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Arkansas Panel Discussion: Is a Successful Season Still Possible? Auburn a Must-Win? Hogs Bowl-Bound?

Gathering our contributors thoughts on the issues of the week.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

1. What would Arkansas have to do in the second half of this season that would make you look at 2015 as a successful, or even acceptable season?

Mitchell: They need to get to a bowl game. They don't necessarily have to win, but not going 6-6 in the regular season would be a step back and would have a lot of people buzzing.

Mark: Gotta get to a bowl. That should be the minimum requirement for this program now that we're out of the Highway 16 ditch, even in a division as tough as the SEC West. Finishing 6-6 with another bowl win would represent a good save but not sure anything short of winning out will quell all the misgivings.

Eric: Make a bowl game. Obviously preseason expectations from some were too high. Last season was a 6-6 team losing its three best defensive players and injuries set this team back even more. It's clear that this team's ceiling was probably around 8 wins, and after facing some serious adversity making a bowl game would be acceptable, especially since it means they would go at least 4-4 in SEC play.

Adam P: If we could get to 6-6 again, it would salvage this season and be labeled a success, in my view. As long as two of those wins were Auburn and LSU.

Graham: A bowl bid is the bare minimum to be considered a acceptable season. At best we could get to 8-4 and 6-2 in the conference, and that would be a huge success considering where this season was headed a month ago. The best case scenario record could lead to a New Years Day bowl, another marker of success.  With the losses suffered early, a "successful" season seems out of reach at this point, though.

Josh: Make a bowl game. It's really that simple. Not making a bowl game would be an unsuccessful season even if they finish strong. Harsh reality.

Jamie: Get to a bowl game for successful… beat LSU and any other SEC game but miss a bowl for acceptable considering where everything stands today

Robert: We had a panel discussion earlier in the year, where a lot of people gave the writers on this site grief for not taking the over on the Hogs win total this season. I think winning the home games, and winning against Ole Miss or LSU is the only way I will look at this season as favorable.  If we manage to beat both LSU and Ole Miss again, but somehow miss out on a bowl, I will probably call this season a failure.

Doc: It's obviously a failure if they don't make a bowl game. But I still don't know that we can call a 6- or 7-win season "successful." It would mean a successful second half of the season most likely, but I don't know that we'd be able to look back on the year positively as a whole.

2. Do you think Arkansas' defense has returned to form, or were the last couple of games just good matchups?

Josh: Better matchups but they have improved. Robb Smith has a record of starting out a bit slow but when he gets it all put together they become dominant. His staff has shown they can limit weaknesses and put their players in the best position. Dre Greenlaw is still flying under the radar of most people. I can see him really finishing strong, he has made some mistakes that all young players will make at some point.

Adam P: I think we've seen enough now that says maybe the first few games were flukey. But, why were they flukey really has me questioning things.

Robert: Alabama's offense did not struggle against Texas A&M and Georgia the way it did against us. I see the favorable matchups in that both Alabama and Tennessee did not have the middle of the field passing game that brutalized the Hogs in the first 3 losses, but I also saw a LOT more effort and penetration by the defensive line. If the D-line continues to perform that way, I think we'll be a force to reckon with in the 2nd half of the season.

Mitchell: Arkansas' defense hasn't been awful this season. The Hogs have lacked playmakers which has been the main issue. The defense has improved, but mainly our running game has gotten back on track and our offense has been better as a whole.

Mark: I think the D is returning to form.

Eric: The run defense is certainly there, but the pass defense needs some work. Six sacks, (and none from JaMichael Winson by the way) just isn't going to cut it. The front seven can stop the run but they get minimal pressure on the quarterback, which is putting a strain on the secondary which already has some issues.

Graham: Anytime you replace four draft picks the unit will suffer. There is a reason those guys were talents NFL teams wanted. Stopping Auburn on Saturday will tell a lot because the Tigers seemed to have found some sort of a rhythm on offense last week.

Jamie: I think moving Ellis back to the middle was a big help and making a few moves with the DBs has helped return them to form, but you’ve got to be a good enough staff to figure out those things in Spring and Summer camp, no?

Doc: If you look at how Josh Dobbs dominated against Georgia and Derrick Henry dominated against Texas A&M and then realize how in check Arkansas was able to keep them, I think you have to be very impressed with Arkansas' defense right now. I still don't think Arkansas has a great pass defense, but it's better than it was a month ago and there are no more dominant passing teams left on the schedule now that Ole Miss is at a crossroads.

3. For Bret Bielema, how much of a "must win" do you consider this Auburn game?

Jamie: For him personally? Probably pretty big. Although it was interesting to hear him back off of his "how much I hate Auburn" quote from this summer at Monday’s press conference. For his job? not really any. Despite this season not being what we’d hoped, he really does have the program headed in a much better direction, and his buyout is "Texas with a dollar sign"

Mark: It's pretty entrenched in the must-win camp. Win and we still can close strong. Lose and the mob's gonna get restless.

Graham: It's a must-win for perception and getting back to a bowl game. But as far as his job security goes, he could lose big and still be the head coach next season. As far as the perception thing goes, at some point he has to back up some of his smack talk, and I can think of no better team to do that against than the team he openly stated he despises.

Mitchell: It is absolutely a must win. Auburn has looked bad this year. How they are 4-2 is beyond me. To beat Gus and get our team to 3-4 is the number 1 goal at this point. If we don't beat Auburn you can kiss our bowl chances goodbye.

Eric: Only from the standpoint of making a bowl game it's a must win. A loss means Arkansas has to beat Ole Miss, Miss St, and Missouri (Or LSU. Good luck tackling Fournette). From the standpoint of the feud/rivalry thing that he's got going on with Gus Malzahn it's not terribly important. It probably wont change much perception wise unless he gets blown out.

Adam P: I think it's more a must win just for the sake of pride and the hatred he has for the Gus Bus. If we win out after this game, people won't be so upset over this loss. But that's a big IF on winning out.

Josh: Every game left is a must win for Bielema. Losing to a stumbling Auburn team at home would be a step back. It is a must win, and he needs to get one to put this team back on an upward climb.

Robert: For a 2-4 team, every game is a must win.  When it's someone who has credibility in Arkansas, it matters just a bit more.  When it's someone that's beaten you twice in a row and they look really beatable this year, you gotta go ahead and crush the life out of them.  Coming off of a bye week, at home, against a school that runs everything opposite of how you want to run your program?  That's gotta be a must-win.

Doc: I tend to only define games as "must-win" if the season is going to be over or if the coach will be fired if the team loses, so this doesn't technically meet my standard, although for Bielema personally it's as close as it can get. This is easily his best chance to beat Gus and Auburn since he's been here and it's time he started to back up his mouth with a win on the field. He simply can't allow Gus to come into Fayetteville as an underdog and win. It would be a disaster.

4. What happens against Auburn?

Mitchell: I believe we win. Auburn has struggled all season, especially in the noon spot. Our team will be rested off the bye and should be plenty jazzed up for this match. The coaching staff should have these guys believing that every game is a must-win from now on and it should provide the fire necessary to take care of business.

Mark: I think we win a close game similar to how Tennessee played out.

Eric: From a score standpoint pretty similar to the Tennessee game. There will probably be a trick play gone wrong. Sean White looked pedestrian against Kentucky so if Arkansas can minimize the mistakes they should be in good shape. Final prediction is 27-21 Arkansas, but things will definitely get weird.

Adam P: Gus tells someone to fake a leg injury. Bert does the stanky leg.

Graham: Arkansas comes out a little sluggish in the beginning but finds a way to win in the second half. Auburn has struggled finishing games all season. Will Muschamp's crew has also shown that they can give up yards through the ground (see Leonard Fournette) and air (see Patrick Towles). But per usual with this Razorback team, finishing in the red zone stats will tell the story the next morning in the paper of a win or loss.

Josh: It is going to be a close game. The Arkansas defense will come up with several big stops early. Auburn will hang around and Brandon Allen will come through in the fourth quarter with a TD drive. Sounds good right? The way this season has been, who knows, but I think the defense will shut Auburn down but Arkansas will just have to score. Somehow.

Jamie: I honestly think Arkansas wins the game. The Hogs are playing better and Auburn really isn’t, plus the bye week, plus a home game, plus a rain storm. Advantage "Normal American Football"

Robert: Arkansas will go into halftime with the lead due to a few Auburn turnovers, the elevators wills function perfectly to get both coaching crews down to the locker room, both teams will make halftime adjustments, Arkansas will allow no 2nd half touchdowns from the Tigers, only field goals and win the football game.

5. Do you think Arkansas will go to a bowl game this year?

Robert: I can't comment on that until November 7th at the earliest.  If Arkansas goes down to Oxford and whips the Rebels, I'm all on board, otherwise, I'll be expecting the final game of the season to decide it all.  I think a lot of people will put us in the bowling camp if we beat Auburn on Saturday, but I think that's too early.

Mitchell: Unfortunately, I don't think so. It is definitely possible, but looking at the remaining schedule I only see 4 wins. With the way we've been playing this season I can't count on the Hogs not dropping a game that should be a an easy win (looking at Mizzou).

Josh: Ask me after the Auburn game. Really, who would have thought they would finish like they did against Ole Miss and LSU last season? Maybe they have another late season run to beat Miss. St, LSU, and Missouri.

Eric: Optimistically I still say yes, but it all rides on this weekend. I think wins at home against Mississippi State and Missouri are attainable, but it will be moot if they are 3-7 heading into those games.

Adam P: There's definitely some winnable games left and we're playing decent ball, but LSU looks outstanding and Ole Miss will be tough if they can bounce back after the Memphis loss. If I were a betting man......WHOA another Draft Kings commercial, baby!

Graham: Yes. Best case an Outback-y/Citrus-y/Belk-y finish. At the very least a Birmingham-y/Texas-y game.

Jamie: Yes. Auburn, UT Martin, Miss St, Mizzou

Mark: I think we'll finish out with two home wins to get to 6-6 and get sent back to Houston for a rubber match with Texas Tech.

Doc:  I think so. If I had to bet I'd say Liberty Bowl right now.