UA analysis: Smithson dissects national schedule as Razorbacks begin climb in polls

UA analysis: Smithson dissects national schedule as Razorbacks begin climb in polls

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 The Hogs open the season at No. 15.
With the season here, Razorback fans are burning up the airwaves with predictions of BCS glory. Most of this talk is based on three things: Bobby Petrino, a defense that should be the best Petrino has had in his time on the hill and Tyler Wilson's second half against Auburn. Arkansas starts the season in the AP poll at 15th and the USA Today poll at 14th.

This is great news for Razorback fans, but I will remind you that if you were born after I graduated from high school, you have not known the preseason giddiness us old codgers have! In 1960, Arkansas opened the season at No. 19. It was Arkansas' first preseason ranking, according to the 2011 UA media guide. The Razorback preseason rank from 1960 through 2011 is as follows-

1960#19     1970 # 4   1980# 6   1990#15   2007#21 
1961#12     1971# 7   1982#13  1999#18    
2010#17            
1962#15     1972# 4   1985#14                    
2011#15
1963# 8       1976#13  1986#18
1964# 11     1978# 2   1987#13
1965# 6       1979#17  1989# 9
1966# 5
1967#11
1969# 2

Knowing that perception is reality, most folks voting in the AP polls do not know of the Razorbacks rich heritage. It is a what-have-you-done-lately world ... and with twitter and facebook, what have you done for me in the last 5 seconds! ESPN, Fox Sports and all of the web sites keep you instantly informed of the latest commitment to the latest injury. Everyone knows everything instantly. So what does this have to do with the 2011 Razorbacks? I, like most Arkansas fans, want the Hogs to climb the polls and play for the national championship. That means first and foremost, WINNING! Win and you climb the polls. But if you look at the Top 25 right now, that might not be enough.

Oklahoma starts the season at #1 and its schedule has only three "iffy" games. September 17th in Tallahassee, OU tangles with #6 Florida State. The Sooners spanked the Seminoles last year 47-17 and FSU wants revenge. The Texas Aggies are getting a lot of play and travel to Norman, Okla., on November 5. This time it is the Sooners looking for revenge. Finally, OU makes the short trip to Stillwater for "Bedlam" and the annual shootout with Oklahoma State. Right off the bat we see an example of how tough it can be to climb the polls. If Florida State beats OU, FSU moves up and OU moves down but probably stays in front of Arkansas. Without the Big 12 minus two conference championship game, OU will find out the results of the SEC, Big 10 plus 2 and the Pac-12 championship games and if it helped or hurt someone else's chances of meeting the Sooners in the BCS title game. The BCS computers will be churning if OU has one loss.

The #2 Crimson Tide has a nice schedule with four iffy games, and they are bunched in twos. Alabama has Arkansas at home Sept. 24 and then travels to the Swamp to play Florida. The Razorbacks really need to end the four-game losing streak to the Tide. Florida will be looking to show the nation the Gators are back under Will Muschamp. Five weeks later, LSU comes to Tuscaloosa, and the next week Bama buses over to Mississippi State. Alabama could lose to Arkansas and then run the table. Unless the Hogs also run the table, the Tide probably stays in front of the Razorbacks.

Oregon seems to be the team to beat in the new Pac-12. The opener against LSU at Cowboy Stadium will be an immediate challenge. The Ducks want to beat an SEC team in this somewhat neutral site. With the troubles the Tigers are having, Oregon may get its wish. Three weeks later the Ducks have a second "iffy" game at Arizona. Three weeks later it is Arizona State. The Ducks final "iffy" game is against Stanford lead by Andrew Luck. Then it will be on to the first Pac-12 championship game. This could be the year the BCS computer blows up!

LSU always has talent. This year most media and Tiger fans expect more than the Cotton Bowl, but the Tigers have a tough road. Four of their first six games include Oregon (@Arlington, Texas), Mississippi State at Starkville, at West Virginia and then Florida in Baton
Rouge. Then for fun, LSU goes to Alabama on Nov. 5 and end with the HOGS at home on Nov. 25. We should know early if the Bayou Bengals are "who we thought they were!"

A lot of folks want to see Boise State get its chance in the BCS title game. As we have seen, they will have to go undefeated to get that opportunity. In my opinion they have only three "iffy" games, and the first one might be the most difficult. The Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic in Atlanta against the Georgia Bulldogs will cement Boise in the Top 3 or 4 for the year or knock it out of the BCS Championship game as in the past. The Broncos' other possible losses are at Fresno State on Oct. 8 and at home against TCU on Nov. 12.

Florida State has big games early back to back and then rolls through the season with only two "iffy" games left. Oklahoma visits Sept. 17. The following week the Seminoles travel to Clemson. This could be the put up or get lost season for Dabo Swinney so the Tigers will be ready. On Nov. 5, FSU travels to Boston College and on Nov. 26 to the Swamp and the Gators. Survive all of that and then FSU gets to face Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship game. Will the winner reach the BCS National Championship game?

Andrew Luck coming back for his senior year was a boost to Stanford which must overcome the loss of head coach Jim Harbaugh in the eyes of poll voters. Stanford has one early test at Arizona, but it is three games in five weeks that will determine their season. October 29 they travel to Southern California. Two weeks later Stanford gets Oregon in the battle for the North Division slot in the conference championship game. Then on Nov. 26 the Fighting Irish come to town. This game could have BCS implications.

Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman was headed for the hot seat until he benched Jerrod Johnson and moved Ryan Tannehill from receiver to quarterback. The six-game winning streak sent the Aggies to the Cotton Bowl and set them up as a challenger to Oklahoma. Four "iffy" games are on the A&M schedule, and three are clustered together. September 24 the Oklahoma State Cowboys come to town. Last year's shootout featured almost no defense. Then comes a visit to Cowboy Stadium in Dallas and the Arkansas Razorbacks. Both teams may be sluggish a week after important conference games. On Oct. 1, the Aggies travel to Lubbock and their second biggest rival, Texas Tech. Oklahoma looks for revenge on Nov. 5th.

Oklahoma State has its best schedule setup for a run at the Big 12 title. The Arizona Wildcats come to Stillwater on Sept. 10. Two weeks later the Cowboys travel to A&M to see who will really challenge Oklahoma. Bill Snyder's ability as a coach makes the Kansas State game dangerous on Nov. 5. The following week is a trip to Texas Tech. Finally on Dec. 3 is the big one against Oklahoma.

No. 10 Nebraska begins a new life in the Big 10. September will breeze by, and Oct. 1 will start with a bang at Wisconsin. The following week Ohio State comes to Lincoln. This will be the biggest game there since the late 1970's and early 1980's when Nebraska and Oklahoma would meet to decide the Orange Bowl in the Big-8. The last week in October brings a trip to Michigan State. Penn State will host the Huskers on November 12.

Wisconsin has the same list, just different dates: the Cornhuskers at home and then on Oct. 22 and 29 road trips to Michigan State and Ohio State. The Badgers end the season with Penn State at Madison. Something new awaits the Leaders and Legends division winners. Will the first Big-10 championship be a rematch of the Huskers and Badgers?

South Carolina opens at No. 12 and has a typical SEC schedule with a trip to Athens and Georgia on Sept. 10. We will know early if the Gamecocks can handle the hype. October 15 brings a trip to Starkville and dangerous Mississippi State. Three weeks later it is back to back at Arkansas on Nov. 5 and Florida in Columbus on Nov. 12. The season ends with Clemson on the 26.

Virginia Tech's schedule is not a breeze, but it is close. I think the Hokies will run the table. This will allow them to rise in the polls. The game for the Hokies will be the ACC championship game against Florida State.

TCU is in the same position as Virginia Tech. The Horned Frogs go to Boise on Nov. 12 and are breaking in a new QB, but they still play pretty stout defense.

How high can Arkansas rise if the Razorbacks keep winning weekly?

Sept. 3
Oregon vs. LSU: only a very bad loss by one could drop one behind Arkansas.
Boise State vs. Georgia: a Broncos' loss will drop them, but Georgia will get a boost.

Sept. 10
Arizona at Oklahoma State: a Wildcat upset can start dominos falling that will favor the Razorbacks.
South Carolina at Georgia: a Georgia win is great IF the Dawgs lost to Boise. If Georgia starts the season 2-0, they will jump the HOGS in the polls.

Sept. 17
Oklahoma at Florida State: This game could elevate Alabama to No. 1 for the Razorbacks' visit, but a FSU victory could keep both teams ahead of Arkansas in the poll.
LSU at Mississippi State: The Bulldogs get a chance early to influence the SEC West race. LSU could be out of the Top 15 after this game.
Stanford at Arizona: The Cardinal find out early if Luck staying will make up for Harbaugh leaving.

Sept. 24th BIG Ranking Saturday
Arkansas at Alabama: Put up or shut up time for the Razorbacks!
Oregon at Arizona: Can the Wildcats catch the Ducks?
LSU at West Virginia: The Tigers have another tough road trip after Dallas and Starkville. Are the Tigers completely out of the national race after this week?
Florida State at Clemson: This is a dangerous game for the Seminoles after a meeting OU the week before.
Oklahoma State at Texas A&M: The winner stays in front of the Razorbacks for at least one more week.

Oct. 1
Alabama at Florida: A talented bunch of Gators await Saban's boys. Will the Tide have a hangover?
Texas A&M vs. Arkansas: This is not a must win for the HOGS in terms of the SEC race but very important in the national perception category.
Nebraska at Wisconsin: If Arkansas is undefeated after their game in Dallas, one of these teams falls behind the Razorbacks.

Oct. 8
Florida at LSU: The Gators, not the Tigers might be mounting a major push in the polls.
Boise State at Fresno State: One of the few games the Broncos might have to sweat.
Texas A&M at Texas Tech: The Aggies are either rolling or staggering.
Ohio State at Nebraska: A Husker loss could help the HOGS, but it will be hard for most Razorback fans to root for OSU.
Auburn at Arkansas: The Razorbacks are back at home after two tough road trips. This is a chance for Tyler Wilson to double his output from last year's game!

Oct. 15
Arizona State at Oregon: Most folks see Arizona or Arizona State getting the South division berth in the Pac-12 championship game since USC is not eligible. For the Ducks, that means a rematch, if Stanford cannot put up a challenge for the North spot.
South Carolina at Mississippi State: A Bulldog victory will bump them in the poll as the cowbells ring and MSU tries to influence the SEC East race.

Oct. 22
Wisconsin at Michigan State: This is a major game for the Spartans as they have a divisional game against Nebraska the next week.

Oct. 29
Stanford at USC: Although USC is not eligible for the South title, it can hurt Stanford in the North race and nationally.
Michigan State at Nebraska: To tell HOG fans which team to root for in this one will require knowing who won earlier games.
Wisconsin at Ohio State: See Michigan State at Nebraska.

Nov. 5
Texas A&M at Oklahoma: At this point in the season, I believe all the Aggies can do is be spoilers. Unfortunately, it will not happen this year.
LSU at Alabama: If LSU survives all of its off-the-field troubles and the road in September, they could spoil Alabama's party.
Florida State at Boston College: Florida State should be a one-loss team going into this game, and BC loves to give FSU fits.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State: Can Bill Snyder scare the high-powered Cowboys?
South Carolina at Arkansas: The Razorbacks put an end to Carolina's East repeat goal.

Nov. 12
Alabama at Mississippi State: This is the next to last chance for the Bulldogs to make an SEC statement.
Oregon at Stanford: The winner is likely the winner of the PAC-12 north.
TCU at Boise State: One of these teams remains undefeated and in the hunt.
Oklahoma State at Texas Tech: Can Tommy Tuberville raise a defense in Lubbock?
Nebraska at Penn State: Nebraska probably wins the Legends division after this game.
Florida at South Carolina: Gators show the SEC East they are back.

Nov. 19
Mississippi State at Arkansas: This is the last chance for the Bulldogs to make an SEC statement.

Nov. 26
Arkansas at LSU (11-25): The Battle for the Boot could be for much more.
Florida State at Florida: This is a dangerous game for FSU and to stay in the race for the BCS, they need to win.
Notre Dame at Stanford: How good will the Irish be this year? By this game we will know if either has made a BCS move.
Penn State at Wisconsin: This could be Joe Paterno's last regular-season game. The Badgers may need a victory to lock up the Leaders division.
Clemson at South Carolina: The rivalry game that could be Dabo Swinney's last for the Tigers. Carolina will need this game for its national reputation.

Dec. 3
Oklahoma at Oklahoma State: Bedlam could decide the Big-12 conference and who reaches BCS National Championship.
SEC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
BIG-10 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

For the Razorbacks, winning will push them up the polls. But the reality is that Oklahoma, Oregon, Boise State and Virginia Tech could all go undefeated this year. And as many as 11 of the Top 15 teams could get through the season with one loss. BCS Armageddon has been predicted for several years, but someone always seems to lose that critical game that makes whoever is #1 and #2 palatable.

It is hard to imagine an undefeated SEC champion not being one half of the national championship game, but ask Auburn how it feels to be snubbed (13-0 in 2004 after starting the season ranked No. 17). If the SEC champ is not undefeated this year, it could happen again. Then again, the computers might bump two 13-0 winners of conference championship games just ahead of a 12-0 (no conference championship game) Oklahoma? The madness has begun. Let's play football!

 

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