Game Time: Saturday, October 8th, 7:00 PM EST
Odds: Alabama (-13.5), Arkansas (+14), -500 (Alabama Moneyline), +400 (Arkansas Moneyline), 51 (O/U)
A two-term Barack Obama presidency. Twitter becoming a worldwide cultural phenomenon. The housing market collapse. Osama bin Laden being brought to justice. Breaking Bad came and went.
These are just a few of the events that have occurred since the last time Razorback fans were on the “yay!” end of a game against Alabama.
Since Nick Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa every team in the Western Division of the SEC has gotten the old man at least once. Except Arkansas. Their last win against the Tide came in 2006 win Houston Nutt was still roaming the sidelines for the Razorbacks and Mike Shula was in his final year with the Tide.
These are the times that test men. Bret Bielema is in his fourth year in Fayetteville, which means he’s working on his fourth full recruiting class right now. He’s getting to the point where the personnel excuse will no longer work.
The shot was fired over the bow when he was introduced as Arkansas’ head coach in late 2012. He was gunning for the Crimson Tide and Nick Saban’s stranglehold of the SEC. And over the last two seasons, he’s given Alabama a challenge that suggests that the dam could finally burst.
Two years ago, a limping Alabama team came to Fayetteville expecting to exorcise some demons from their loss to Ole Miss the previous week only to find a lumbering Arkansas team that was one blocked extra point away from at least taking the visitors to overtime.
Unfortunately for them, the blocked extra point did happen and the upset didn’t. Last year in Tuscaloosa, the Razorbacks held a 7-3 lead nearly halfway into the second half when Jake Coker found Calvin Ridley for an 81-yard touchdown. ‘Bama won 27-14.
Now, the game is back in Fayetteville and Arkansas has the kind of dynamic offense that could trip up a very athletic ‘Bama D. They’re averaging 36 points and 436 yards per game.
The startling thing for the Tide to pay attention to is that this is not simply a smash mouth team. They’re averaging 246 yards through the air and 197 on the ground per game. This is a balanced team that actually leans on their passing game more than most Bielema squads.
On the other side of the ball, there is a very experienced defense led by the most underrated middle linebacker in the conference, Brooks Ellis and a disruptive defensive end in Deatrich Wise, Jr.
With an improved secondary, Arkansas has the potential wreak havoc on an Alabama offensive line that is still trying to find its footing and a still-green freshman quarterback.
For Alabama, the key is to simply manage their own expectations. Lofty expectations though they are, it’s still what has made them the favorites in all but one game since 2009. They have the talent, they have depth, but to this point we’re not exactly sure which Tide we’ve seen.
Is it the Crimson Tide team that struggled mightily against the best two-loss team in the nation in Ole Miss or is it the team that punched USC in the throat over and over again?
Nobody can be sure, but what you should be looking out for is a very talented Austin Allen to have a Stephen Garcia/Bo Wallace kind of day. If he consistently finds his sure and steady senior targets, then it could be a long game for Alabama. If he continues to run away from Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson all night, then Arkansas fans may want to just say, “We’ll get ‘em once we’ve seen the next Guardians of the Galaxy.”
In this case, it’ll probably be the latter. Just barely, though.
Prediction: Alabama 27 Arkansas 23