State of the Hogs: Alabama

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I don't like to bet. I don't ever bet football. I don't bet much of anything. I don't even like to bet more than $1 in golf when I know it's a sure thing.

There have been times I've felt like I was getting phone calls from bettors on Arkansas football. I was uneasy as they picked my brain. Once, I was chastised the next week for providing "poor info" that "caused" a lost bet. I quit taking that call.

I'm the wrong guy to ask too much about an Arkansas football game. I know plenty about the Razorbacks, sometimes too much. I know all of the warts, the reasons why the Hogs should do poorly from week to week.

I also know all of the good things and about the spirit inside a team and staff. There is plenty of that with this year's Arkansas team. They've worked hard and are schooled in great detail for the start of SEC play. These Hogs may have been through the most intense nine months of any Arkansas team ever. They are getting great coaching in specific detail. All of that will catch fire sometime this season, if they stay healthy.

What I don't know is much about the other teams. I don't spend a lot of time chasing down the intimate details of the opponent each week. I have only limited info on Alabama.

Apparently, there are plenty in Las Vegas who know the good, bad and ugly on both teams. There are about as many Web sites that will give you betting odds as there will be people in the stands of Saturday's Alabama-Arkansas football game. I'm amazed at how they can all come up with about the same betting spread.

For this week, it's Arkansas plus 9.5 points. I saw it at 10 on a few sites earlier this week. Whether or not you bet or not, it's worthy to know that spread. It's amazing how many times the score will fall within a point one way or another of that betting line. I'm not suggesting anything other than the fact that those oddsmakers are good.

I understand betting lines. After the initial line has been set, the number moves based on the way bets are placed. A lot of money comes in on Arkansas at 9.5 and it will quickly fall to 9 and keep falling until money starts coming in on Alabama. But the oddsmakers are good enough that the number usually doesn't change much. They've been doing it too long.

No one really knows how this Arkansas team is going to play the rest of the season. I was amazed at the way they played in the fourth quarter the first two weeks after such lethargic starts in each game. I was even more amazed that the Hogs won at all against Louisiana-Monroe with seven key mistakes in the kicking game. No team should overcome more than two of those serious goofs.

But those are the exact reasons I think the Hogs have a real shot at Alabama. This will probably be the week the defense gets a few turnovers. I expect the kicking game to improve since the only logical direction is up. I think the defensive front will have more depth and that's just what you need in the SEC. Jerell Norton will help the secondary and the return game. De'Anthony Curtis is full speed and Michael Smith is in better shape.

I also like the coaching matchup in how the Arkansas offense has been trained to attack the Alabama blitzes. This is the kind of defense -- heavy with safety blitzes -- that the Bobby Petrino system was built to beat. If you can beat pressure, big plays are there to be made. I think quarterback Casey Dick is prepared for this kind of defensive scheme and will play well.

Those are the reasons I picked the Hogs this week at HawgsIllustrated.com, the only sportswriter to go for an upset.

I'm swayed by the look in the eyes of these Arkansas players. If they believe, then so do I. It'll be Arkansas, 31-30, on a fun day at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

On paper, Alabama looks like the best team. They are one year further along in the same kind of installation of completely new schemes as what Bobby Petrino is doing at Arkansas. However, Alabama won last year in year one of that system and I think Arkansas can do the same this time around. Just don't bet the house.





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