I'm as starry-eyed as the next person. I sometimes think an SEC championship is within reach. In my weaker moments, I start imagining that the Hogs might even put together a run at the national title. But if you think all that hope isn't glazed with apprehension, then tell me why I had my first football dream of the season last night. They usually start up around mid-August, when the excitement is no longer bearable, but you'll have to forgive my unconscious mind for jumping the suspiciously shaped gun.
Funny thing: I wasn't even dreaming about the Razorbacks. Well, not specifically, though everything in the dream was viscerally addressing my anxieties. I dreamt that South Carolina (the toughest team on the back end of our schedule — yeah, I said it LSU fans) was playing Alabama (the toughest team on our schedule, period). In slumberland, this game immediately preceded our collision course with the defending national champs. Everything about the dream was a little off, in silly little ways that would be boring to recount. The game was close, but Alabama won.
Nobody wants Alabama to win, but nobody wants to play an Alabama team that is coming off a loss. Nick Saban would literally execute his starters for back-to-back losing efforts. He has a saying: "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, I'll chop off your head and feed it to the second team."
My mind is preoccupied with the Crimson Tide for good reason. It's a key game in any scenario, and a win could spell a trip to the SEC championship or a chance at a major bowl. Unless Leo DiCaprio can bust into Nick Saban's dreams and implant a flinching mechanism, the Coach of Steel will prove as adaptive as ever to a fully-functional Petrino offense.
Don't think the Tide have to count on Mark Ingram and Greg McElroy to repeat the quality of their 2009 campaigns. Any Saban defense, especially one filled top-to-bottom with high-end recruits, will challenge even the most efficient passing offense. Nobody brings a secondary up to speed like Saban. And don't forget that fearsome Bama linebacker D'onta Hightower has a score to settle, having been robbed of playing in a championship season by an injury incurred during last year's Arkansas-Alabama game.
How about that other dream team? South Carolina wasn't only there to get beat. The Gamecocks have an equal opportunity to knock the wind out of us. We may lose different games, but none are positioned to color our season with the same sickly, irrevocable palette.
On the road immediately after homecoming, the Gamecocks will present us with one of the more experienced teams in the conference. Ellis Johnson's defense ranked third in the conference behind Florida and Alabama in his first year as DC. They may not be able to replace a talent like Eric Norwood, but they return seven starters who are all going to try.
I feel certain we'll play 13 games this year, but these two stand out from my perspective as capable of defining the season as a whole. It's easy for me to say how excited I am about this team's potential, but if you want to know what keeps me up at night, look no further than these two pivotal games.
A Boy Named Sooie will return weekly later next month. Follow him throughout the week at ArkansasExpats.com.