Time: 7 p.m. ET
Odds: TCU opened as a 10-point favorite. At last glance, the line has dropped down to 7.5 points via OddsShark.
The Week 2 slate of the college football season is pretty barren when it comes to games involving Top 25 teams matching up.
Still, a few SEC games may have a significance in the playoff race down the line.
Arkansas travels to Fort Worth to renew a rivalry with old Southwest Conference rival TCU.
Here are three things to watch:
Arkansas O-Line vs TCU’s Front Seven
The implementation of three new offensive line starters has been one of the biggest talking points coming out of Fayetteville this offseason. Bret Bielema loves his hog mollies almost as much as he loves cooking. Culinary fondness aside, this Arkansas offense, even more so than others, does not work without talented lineman up front. A lot can be made about how well the running game performs this week, but I’m far more concerned about the men blocking for Rawleigh Williams and Kody Walker than I am with the two backs.
106 rushing yards just isn’t going to get the job done this week, especially against a talented TCU front seven. Senior defensive end and 2014 Peach Bowl MVP James McFarland returns after a season marred by injuries. His end counterpart Josh Carraway was a first-team Big 12 performer in 2015. Pair those two with returning defensive tackles Aaron Curry and Breylin Mitchell, along with the return of the linebacker corp from a year ago, and the Horned Frogs have the makeup to give the Razorbacks offensive lines fits.
Kenny Hill vs Arkansas D
This won’t be the first time that Hill starts under-center against the Razorbacks in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. In 2014, Hill was the signal-caller for Texas A&M, leading the Aggies in a 35-28 overtime thriller at JerryWorld. Hill threw for 386 yards, including four touchdowns and an interception that afternoon. The majority of the Hogs’ nine returning defensive starters were on the field that day versus Hill, so they won’t be intimidated in the slightest.
While Hill may have the experience in having faced this defense before, I give Arkansas the slight advantage in scouting Hill, even if he is performing in a new system. Not to mention the talent upfront with Deatrich Wise, Taiwan Johnson and Jeremiah Ledbetter, paired with do everything linebacker Brooks Ellis. True freshman defensive lineman McTelvin Agim will also have plenty opportunities to make his mark.
Austin Allen steps into the spotlight
Allen enters his first road start after taking over for his older brother Brandon. Last week versus Louisiana Tech, Allen went 20-for-29 for 191 yards, throwing a pair of touchdowns and interceptions. Allen is not short of options on the outside. Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan, Dominique Reed, Jared Cornelius & Co. make up one of the deepest, if not most talented, receiving corps in the SEC. Tight end Jeremy Sprinkle presents a mismatch in his own right, with his 6’6”, 256 lbs. frame.
Allen will have plenty of options against a TCU defense that recently gave up 333 yards through the air to an FCS opponent. Allen may be called upon to do more this week than last, but I expect OC Dan Enos to allow Allen to get in rhythm before potentially asking the young quarterback to win the game. Allen’s ability to cut down on his interceptions, from a week ago, and get the ball out quick to his talented receiving options will determine how successful the Razorbacks are Saturday night.
So, what happens?
Bielema will be happy to have escaped the upset-minded Louisiana Tech, but knows that this week will give a good indication on where his team is headed in 2016. This is, undoubtedly, an early test for not just Arkansas, but for their new quarterback. Arkansas has employed a run-first style offense that has been successful, thus far, during Bielema’s tenure. The decision-making and playmaking ability of the quarterback holds the keys to the Hogs potential. If the younger Allen has success taking care of the ball and through the air, then signs point to a Razorback victory. If not, the reunion with the Horned Frogs could be a sour one.
The Horned Frogs had their struggles with South Dakota State a week ago, but given the amount of preseason Top 25 teams sitting at 0-1, Gary Patterson and his bunch should be happy where they are. Particularly, now that the Big 12 race looks wide open after Oklahoma fell to Houston and Texas outlasted Notre Dame. It’s still early in the season, so I will stick with my playoff pick in what should be the most entertaining game of the day.
Prediction: TCU 38, Arkansas 31