State of the Hogs: Bama Week

Alabama is coming to town for Arkansas' SEC opener. publisher thinks we'll know how the Hogs measure up in the SEC West after this weekend.

I don't see any Beat ‘Bama signs. I don't see any Beat ‘Bama T-shirts. They may be everywhere and I just have tunnel vision and am missing them.

But this is a big game. Bigger than Texas. It's huge.

I've been saying this for about two months now, that the Alabama game is the swing game for Arkansas this season.

A victory over Alabama will give Arkansas a chance at most of its goals. A loss may put the Hogs behind an eight ball that will be tough to overcome.

Look at what awaits these Hogs after Alabama. They hit the road for three of their next four games, and the home game is against Georgia, possibly the most talented team in the Southeastern Conference.

I don't like to offer a forecast of doom and gloom, but a loss to Alabama this week might be the start of a losing streak. No, I don't like Arkansas' chances in that stretch if it enters at 2-2.

But if these young Hogs get to 3-1, they can most likely survive that stretch to somehow finish with a winning record and earn a bowl game.

How good is ‘Bama? We don't know for sure. The Tide is trying to figure that out, too. With quarterback Brodie Croyle out, it's anyone's guess whether Alabama can be an SEC contender in Mike Shula's second year as coach.

My guess is that Alabama is more than solid. If it gets just decent production at quarterback Saturday, an even game is on tap.

I just hope Arkansas fans understand the importance of this game. I hope they bring they can provide a daytime atmosphere that's something close to the magical atmosphere that existed two weeks ago when the Longhorns came to town.

I always thought Texas was Arkansas' measuring stick in the old days of the Southwest Conference. Since the Hogs had the ‘Horns on the ropes this season, do we know enough to say they will be SEC West contenders this season?

I don't think I know enough about Texas to feel comfortable saying that. I'm not sure Texas could contend in the SEC West. Maybe it could, but I just haven't seen enough of the ‘Horns this year to know for sure.

I thought ‘Bama would become Arkansas' measuring stick when it moved to the SEC. It was for a few brief seasons. I can still remember Arkansas' first SEC home game. Alabama thumped the Hogs, 38-11, in Little Rock early in the 1992 season.

I remember that game well. It was over almost as soon as it started. Arkansas started at its own 20 after the opening kickoff. After losing 10 yards in three snaps, it punted from its own 10 with ‘Bama returning 21 yards to the Hogs' 33. Derrick Lassic ran it straight up the gut on the next play for a touchdown.

I can remember thinking, "Welcome to the SEC, Hogs." The official SEC opener happened the week before when Arkansas won at South Carolina. It didn't really count to me. The Gamecocks were first-year SEC members, too.

That was vintage Alabama that the Hogs saw Sept. 19, 1992. That was a national championship team.

Of course, things have changed with the NCAA investigation at Alabama and a revolving door in the head coaching seat. You'll still see good SEC talent, but the depth isn't there like it was in the early ‘90s at ‘Bama.

What you will see is a tough, physical Alabama team with good team speed. Arkansas better be prepared for an all-day sucker come Saturday. I remember what Tracy Rocker, the Arkansas defensive line coach, told me before last year's Alabama game. If anyone should know about Alabama, it is Rocker, an Auburn graduate.

"I played a lot of Alabama teams and everyone of them brought it for four quarters," Rocker said. "We better be prepared for four quarters."

I reminded Rocker of that statement after last year's double overtime victory at Tuscaloosa.

"I was wrong," Rocker said. "Took a little longer, didn't it?"

I think we'll know more about this Arkansas team after this weekend. Alabama might be the true measuring stick for the SEC West this year. That might be Auburn or LSU. But Alabama is still Alabama and good enough to be Arkansas' swing game this season.

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