That doesn't mean I can't do the weekly top 10, a look at the most important keys to the game. I will promise that it won't have one of the usual keys, play of Tyler Wilson. The senior captain appears to be out for this game, the one he looked forward to the most over the last 10 months.
Arkansas is not going to announce a decision on Wilson, out with an injury "above the shoulders." It's gamesmanship on the part of the coaches to hold back that kind of information. I wasn't surprised when John L. Smith released a statement Friday morning that there would be no statements or updates on Wilson before the kickoff.
But I'll be stunned if Wilson plays. "Above the shoulders" can mean a lot of things, but in this case it's a concussion. When he wasn't cleared for practice this week, I took that as a pretty good sign that he wasn't going to play against Alabama. And nothing has changed my mind during the week.
The sports books quickly made it a three touchdown betting line in Alabama's favor. Based on what I've seen the last two weeks from the Arkansas defense, I'm not surprised. Wilson means so much to this team, but even if he plays, he can't help the defense, other than to play keep away with the ball.
I will start with the Arkansas defensive line. It's going against the best offensive line in the country, led by senior center Barrett Jones. If you want to watch a key matchup, watch Jones against Arkansas nose tackles Byran Jones and Alfred Davis.
And your eyes will probably be close to another good matchup, Arkansas' DeQuinta Jones or Robert Thomas, against the Alabama guards, Chance Warmack or Anthony Steen. Like Byran Jones and Davis, DeQuinta Jones and Thomas will rotate about every three plays.
Both John L. Smith, the Arkansas head coach, and defensive coordinator Paul Haynes talked about "gap control" defense as the key this week. The Hogs will have to control those inside gaps if they are to have any chance at slowing down the Alabama rushing attack.
1. Gap Control
I prefer whipping the other side to gap control, but almost no one in football plays it any other way now. There are few Leroy Selmons out there who can overmatch the offensive line since holding is pretty much legal in the trenches except when beaten on a pass rush. Generally, holding is a grab from behind or a trip, not wrapping up a jersey in two hands when you have a man in front of you.
So it comes down to gap control. That means playing the correct shade in every gap. The holes occur when two in the defensive front go in the opposite direction. A gap is left open, and a linebacker gets a gap just like a linemen. A mistake by either creates a massive hole and looks like someone got whipped when it's two defenders going the opposite direction in the middle.
"This week, it's about keeping their heads in the right gap, playing the right alignment and assignment," Arkansas coach John L. Smith said. "You have to do that against Alabama. When you make a mistake like that, it's where they get the big plays."
2. Fixing Mistakes
Can the Hogs fix some of the mistakes on defense? That will be the big key on whether or not gap control works. Will the defensive front -- and that includes the linebackers -- have their eyes in the right place and take the right gaps? Can the defense make improvement? Will the secondary be able to handle a more than adequate Alabama passing attack? They spent last week chasing a mobile quarterback, but this week it's about going toe to toe with a big, nasty line with powerful backs. And Alabama can throw, too.
Thomas said there are reasons to think it can. It's about execution.
"We did some little things wrong last week," he said. "We saw that on film and they were easy to fix. You have to be lined up right and you have to play your gap. I think it was more a matter of small things than big things last week and we saw that on film. We got that fixed and are ready to go."
Thomas said the defensive line wants it to be on them this week. They welcome the challenge of a fine offensive line. He still thinks the defensive front is the strength of the team.
"No doubt, it's us," he said. "We are still the strength. We just have to go out and play our game. We do that, it'll be no problem."
Thomas said the stakes don't change even with the change in the rankings.
"This is a big game for us," he said. "There is still a lot at stake. This is about the SEC championship, the national championship. It's on us (in the defensive line) and we want it that way."
3. Run Game
Obviously, the Hogs have to slow down Alabama's running game. That's always a key against the Crimson Tide. They have shown an ability to run when everyone knows the run is coming and make yards. The Hogs have not faced a superior back the last two weeks. In fact, both Jacksonville State and ULM lost their top back early in the game, their big back.
But that's not as important as Arkansas finding a way to run the ball, or at least making Alabama think run. The Hogs can't allow Alabama to think pass every down. The Hogs haven't shown that they are good enough in pass protection to keep the quarterback safe in that situation.
So the Hogs must run the ball more and better than the first two weeks. Simply, they must remember the run in the second half to keep Alabama's defense from teeing off with the rush. That's as much on coaching as the players.
This has been an issue for both teams so far this season, including last week for Alabama against Western Kentucky. Alabama's tackles were beaten on one-on-one rush moves consistently in the game. Afterwards, WKU coaches said the Tide's tackles were "telling" the play by either stance or alignment.
That may be good news or bad news for Arkansas. It might have been better had WKU coaches kept that news to themselves. It would be a good bet that Alabama -- although denying that they could have tipped anything -- will double check the possibilities and try to fix that.
You'd rather be the one pointing out that after the game, not the team in front of you. So I'm not sure Arkansas can gain anything from that tip.
The Hogs have to worry more about their own protection. Tyler Wilson took four big hits against ULM. It was as close to the way he was treated last year at Tuscaloosa as anything I've seen. Alabama is replacing seven defensive starters, but it appears the Tide has put the pieces together in quick fashion.
This appears to be the biggest difference between the two teams. Alabama, under Nick Saban, have has the best tacklers that I've seen in college football. Seldom do they miss a tackle. They close and they finish.
That's what Arkansas doesn't do. The fundamentals have been mentioned by Haynes for the better part of 10 months now, but except for the Cotton Bowl, it hasn't been very good execution.
Arkansas will have to prove it can tackle early in the game or the Tide won't do anything other than run straight at the heart of the defense. Alabama has a sophisticated passing game with a better dropback game with A. J. McCarron than last year, but the Hogs must stop the run with solid tackling or they won't see it.
6. Quarterback Play
This was not going to be a huge mismatch in favor of Arkansas even with Wilson. McCarron has a national title ring and he earned it with great passing against LSU's secondary in the championship game. Wilson was the All-SEC quarterback last year, but McCarron is Alabama's go-to man. And he rarely gets touched, perhaps one of the reasons All-SEC voters gave the nod to Wilson last year. He made completed his passes while dodging blitzers.
A big key is how much of a gap there is between McCarron and the Arkansas quarterbacks, Brandon Allen and Brandon Mitchell. Can either one of the Brandons be effective against Alabama's blitzing, stunting defense?
Allen and Mitchell have to get some help. Allen got little help in the fourth quarter against ULM. There were dropped passes and missed blocks -- and little rushing game. The Arkansas quarterbacks have to be helped by a great game plan and effective line play, along with some big plays by their teammates. Paul Petrino said on Tuesday that they are both mobile, so they may have to make some plays with their feet.
I've been a fan of Mitchell's ability to scramble and make plays on the perimeter since the first time I saw him in a scrimmage. I've always wondered what he'd do in the open field in a game. Perhaps this is the week we find that out.
7. Tight Ends
There are two great ones in this game. Arkansas has Chris Gragg. Alabama has Michael Williams.
The Tide has used two tight ends a lot, with one lining up often as an H-back. But injuries put this under question this week. Will the Tide find a book end to go with Williams, or just use their big cast of wideouts a little more. Alabama has as many as seven solid wide receivers.
Alabama has been good at getting an advantage with scheme in the movement of their tight end and H-back. Arkansas did that well the last two years, but that didn't seem to happen as much with Wilson out of the game in the second half. And with Kiero Small and Kody Walker out as the top two fullbacks, what will the Hogs do when they need another big body in the backfield to block on short yardage or for protection? Could Grady Ollison, a converted tackle, help in that regard. He's built a lot like Alabama's Williams. But he's not a much decorated senior with knowledge of the whole package.
8. Kicking Game
Most remember the key to last year's Arkansas-Alabama game, Wilson taking a pounding from start to finish. But there was more to it than that. Alabama won the kicking game. There was a touchdown on a fake field goal and a punt return for a touchdown. Alabama would have won without either, but those were the plays that turned it into a rout.
Arkansas has to win the kicking game for there to be an upset. The Hogs have weapons. The kickers are proven. Both punter Dylan Breeding, an Alabama native, and placekicker Zach Hocker are old hands. Dennis Johnson has made plays in kickoff return. With wet weather and a heavy ball likely, there might not be as many kickoffs into the end zone so Johnson may get a chance. The Hogs also have a weapon in freshman punt returner Nate Holmes. Holmes will have more pressure than ever in this type of game. He'll have to be solid.
Alabama has a senior in Jeremy Shelley to handle placements. He was good and bad last year. The Hogs would love it if his skills (or lack of) come into play in this game.
This is the one that has to fall your way to pull an upset. There is no past history to suggest a team that loses when it's favored by 30 can come back the next week against No. 1 and defending national champs. It's probably never happened.
I can't find any Arkansas fans that have a lot of hope for that, but players are a lot more resilient than fans. The good news is that the Hogs want to play the game, even if fans are fearful. Players seem to look forward to the challenge.
An old coach told me there are some intangibles in play for this type situation. In fact, it was a coach with three national titles under his belt.
"I think Arkansas actually has a better chance this week after losing," Barry Switzer said. "I think it may actually help them. I promise you that the Arkansas players want to prove themselves and they will be excited to be playing Alabama. They aren't like fans. They aren't thinking about Louisiana-Monroe. They were quickly into the playbook and the schemes of Alabama. I think that's actually good."
There may not be many buying that theory. And Switzer also said he preferred the Alabama offense to the spread or a passing system. He said the passer is 90 percent of the offense and if he's not hot there's nothing to hang your hat on. He didn't address what's left when the All-SEC quarterback isn't in the game because of injury.
Well, he did. He said, "With Tyler Wilson, I'd give Arkansas a chance." It would stand to reason that means he wouldn't if Wilson wasn't around.
Wilson was the leader over the last rocky six months at Arkansas. If he is not to play, who will lead? Will it be a captain, or a coach?
10. Form (and rain)
What is form? It's what you are on a normal day, or a normal situation. What is form for these two teams right now? I thought form for Arkansas was considerably better than what I saw the first two weeks.
Simply, if Alabama plays at top level, the Tide looks like a big winner. But that doesn't always happen. No one plays to its capabilities every time. The Tide hasn't been in a true road environment yet. They are breaking in new defensive players. Those replacements have played well so far, but haven't played in an SEC road game yet.
But if Alabama gives Arkansas help, the Hogs -- if they make improvement -- have a chance. The Hogs have to play better, but Alabama was not at peak performance last week against Western Kentucky. The Tide was iffy in pass protection and needed Western Kentucky turnovers to help its offense.
In other words, what will be form for these two teams. Is Alabama as good as it was against Michigan? Is Arkansas as bad as it was against Louisiana-Monroe? What is form for the two teams? We've only seen a snapshot so far. Did Arkansas just play badly last week, or is this what can be expected for the season?
Was Arkansas just looking ahead to Alabama? I tend not to buy any of that. If it was week two, I might listen to that more.
Then there's the weather, with a good prediction of rain. It was bad in Fayetteville on Friday and there's more on the way. The Hogs might need a downpour with this Alabama team coming to town. But I still think it will come down to who controls the gaps.
Arkansas had more questions after the second week than answers. It's hard to expect form to return in a blink of an eye. There seemed to be more issues after the second week than problems fixed.
What is form for Paul Petrino as a playcaller? For Paul Haynes? Can John L. Smith step in with a key correction in his position as head coach? Is the team capable of mustering top effort for him this week when it did not happen in the first two weeks? What is form for Alonzo Highsmith and Tenarius Wright? Are they going to improve, or is the answer to plug in A. J. Turner and Otha Peters at linebacker?
Those are the questions that ache to be answered. And it's not good to be looking for answers with No. 1 coming to town.