Our SEC key stretch series today focuses on the Arkansas Razorbacks.
Key stretch: at Alabama (Sept. 24), vs. Texas A&M (Oct. 1), Auburn (Oct. 8)
Breakdown: The Hogs face six teams that were ranked in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll, including a pair of top-10 teams. It just so happens that both of those top-10 matchups come in consecutive weeks, and both are away from home. Arkansas plays at No. 2-ranked Alabama the fourth week of the season and then travels to Arlington, Texas, the next week to take on No. 8-ranked Texas A&M. The third leg of the grueling stretch is a home date with defending national champion Auburn. It's the only game the Hogs will play at home over a five-game spree that starts with the Alabama game on Sept. 24 and concludes with the Vanderbilt game on Oct. 29. The Hogs feel like they have the team to compete for a national championship this season. Doing that requires winning big games away from home. They'll get a chance to prove they're up to the task against both the Crimson Tide and Aggies a week apart.
Prediction: Arkansas had Alabama on the ropes last season in Fayetteville, but couldn't deliver the knockout blow. Part of the reason the Hogs couldn't finish the job was because they were unable to protect their lead by running the football. That could be a problem again this season, especially now that Knile Davis is out. Arkansas has been looking forward to getting another shot at Alabama ever since that bitter 24-20 loss at Razorback Stadium last season. But taking down the Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be a tall order. My sense is that Arkansas will lose to Alabama, but rebound to win the next two and go 2-1 in one of the toughest stretches any SEC team will face this season. The good news for the Hogs is that they get a bye after those three games and should be fresh for the stretch run. If they are indeed 5-1 heading into that bye, that means they would still have plenty to play for the second half of the season. The Western Division title wouldn't be out of reach, and neither would a second straight BCS bowl appearance.