FAYETTEVILLE — Even with the Arkansas Razorbacks’ record, 2-3, 0-2 SEC, vs. the No. 1 defending SEC champion Alabama Crimson Tide’s, 6-0, 3-0, the odds for tonight’s game were set by the Associated Press back in August.
Arkansas and Alabama play their ESPN televised SEC West game at 6:15 tonight at Alabama’s nearly always filled to 101,000 seat capacity Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
The AP Preseason All-SEC first-team included one Razorback, senior center Frank Ragnow, and zero Razorbacks on the Preseason All-SEC second team.
Alabama running back Bo Scarborough and linebacker Rashawn Evans were named Preseason All-SEC second team.
As for the Preseason All-SEC first team, the Tide proliferated like ants at a picnic.
Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts, receiver Calvin Ridley, offensive linemen Jonah Williams and Ross Pierschbacher, defensive linemen Da’Shawn Hand and Da’Ron Payne and Alabama safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Ronnie Harrison all adorned the AP’s Preseason All-SEC first team.
All have lived up to their billing through the first six games.
Coach Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide boasts a significant first-team talent advantage over coach Bret Bielema’s Razorbacks, which filters down to a major depth advantage.
Alabama’s depth is exemplified in outscoring its opposition in the second half: 14-0 against Florida State; 13-7, after leading Fresno State 28-3 at half; 17-13 against Colorado State after leading 24-10 at half; 28-0 over Vanderbilt after leading 21-0 at half; 31-0 over Ole Miss after leading 35-3 at half; and surprisingly outscored 16-10 by Texas A&M in the second half but prevailing after outscoring the Aggies 17-3 in the first half.
In contrast, Arkansas against its three Power 5 opponents in the second half: outscored 14-0 before losing 28-7 to TCU; 33-22 en route to a 50-43 overtime loss to Texas A&M at Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium; and 31-12 before losing 48-22 at South Carolina.
So depth in all phases rides heavily with the Tide.
Alabama’s defense traditionally forces running teams to pass.
Not good for an Arkansas team that wanted to run but couldn’t against a South Carolina team that’s OK but no Alabama.
And between sacks, harassing hits and interceptions, the Tide make even passing teams semi-succeeding pay a price. Alabama exacted a winning cost from Arkansas last year with three interceptions and three sacks and more quarterback hits upon just delivered passes than you could count, even as Arkansas’ Austin Allen threw for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns in last season’s 49-30 loss in Fayetteville.
Fifth-year senior quarterback Allen of Fayetteville has a bum shoulder, injured in last week’s loss to South Carolina. He will either play not fully recovered or yield to redshirt freshman backup Cole Kelley, who would be making his first career start.
Third-team Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey of Charleston could play, too — such is the Tide’s potential to inflict damage physical and mental on quarterbacks.
The Tide feasts on turnovers, securing 13 in six games, 9 on interceptions and 4 on fumble recoveries.
Offensively, Alabama has committed one turnover in six games to Arkansas committing eight turnovers in five games.
Nothing adds up on any level for an Arkansas victory but the Razorbacks somehow must muster faith they have a scenario to prevail.
They vow they are and will, inspired, they say, and not intimidated playing the nation’s No. 1 team that has beaten Arkansas for 10 consecutive seasons.
“I think we all know we haven’t put our best product own the field yet and and we all know our best is yet to come,” Arkansas senior nose guard Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado said. “We are optimistic if we all go out and do our jobs the best we can we are going to have a really good chance.”
They must do their jobs better than ever, Jackson knows, yet without trying to do more than what’s assigned.
“I’m just going to make sure I give it all I’ve got,” Jackson said. “Stay disciplined and not try and be Superman. Just stay in gap and try to knock that center back and keep the reads clean for the linebackers. Facing No. 1, it’s a chance for us to put ourselves on the map and make up for some ground that we didn’t get the early part of the season.”
That would cover more than some ground. It would be the 2017 ultimate pipe dream come true.