Questions still around after Sept 15


LITTLE ROCK — Parroted incessantly, the idea that Arkansas’ 2012 season will be crystal after Sept. 15 is flat wrong.

College football doesn’t work that way. Besides, the manual — the one with the season-long record extrapolated from the final score of a particular game — is apparently under lock and key. The guess is that the imaginary document reads something like this:

—Arkansas beats Alabama. A 12-0 record is in the bag. Next stop, Atlanta and the Southeastern Conference championship game.

—Alabama wins close, say 24-21. The Razorbacks scared the defending national champions to the point that Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State, South Carolina, LSU and all the rest will be quaking in their boots. At 11-1, Arkansas goes to a BCS bowl game.

—Alabama pulls away late and wins 31-21. OK, so the Razorbacks are still only third-best in the Western Division, but that means 10 wins and a good bowl game.

—Alabama wins big, completely outclassing Arkansas, 38-21. The season is over for the Razorbacks.

The results cited are raw scores, sans anything quirky that would shade an opinion, and the Razorbacks themselves are prime examples of how silly it is to believe that an entire season is predetermined in mid-September.

Last year, Arkansas trailed Alabama 31-7 in the third quarter and lost by 24. The Razorbacks couldn’t run the ball and only completed one pass of more than 19 yards. Subscribing to the formula, Arkansas should have gone in the tank. Instead, the Razorbacks won seven in a row and many thought they had an excellent chance to make it eight straight in Baton Rouge. The team that lost big to both Alabama and LSU wound up No. 5 in the nation.

The year before, Alabama closed fast to win in Fayetteville by three. Three weeks later, Auburn scored 65 against Arkansas and won by 22. Dead ahead were road games at nationally ranked South Carolina and Mississippi State and No. 6 LSU. Clearly, this team was Liberty Bowl-bound at best. Arkansas won out and played in its first BCS bowl game.

Odd stuff happens regularly in college football. A team loses early in the year, competes every week, and reaps the benefits. Last year, Alabama couldn’t kick a field goal and lost to LSU. Granted, the circumstances were unusual, but the same Alabama team won the national championship.

How about 2007 when a 7-4 Arkansas traveled to Baton Rouge and won in triple overtime. It was the second loss for then-No. 1 LSU and seemed to delete the Tigers from the BCS title chase. The next day, No. 2 Kansas lost to Missouri and Mizzou moved to No. 1. A week later, Missouri lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game, unbeaten West Virginia lost to unranked Pittsburgh, and LSU wound up as national champion, defeating an Ohio State team that lost in November.

In 2008, how many Florida fans wrote off the year when the Gators were embarrassed by Ole Miss in Gainesville in September? That January, Florida won the national championship, beating an Oklahoma team that lost to Texas by 10 in October.

Some questions percolating for months will still be around after Sept. 15. For instance, if the Crimson Tide pushes around the Arkansas defense, does that mean that other SEC foes will do the same? If Arkansas’ offense sputters, was it overrated? Absolutely not. Alabama’s offensive line is unmatched in the conference and the defense is always superb.

Whether Arkansas is 3-0 or 2-1 after Alabama, head coach John L. Smith will earn his $85,000 per month in the weeks to follow. At 3-0, he is responsible for keeping the players on an even keel. At 2-1, he is charged with getting them ready for nine more games, one week at a time.

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Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is hking@arkansasnews.com.