We near the start of the 2014 season with each passing day, meaning we are a day closer to Arkansas kicking off in "the loveliest village on the plains." Opening with a high profile opponent is good for the exposure, and it starts one of the most difficult schedules in the SEC.
Coach Bret Bielema bragged to the media in Hoover about the difficulty his team will face. This isn't a coach trying to lessen the blow that will come if the Razorbacks start 1-7. He's got a point. Only Florida's slate could be worth arguing, which is skewed by a yearly rivalry game with the national champs.
Not lying, sports fans, the wins -- unless drastic changes occur -- could be scarce. Heck, even the "winnable" ones. At least the home schedule is good so with the most positive outlook, here are the season's most winnable games...
1) Nicholls State
The Colonels' sole conference win last season came over Northwestern State (It burns deep for our own Brent Hollway). This game's betting line will be the largest in favor of the good guys all season.
Garrick McGee left his situation in Birmingham to rejoin his old buddy Bobby in Louisville. He amassed a downward trending 5-19 record in two seasons. Three wins in year one and two in his second, though one of those was a win against Northwestern State (sorry again, Brent).
3) Northern Illinois
A Jordan Lynch-less, Heisman campaign-less Husky offense doesn't strike the fear it once did into opponents, though it should as plenty skill players return. At home, this is a winnable game, and it must be won if there is any hope for a bowl game.
4) Mississippi State
Something about a Dan Mullen-led Bulldog team has never been too intimidating. Like most everyone else in the West, this team is improving. This is Bielema's best chance at his first road conference win.
5) Ole Miss
One team has to get worse in the West if the Razorbacks have any chance of improving rankings wise. At home and coming off some hopefully good momentum after the LSU game, Bielema's bunch have a chance if nothing more.
6) Texas Tech
Another team on the schedule that will be better than its 2013 version. There are quarterback questions, though the projected starter, Davis Webb, did have a solid outing versus a good Arizona State defense in the Holiday Bowl. Assuming he's on the typical Kliff Kingsbury-coached trajectory, he could have a big day against the Hogs.
7) Texas A&M
The question is of course: what will they be without Johnny Manziel? Not only without him, but the Aggies also lost their two best linemen from each side of the ball. With coach Kevin Sumlin and the amount of talent he has collected during his tenure, they will still be potent offensively. Defensively, especially in the run game, is where Arkansas could take advantage.
Much like the Mad Hatter himself, this game is a wildcard. No one knows exactly what to expect out of the Bayou in 2014. Miraculously, the Hogs always play well against a team that should perform far more superior based on talent level. Just like every other year when the Tigers lose 85 draft picks to the NFL, expect another batch of blue chippers to be there to step up and put another 10 wins on the board for Les Miles.
By this point in the season, we will have the clearest picture of what the 2014 Razorbacks will be, but that doesn't mean that picture will be any better than the one we think they are now. Yet another improving team in the SEC that isn't anticipating a loss to lowly Arkansas.
Round two of Bielema vs. Malzahn, which seems to be much more of a media play than any true rivalry between these coaches. If Nick Marshall is out, the winability odds increase. My guess is the team will honor Phillip Lutzenkirchen that night, making it hard for any team to go into Jordan-Hare and come out with a win. Too much emotion.
We should probably just remember the last time these two played...
... because unless the run defense is significantly better this year, Todd Gurley could have a career day. That is if Mike Bobo so chooses.
The running score is 104-0 over the last two years. Need I say more?