Auburn is favored by at least three touchdowns against Arkansas 18 days from now. That just means Razorback fans have 18 more days to think up reasons why that's a crap line and why the Hogs will definitely at least keep the game close than many believe, if not WIN THE DANG GAME OUTRIGHT, RANDY.
One of those reasons is the idea that Gus Malzahn's teams start their seasons slowly before picking up steam and rolling over opponents in the latter half of the year. So I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at Malzahn's collegiate career and see if that's an urban myth or reasonable fact.
Their first four "Power 5" games were against Washington State, Mississippi State, LSU, and Ole Miss and their three wins all came down to the end of the game. The average margin of victory in the wins was 6.3 points. The Tigers never scored more than 35. The rest of the way, they scored 43 or more in all games except Alabama, Florida State, and.....Arkansas.
2012 Arkansas State
The Red Wolves howled their way to a 3-3 start, but their only non-Power 5 loss was to Western Kentucky. In their first seven games, the only time they scored more than 36 points was against Alcorn State. But in their last five regular season games, they scored 50, 37, 45, 41, and 45 points.
Started 4-1 with solid wins over South Carolina and Mississppi State (controversial but still). Finished the season 4-4 and getting blown out by Georgia, Alabama, and LSU.
Verdict: Nope. Arguably started stronger, but this team was mediocre from start to finish. Although Malzahn has managed to make everyone forget The Kiehl Frazier Experience when discussing his own history, which has to count for something.
The Tigers' national title team didn't look like champions at the beginning. Three of their first six games were three-point victories over Mississippi State, Kentucky, and Clemson. They beat South Carolina by a touchdown. It wasn't until the seventh game vs Arkansas when they began putting up at least 49 points in each game other than LSU and Alabama.
This was another mediocre team that won their first five games before finishing 2-5 and squeaking out a bowl victory over Northwestern.
Malzahn's second Golden Hurricanes team was rolling from the first kickoff. They blew everybody out in their first eight games except for SMU and failed to crack 40 points only once. They were ranked and undefeated until.....a lowly Arkansas knocked them off.
Verdict: Not at all.
The Golden Hurricane started off 4-3 (including a 48-47 loss to UTEP) before closing with five straight wins, losing to UCF in the Conference USA Championship and blowing out Bowling Green in the GMAC Bowl. Despite their meh record at the beginning, Tulsa was still scoring points, only failing to score 35 or more against Oklahoma and UCF.
Verdict: Sorta. That team never really struggled to score, but they were never going to compete with the Sooners and UCF was clearly the class of the conference that year. But, technically, Tulsa was better at the end than the beginning.
We don't really have to go too deep here, right? We'll just say this: Arkansas was clearly shaky in September before dominating in October and early November, and then struggled again to close out the season. But all the behind-the-curtain stuff this year was so whacked out the year probably shouldn't count.
Verdict: This year was just so ridiculous.
There's definitely some truth to the argument. Enough so that I certainly wouldn't tell anybody they were wrong for thinking this way. Out of all of Malzahn's particularly great teams, the only one that started off hot was that 2008 Tulsa squad. It's true the others took some time to get things going or were mediocre to begin with.
I would caution Hog fans, however, that this is also the first time Malzahn's had the same quarterback for consecutive years since Mitch Mustain's last couple years at Springdale High (assuming Nick Marshall doesn't miss much of the Arkansas game). A big part of this will be how much the returning players have retained from last year, and it wouldn't shock me if they've retained quite a bit.
But considering losing Carl Lawson and Alex Kozan to injury on top of the quasi-suspensions to Marshall and Jonathan Mincy, plus the regular roster turnover that takes place each year, it may not be too much of a stretch to cling to the idea that Malzahn's team will start relatively slowly again.
Of course, Malzahn's teams did win most of those games, they were just closer than many expected. So is this reason to think the Tigers might not stroll in and easily hang 50 on Arkansas? History says probably.
Arkansas still has to do its part, and that's just as big a question as anything else.
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