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Arkansas Razorbacks 2018 football preview, part 4

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HEAD HOG: Chad Morris
  • HEAD HOG: Chad Morris

You haven't been misreading my last three weeks' worth of possibly fever-dream-induced projections: This Arkansas football program, supposedly in transition, will take full advantage of lowered expectations and a somewhat soft schedule to get itself well into bowl position before November comes around.

As we see it right now, Pearls has the Hogs going 0-for-2 against the state of Alabama but otherwise wiping out seven other opponents throughout September and October to get themselves in an off-chance fight for a New Year's Day (or similarly high-level) postseason game. The remaining final quarter of the 12-game slate, however, proves a little bit tough on the team after nine games in a nine-week span (the bye week for the Razorbacks this season falls on the first weekend of November after the Hogs' contest with Vanderbilt).

LSU on Nov. 10: There's a building belief among college football insiders that the real brains behind whatever operation LSU is conducting these days in Baton Rouge is the set belonging to defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, not the ones rattling around in head coach Ed Orgeron's cranium. I for one believe this is unfair: Orgeron is a guy who, goofy though he might be, has long been a savvy recruiter and short-term program fixer. But this will be his second full season in Death Valley, and he's got to take his team to Fayetteville for the Hogs' last home game right after (as usual) getting Bama the prior weekend. This arrangement has commonly led to the misguided belief that the Tigers will be bruised up and the Razorbacks will be fresh — in 2014-15, that mythology did play out in favor of the good guys, but then got thoroughly discarded in 2016-17, when the Tigers routed the Razorbacks. This one will revert back to the close games of old, and the Hogs will start poorly but nearly recover with a big second-half rally, only to fall short thanks to LSU's last-minute field goal. LSU 31, Arkansas 28.

At Mississippi State on Nov. 17: Arkansas went to Starkville in 2016 and delivered what was, effectively, the last sound game of the Bret Bielema era by rolling up tons of yards and points on the Bulldogs. It was sort of a fateful contest in retrospect: Rawleigh Williams had a career night, and then would find himself prematurely retired from the sport months later after a second serious neck injury, and the Hogs were sitting at 7-4 despite a topsy-turvy campaign, and a win over Mizzou would then cement another improved season for Bielema. We all know how it played out afterward, and we also know that there were obvious chinks in the armor when the Hogs last played in Starkville despite emerging victorious, namely that Bulldog quarterback Nick Fitzgerald put on a show. He'll do it again against a Hog team feeling defeated and depleted from the LSU loss, combining for five of his team's six scores in a surprisingly easy win. Mississippi State 42, Arkansas 19.

At Missouri on Nov. 23: The third group of Tigers the Hogs play each year, Missouri, is everyone's chic pick to disrupt the balance of power in the SEC East this year after they finished with a flourish (against a terrible schedule, mind you) in 2017. Drew Lock is still firing rockets downfield, and yet, Arkansas finally takes this game seriously and treats it like the contrived rivalry that it is with a healthy, responsive effort after two hard losses in a row. The Razorbacks' 300-plus team rushing yards establish ball control, keeping Lock frustrated, and the Hog defense rises to one last regular-season challenge with a vengeance. With McTelvin Agim recording three sacks and a fumble recovery in a game that may rate as his final magnum opus as a collegian — he's going to experience a resurgent junior year and make himself a draft prospect by this juncture — the Hogs close out 2018 by completely flipping their overall record from the year before and making Chad Morris a favorite for SEC Coach of the Year with a nice recovery of the Battle Line, uh, trophy thing. Arkansas 37, Missouri 27.

There you have it: We've got the Hogs having a promising 8-4, 4-4 season under their new boss, and we think the Texas A&M game will again be critical for long-term momentum. Come late November, as is custom, we'll be apologizing here for ever thinking that hopefully.

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