College football has a gift for teams defying expectations—both good and bad. On the good side, a team can be a relative unknown in the form of being a fringe top-25 or unranked team. Then through the sudden rise of a new superstar player (see: Cam Newton), that team can ascend to the top and win a championship. On the bad side, each season always provides at least a couple of notable programs falling from grace and completely underwhelming their school’s expectations (see: Notre Dame the last decade). When turnover occurs every year at every program, radical results are bound to occur. Saturday, both sides of the coin will meet at Kyle Field.
The primary headline this week has been Arkansas’ early season collapse from Top-10 SEC Championship contender to front-runners on the “New Head Coaches” sweepstakes. No storm can be more perfect than the one that’s stampeded through Fayetteville. Beginning with the saga that was the Bobby Petrino scandal followed by multiple injuries and the roller coaster ride that’s been John L. Smith. It was only a month ago that the Razorbacks stood behind LSU and Alabama for SEC title contenders; now just becoming bowl eligible feels like a lofty goal.
For Texas A&M, an opportunity presents itself going into SEC play to not only be competitive but to seriously make a mark in the nation’s top conference. After coming within one possession away from beating the Florida Gators—a team now ranked #11—and thrashing two inferior opponents in SMU and SCSU, the Aggies have formed into heavy favorites for their next three opponents, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Louisiana Tech. With the defense being a pleasant surprise and a possible superstar in the making in Johnny Manziel, A&M’s progress looks quite ahead of schedule. But looking ahead is the exact opposite of what the Aggies want to do.
Despite collapses or hopeful outlooks, the fact of the matter is Texas A&M still looks for its first victory over Arkansas since the Southwest Conference days. The fact of the matter is most of the players on the Arkansas roster are undefeated against Texas A&M and look to keep that record unblemished. No matter where the records stands, the proverbial monkey lingers on A&M’s back to beat the Razorbacks for the first time.
In the last meeting between the two, the Aggies provided the perfect medicine to turn Arkansas’ season around and the Razorbacks provided a revelation to the flaws that filled A&M’s roster. Tyler Wilson made his breakout with over 500 yards of passing, finding holes in the secondary wider than the talent gap between NFL and replacement referees. With Wilson behind center, offense has not been Arkansas’ problem. They will provide a great litmus test for the progression of A&M’s defense.
Speaking of defense, will there be any? In the Razorbacks’ three losses, their defense has allowed an average of roughly 504 yards a game (ironically, the lowest total was against #1 Alabama). And they’ll come to Kyle to face an offense that’s averaged roughly 527 yards of offense in the last two weeks. One response may be that the Aggies have yet to succeed against an SEC defense. True, but Arkansas’ defense has yet to succeed against an FBS (formerly Division 1A) school.
Each team on Saturday can take a step. For A&M, it’s a chance to take a step up towards SEC legitimacy. For Arkansas, it’s a chance to take a step out of rock bottom. What may be the deciding factor is who wants to take the step more?