Hard as it might be to believe, we have reached the midpoint of the college football season for all of the SEC teams. We look at what's happened to each of them and where they might go from here.
The Arkansas-Auburn game actually lasted just three minutes longer than the Arkansas-Texas A&M match-up. It only seemed to take forever for Arkansas fans.
After all, if this is really a team that will go as far as Ryan Mallett and the defense will take it, then the Auburn game was a discouraging Saturday on two fronts. Even if Mallett comes back this weekend as expect, it will take a week or two to see if he's the same quarterback that left. And even if he is, there is still a major renovation needed for a defense that allowed 65 points against Auburn last week.
To put that into context: The 65 points was a season high for Auburn's Cam Newton offense, despite the fact that the Tigers have played Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe. No offense can overcome an SEC defense that gets consistenly outplayed by Sun Belt competitors, not even one run by Bobby Petrino.
To be completely fair to the Arkansas defense, not all of those points are the defense's fault. Three turnovers in the fourth quarter allowed a 44-43 game to turn into a blowout in relatively short order. But when you can't be certain of winning a game with 43 points in the SEC, it's going to be a pretty long season regardless of how many more the other guy gets.
And last year's Auburn game ended with a 44-23 Arkansas win, to little effect other than a berth in the Liberty Bowl. Which is a nice bowl and everything, but not what Arkansas fans were hoping for at the beginning of the season -- and the same sort of result that used to put all sorts of heat on Houston Nutt toward the end of his time in Fayetteville.
That said, the offense is certainly humming along. Observant readers might have noticed that the white box at the bottom of this week's midseason reports are taller than the ones in last week's edition -- it was the only way to fit the passing offense bar into the box this week, so there's no reason to begrudge Mallett his success.
But if a team can't beat Alabama or Auburn -- at least one of them -- it's difficult to take it seriously in the SEC West. And while it's 20-20 hindsight now to say that, it's still an accurate assessment of where the Razorbacks' season stands today. A trip to Altanta is out of the question, if it was ever a realistic goal to begin with.
Arkansas still has plenty to play for. South Carolina and LSU will both likely face the Razorbacks with something on the line, and Arkansas has on more than one occasion proven itself capable of ruining the season of the latter and making the former's year a little less special. A win by unranked Arkansas against then-No. 9 South Carolina in 2001 ended up being the difference between a nine- and 10-win season for the Gamecocks. And we all know what it almost cost LSU to lose to the Razorbacks in triple-overtime in 2007.
That said, Arkansas was supposed to be playing a more important role than spoiler this year. And all of that seemed possible until last week's game on the Plains.