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Arkansas Razorbacks 2016 football preview, part II

The second chapter in the 2016 Razorback Football Trilogy is an October that starts with a presumed breather in Little Rock.



The second chapter in the 2016 Razorback Football Trilogy is an October that starts with a presumed breather in Little Rock (though we know, based on occurrences at War Memorial in 2012 and 2015 that no assumptions are safe), followed by a merciless gauntlet that, at the very least, keeps the team homebound for three straight weeks. We projected the Hogs to take charge in September and roll through four games, including a sweep of two formidable games in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, to an undefeated start that puts them in the rankings. (Read parts I and III.)

Alcorn State in Little Rock, Oct. 1: The ongoing effort to marginalize War Memorial Stadium means that the Hogs draw the Braves of the SWAC. The good start by the team means that this throwaway game will be well attended but it will also be a shade stiffer than your typical lower-division foe. Alcorn State goes wide-open and athletic, with the original "Air McNair" at the helm; head coach Fred, the late Steve's older brother, has taken the reins as head coach and promises to employ a downfield passing game that could challenge the Hogs' secondary at times.

Arkansas, however, fears the fallout of yet another uninspired game in the capital city, and turns up the pressure on the Braves' backfield. A school-record nine sacks result, three coming from Tevin Beanum, and the Hogs cruise to 5-0 with a balanced offensive approach that allows backup quarterback Rafe Peavey a long-awaited shot to play extended minutes. Hogs 44, Braves 17.

Alabama in Fayetteville, Oct. 8: I've toyed with using this space to project a break in Nick Saban's absolute dominance of Arkansas since his tenure in Tuscaloosa began, and clearly it did not work. Arkansas has played commendably well under Bret Bielema against the Tide the past two seasons, but still, the losing streak is double-digits and the albatross gains weight every year.

The thing is, Bama looks stout again, of course, because their defensive line now offers a brand of pressure and athleticism that was lacking a few years prior. On the other side, despite again having to groom a quarterback (Cooper Bateman seems the likely choice), the skill players remain abundant, led by receiver Calvin Ridley.

The Hogs are fired up on a gorgeous night on the Hill, primed to close the games they couldn't against the Tide in 2014-15. But again, self-inflicted wounds creep in: a huge fourth-quarter turnover on a muffed punt return, and a bad snap on a field goal attempt leading to a major loss of yardage, allow Bama to break a third-quarter tie with two late TDs. Crimson Tide 30, Hogs 22.

Ole Miss in Fayetteville, Oct. 15: There is no rest for the weary in the SEC, and after another agonizing one against the power brokers, the Hogs draw the Rebels, who are predictably chafed after dropping two games in a row to Arkansas in disparate ways. The 30-0 whitewashing the Razorbacks put on the Rebs in 2014 was a thing of beauty wrought through ugly conditions; the epic overtime battle last year in Oxford culminated with one miracle (fourth-and-25) essentially snuffing out another (an SEC West crown for Ole Miss).

The Rebels are mad, but they're also less equipped to channel that anger. LaQuon Treadwell did untold damage to the Hogs' defensive backs last fall while Laremy Tunsil fended off pursuers of quarterback Chad Kelly ably, allowing Kelly to have a monster game scrambling out of trouble. Treadwell and Tunsil went to the NFL, with the latter stirring up some trouble for the Rebels long term in the process, and Kelly's a little careless with the football at times. This is one of those times.

Despite the Hogs' own struggles offensively in this one, Kelly fires three bad interceptions, two going back for scores by Dre Greenlaw and D.J. Dean. The second half becomes a grind-it-out affair for the Hogs, and as usual they control the clock masterfully behind Devwah Whaley's 131-yard, two-touchdown opus on the ground. Hogs 38, Rebels 27. 

Auburn in Auburn, Oct. 22: With the Hogs soaring at 6-1, 2-1, Auburn isn't quite the threat it once presented, and again is too cushiony on defense to do much good against a Razorback line that is really starting to find its unity. Behind a massive effort from Dan Skipper and Conway's own Colton Jackson, the Hogs have their way with the Tigers' front and bull their way to over 350 yards rushing. Whaley and Kody Walker both hit the 100-yard mark.

Meanwhile, Gus Malzahn's offense is more potent this fall, but still ravaged by inconsistencies and personnel uncertainties. Due to the recent dismissal of presumptive starting tailback Jovon Robinson, the Tigers' committee approach in the backfield fails considerably to make a dent in an invigorated Hog front. The Auburn passing attack wounds the Hogs a bit with three scores and 300-plus yards, but in the end, Arkansas gets another win over the Tigers and Bielema's 7-1, 3-1 start is a full two games ahead of his philosophical nemesis Malzahn's. Auburn's own in-house woes—personnel-wise and other—continue to be on display. The Tigers throw well, but the run game is stuffed as Bielema vanquishes his philosophical nemesis Malzahn again. Hogs 34, Tigers 21.

The Hogs get a bye week to close out the month, and head to November on the fringes of the Top 10, looking for another signature road win and a final triumph at home to cement their bowl position.

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