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Arkansas Razorbacks 2016 football preview, part III

A bye week caps off October so that the team heads to November in a rather unusually ideal position: eyeballing an SEC West title if someone can get Bama out of the way.


Bret Bielema - BRIAN CHILSON
  • Brian Chilson
  • Bret Bielema

We've forecast the Arkansas Razorbacks to overcome two projected obstacles of note — a generally unseasoned offensive line and backfield and a rigorous early schedule — to triumphantly plunge into November with a 7-1 mark, the only loss coming to Alabama at home, but followed by a sweet pair of league victories against Ole Miss and Auburn. (Read parts I and II.) A bye week caps off October so that the team heads to November in a rather unusually ideal position: eyeballing an SEC West title if someone can get Bama out of the way.

We don't think the Hogs will be able to sustain that dream scenario to its terminus but we're still finding this team well positioned to continue the demonstrative improvements made by each of Bret Bielema's teams here.

Florida at Fayetteville, Nov. 5: The Gators were a surprise last fall when first-year coach Jim McElwain captained them all the way to Atlanta, but the offense went punchless once Will Grier was suspended. The promising quarterback eventually left the program and some defensive stalwarts also exited for professional riches.

Florida is therefore an enigma, and will likely mirror its seasonal curve from 2015 again: strong early against paltry competition, which buoyed the Gators to that division title, but then floundering late. There's still an unnerving lack of skill position depth at a program that was robust with it for years.

Arkansas is well rested and more than happy to treat the Gators like a homecoming piñata, especially considering that Florida remains the one program the Hogs haven't conquered as an SEC member. That long drought dies on a chilly early November day, with Austin Allen's two scoring passes to Jared Cornelius keying a breakaway second half. Hogs 33, Gators 17.

LSU at Fayetteville, Nov. 12: LSU is now fully cognizant of how badly the Hogs can wreck a season, sustaining back-to-back beatdowns while ranked against Razorback teams not even on the periphery of the Top 25. For a program that often lacks due motivation, the Tigers are annoyed and hostile on this night.

Leonard Fournette, stunted somewhat by the Hogs his first two tries, has a fine all-around game with three total TDs, but the key in this win for the Tigers is what always seems to be at the heart of an LSU win in this series: special teams. A blocked field goal return for a score, and a long punt return for Derrius Guice, gets the Bayou Bengals momentum in a game that more or less decides who ends up second in the division.

The Hogs aren't bad in this one, but playing from behind all night takes its toll in a wild affair. Tigers 37, Hogs 34.

Mississippi State at Starkville, Nov. 19: Whereas the Hogs have done a princely job against the allegedly superior Magnolia State school, the Bulldogs have quietly carved out four successive wins against the Hogs, and in this one, have designs on a fifth one that would put them into bowl eligibility a year after their best-ever quarterback, Dak Prescott, has moved on to Cowboy Country.

Arkansas's presumed struggles in Starkville end on this misty night, however. Allen rebounds from a sloppy and uneven game against LSU to play turnover-free, safe football, and Kody Walker uses the tough sledding to author his finest game ever with 134 yards and three scores. The defense overwhelms Dan Mullen's spread attack due to the slowed conditions. Hogs hit the 9-2 mark comfortably. Hogs 41, Bulldogs 18.

Missouri at Columbia, Nov. 25: Arkansas has a chance to hit 10 wins against a completely retooling Missouri program, which can't quite find its groove offensively still but plays well enough on the other side of the ball to be competitive.

In a manufactured rivalry, the game hits a level of hostility finally when a frustrating first half for the visitors ends with a slew of undisciplined penalties. The Hogs fall behind in an ugly game, 17-6, but the resourcefulness to reach the double-digit win mark is undeniable after halftime.

Bret Bielema gets a measure of redemption for a would-be victory at Faurot Field in 2014 that slipped away late. The Razorbacks storm back in the fourth quarter with Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley punching in close-range TDs, and Cole Hedlund does the ultimate honors with the first game-winning kick of his career, a 38-yarder with no time left. Hogs 23, Tigers 20.

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