The College Quickie: SEC West Sleeper

I’d be lying if I said I were an Arkansas Razorbacks fan, but as an objective observer of college football it’s easy to see the Razorbacks are the SEC West’s most interesting team in 2015. Their several near misses in 2014 and a lopsided 31-7 victory over Texas in the Texas Bowl give them the momentum they’ll need in arguably the toughest division in college football.

It’s easy to remember that I used to make fun of head coach Bret Bielema, but I had my mea culpa moment last season after they beat LSU on November 15. Well, the secret is out about the Razorbacks and faith is restored in a team that once had John L. Smith as their head coach.

What’s the 2015 outlook for the team? Positive. Vegas has them winning about 8.5 games, and if you’re an average dude like me, you know that you can’t win .5 games, so I’ll say eight and keep it moving.

Their schedule is not easy by any means, but the toughest stretch for the Razorbacks are the four games between September 26 and October 24. Home versus Texas A&M, away for Tennessee and Alabama, and finally home after a bye week versus Auburn. I’m not discounting their final four against Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State or Missouri, but if the earlier stretch is a disaster then the latter stretch is almost meaningless.

[Podcast: Campus Pressbox #12: Allegiance Therapy with Botica, Wilson and Bowman]

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Yes, I know three of the final four are versus division opponents. Win early and carry momentum and swagger to the last part of the season.

The key to Arkansas this season is quarterback Brandon Allen who will be starting his third season. I’m not the X’s and O’s guy, but this kid can pass, and as long as he’s passing to his team, he should be able to manage most games.

The ability of Arkansas’ defense to stop the run will be significantly important as well. Nearly every opponent on the 2015 Razorback schedule can run the ball really well, and despite the off-season defensive losses, the Razorback defense has to be good. Every play.

All this said, what’s the reality of Arkansas playing the true spoiler in the West and advancing to Atlanta?

Slim, but not none. So yes, there is hope.

I think the biggest hurdle is it’s defense. Replacing three solid starters won’t be easy at all. I won’t use the cheap out of blaming injuries, but they’re real and not to be ignored. Auburn and Ole Miss are also projected to win 8.5 games, and the Crimson Tide is projected to win the conference with an over/under of 9.5 games.

I’m not in agreement with Bleacher Reports Barrett Sallee that Arkansas will mirror the 2014 Ole Miss team that started hot and finished less than stellar. I do think Arkansas survives the September and October stretch I mentioned before by going 3-1 losing only to Alabama (sorry Bird).

Ultimately, I see Arkansas losing to Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU (Death Valley at night; don’t be stupid) and Missouri. Coin flip for the fifth loss between Tennessee and Mississippi State.