LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas’ schedule offers staunch believers in home-field advantage an opportunity to convert us skeptics.
Some have described Fayetteville games against Alabama on Oct. 8, Ole Miss on Oct. 15, Florida on Nov. 5, and LSU on Nov. 12 as the most favorable home schedule in the SEC. Tough road to hoe is a more accurate designation to those who believe good teams win on the road and that blocking and tackling, quarterback play, and turnovers influence the outcome far more than a loud crowd.
Since joining the SEC in 1992, Arkansas has never played four games in Fayetteville against teams ranked in the top 20 at kickoff, but any or all of the four mentioned above could be ranked when they travel to Northwest Arkansas. In the Coaches’ preseason poll, Alabama is No. 1, LSU No. 6, Ole Miss No. 12, and Florida No. 25. Stealing a line from the Republican presidential nominee, “some people are saying” Arkansas should be at least 2-2 against those foes because of the site.
To support the case for the magic of “Woo Pig Sooie,” Razorback fans can cite the 2014 season when Arkansas beat then-No. 20 LSU and No. 8 Ole Miss on consecutive weekends in Fayetteville. If that year is the benchmark, don’t forget Arkansas lost to No. 7 Alabama in Fayetteville and No. 18 Georgia in Little Rock the previous month.
Recent history is not encouraging. Including that 2-2 in ‘14, Arkansas is 19-31 in-state vs. ranked opponents., including 9-24 vs. Top 15 teams. On the four occasions Arkansas was also ranked, the Razorbacks are 2-2.
Week after week, home teams lose in front of big crowds.
At the end of the 2015 regular season, Clemson and Iowa were both 12-0, while Alabama, Oklahoma, Michigan State, Ohio State North Carolina and Houston were 11-1. Clemson and Iowa achieved perfection in front of 81,000 at South Carolina and almost 91,000 in Lincoln, Neb. The Crimson Tide’s loss was at home in front of 102,000 and Ohio State’s “L” was in Columbus with almost 109,000 in the stands.
Oklahoma and North Carolina lost on neutral fields; Michigan State lost by one at Nebraska and Houston lost by three at UConn.
SEC teams provide additional interesting stats. Florida, Tennessee, and Georgia — the top three teams in the East — lost a total of four games at home and four on the road although they played half as many games away from the friendly confines.
In the West, the four teams above .500 in conference play lost six at home, three of them by Arkansas, and five on the road. In addition, Mississippi State was 4-3 in Starkville and 4-1 away.
Games are decided by the participants. That said, here is a snapshot of how the Razorbacks can win each of the SEC games in Fayetteville:
— Alabama, only if the Crimson Tide helps and Arkansas has at least a two-turnover margin. The former is possible, particularly in light of a continuing battle at quarterback. Cooper Bateman was penciled in as the starter, but he has reportedly struggled this fall, opening the door for redshirt freshman Blake Barnett and freshman Jalen Hurts.
— Ole Miss, if the Arkansas secondary has improved as much under new coach Paul Rhoads as insiders claim. A pass rush with containment is also necessary. Otherwise, Chad Kelly will have a field day.
— Florida, if Arkansas can move the ball against a defense that is expected to be top-notch once again. Although the offense didn’t help much in 2015, the Gators were No. 8 in the country in total defense. The wild card is quarterback Luke Del Rio, a walk-on at Alabama who played in three games during his one season at Oregon State.
— LSU, if quarterback Brandon Harris has not improved and the offense is strictly about running back Leonard Fournette. Arkansas’ chances also go up if the Tigers have already lost at least two games.
Harry King is sports columnist for GateHouse Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org