almost graduated 2 full classes of freshman since we last beat Alabama in football, I say go for it, have fun kids.
Mark: Let's act like we expect to win games like this. I'll give it to Ole Piss, er, Miss. First time they'd ever beaten a No. 1 and it was the biggest game in a generation, literally. And Katie Perry and all....But let's act like a program that expects big wins and keep the field rushing to special moments like the Redemption Game in '99. But I won't be disappointed or anything if we do it. After we win, that is....
Ryan: You can't rush the field on someone if they got beat the week before. HOWEVER, I am for rushing the field if certain criteria are met: This administration are the biggest buzz killers when it comes to this stuff. Instead of wasting money promoting a stupid stripe out that literally has no effect on the game, they could use it to pay the 25K fine when the Hogs finally win a game that matters. And Jeff Long owes us one field rush after giving us John L. Smith for a year.
Adam P: I thought the Ole Miss doing it was somewhat embarrassing. Then I realized it was Ole Miss. However, if Arkansas beats Alabama on Saturday and I don't see Razorback stadium lit up like a Christmas Tree like Woodstock '99, Hog fans will have failed me once again.
Adam F: I don't have a problem with court/field rushing, but it seems small-time. I'd rather Hog fans not do it, unless the Razorbacks win on a hail mary as time expires.
Devan: Yes, for the love of God, do it. Don't give me that "We're too good of a program to rush the field," "Act like we've been there before" talk is a load of garbage. Arkansas has lost 14 straight SEC games. 14 STRAIGHT. If Arkansas wins this game it will be a total disappointment if the students don't rush the field. After what the program has been through since April 2012? C'mon now. If Arkansas is worried about that fine, they shouldn't be. They could set up a booth outside the Student Union the Monday after, and probably have the fine paid off before 5.
Mitchell: I would say no, but... There are only a handful of reasons to rush a court/field. Those are beating a top 5 opponent as an unranked, disrespected team, beating a rival you've lost to for a very long time, and for an amazing comeback. NEVER should you rush if you are ranked higher than your opponent. Even with those stipulations I don't think it belongs in a lot of situations. THIS is different, however. This will be such a huge win, emotionally, as well as for the program as a whole, that I would rush the field in person as a student. I'll allow it in this case.
Doc: I used to be high and mighty with my court/field rushing philosophies, but now I'm just like, rush it, why not? Rush for every win in every sport if you want to. Arkansas beats Nicholls? Rush the field? Gymnast scores a 10? Rush the floor exercise mat. How the students contained themselves from rushing the court when Qualls dunked to beat Kentucky right in front of the student section I'll never know.
Robert: What's that losing streak up to now? When did we last beat Alabama? When did we last beat a top ten team? Do we have $50,000? In all seriousness though, the walls in Razorback stadium are kinda high. Someone could sprain an ankle or something be safe. Rush Dickson Street instead.
Josh: Sticking to the idea of fans carrying Robb Smith down Dickson St. instead of the goal posts. I am all for field and court rushing after knocking off a top team. Question is exactly where to draw the line. Should it be reserved for the #1 team, or top 5, or possibly top 10? At #7 an Alabama upset would be borderline in my opinion, maybe not the full on riot frenzy version, but just a nice controlled rush the field kind of thing.