J.R. and Henry: Seriously?
Luck doesn’t strike twice. After the Razorbacks dismantled Auburn on the road, many sportswriters and commentators considered it evidence more of luck than skill. After all, Arkansas entered the polls well behind the Tigers, and after winning five more games, it took Auburn losing to Georgia on Saturday for the Hogs to finally jump ahead of them. In fact, there was a pretty serious scenario unfolding where the Razorbacks would win the SEC West and be shut out of a BCS bowl bid in favor of Auburn.
But that scenario is no more. Arkansas, fresh off a convincing win over the Tennessee Volunteers, sits poised to win 10 games for the first time since 1989; or 11, a first since 1977; or 12 for the first time ever. And it’s not because of luck.
Fayetteville was picture perfect for the game on Saturday. The temperatures dipped into the low 30s and the wind swept down from the Ozarks and across the faces of the Razorback faithful, many of whom had been outside since the early morning hours eagerly awaiting the ESPN Gameday crew.
It’s no secret that tailgating at Arkansas (whether it’s in Fayetteville or Little Rock) is a very good time. But on this Saturday, it was especially nice because Arkansans put on their Saturday best, and with the exception of a few stupid T-shirts, behaved themselves. This demonstration of school and state spirit was exactly what the Razorback football team needed. Fowler, Corso and Herbstreit admitted to never having been to Fayetteville, but you could tell, especially when they made their picks at the end of the show, that they were impressed. This will make a difference if Arkansas is going to be a BCS at-large selection.
An at-large selection, you say? That’s outrageous, you probably believe.
It was outrageous to contemplate after the first game of the season, a drubbing at the hands of the USC Trojans. But now, to suggest that Arkansas would be an at-large selection is to suggest that they will not win the SEC. And clearly, after Florida’s pitiful effort against South Carolina, Arkansas is the best team in the SEC.
But the BCS, for all its virtues of bringing sense to the notion of a college football national champion, is not without its politics. And in order for the Razorbacks to get a place they’ve never been since the advent of the BCS, they need to politic. But they just need to win, baby! That’s right, they do.
Which brings us to Mississippi State. We wrote several weeks ago to beware of the Ole Miss Rebels. That was not because the Rebels had more talent, but because Arkansas had the potential to look ahead to Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Arkansas rolled up the Rebels, securing a victory well into the second quarter.
But Mississippi State poses a different problem. The game is being played in Starkville, a desolate town filled with gas stations, stoplights and dirt. It would be one thing if after the game you could go and have a nice meal or enjoy a cold beer in a bar with some character, but you can’t. The city resembles Larry McMurtry’s Anarene, Texas, in his novel “The Last Picture Show.” It’s a town where nothing changes. It’s residents simply refer to the University as “State.”
When you walk into the stadium the memories of lost games, NCAA violations and Fred Smoot reign down over you like a lava shower; to be there is painful. The cowbell, a poor man’s trumpet, rattles your eardrum to the point of making you dizzy. State fans ring it as if it has magical powers – somehow these collective cow bells will stop the fumbles and the interceptions and the losing. Somehow they will resurrect the State teams that history forgot.
But for all the jokes one can write about this beleaguered football program, the Razorbacks have had some difficulty in Starkville. In 1998, after the heartbreaking loss to the Volunteers, Arkansas, without its kicker, lost to Mississippi State on a last-second field goal, ending all hope for an SEC West title. In 2000, the Hogs beat State by a touchdown (State was ranked 13th at the time) in overtime. In 2002, the Razorbacks’ margin of victory was again only a touchdown, as the Hogs held on after gaining a big early lead. And in 2004, the Hogs won only by a field goal, the deciding play being the return of a blocked State field goal by Pierre Brown for touchdown.
On Saturday, the Hogs venture back to Starkville, again with an SEC West championship in their sights.
The Razorbacks have climbed to No. 7 in the BCS, four spots up from last week. No team since the beginning of the BCS has come from lower than 7 to play for a BCS title. So Arkansas, historically, is still alive.
When you look at the situation mathematically, it’s hard to not get caught up in the possibilities. Could Arkansas really play for a BCS title?
The short answer is yes. The longer is yes, if the following happens:
1) Arkansas wins out.
2) USC loses to Cal.
3) USC beats Notre Dame.
4) Ohio State or Michigan beats the other comfortably.
(We don’t believe that Rutgers will stay ranked ahead of the Razorbacks for much longer, so we didn’t contemplate the Scarlet Knights in this scenario, but it won’t hurt to pull against them just for good measure.)
Obviously, the Razorbacks can only control what they do on the field. A national championship opportunity may come, or it may not. But as long as Arkansas keeps winning, anything’s possible.
JR and Henry are a couple of sports guys who blog a column here on Mondays and Thursdays.