I’m typing this as I listen to Hog calls on Bourbon Street being live streamed through EarthCam. In some 15 or so hours I’ll be getting ready to watch the Sugar Bowl, which is a nice match-up considering its Tuesday night time slot. I’m sure not many of my readers (all 3 of you, haha) are too big on football, so ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the idiot’s guide to the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl matchup between the 8th-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks and the 6th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes.
Arkansas enters the post-season as the 2nd best team in the SEC and a 10-2 record, Ohio State at 11-1 and tying for first in the Big Ten with Michigan State and Wisconsin. The Hogs and the Buckeyes have never played before. And while everybody knows about OSU’s 0-9 record against the SEC in bowl games, Arkansas has never beaten a Big Ten team in the post-season after 3 tries. This marks Arkansas’ first BCS appearance, but for Ohio State, as a powerhouse, playing outside of a BCS bowl game is almost inconceivable.
Coached by Bobby Petrino, considered an offensive mastermind, Arkansas boasts one of the best offenses in the country despite lack of media buzz regarding its climb to the top-10. 2 major losses to Alabama and Auburn in the first half kept them out of BCS talk, but Arkansas rattled off 6 straight wins soon after, including against #19 South Carolina, #21 Mississippi State, and #5 LSU.
The Hogs’ unquestioned leader is Ryan Mallett, the NFL-caliber campus legend who has broken countless program records in just 2 seasons. He’s surrounded by a supporting cast of 5 different players who have over 500 yards receiving: Greg Childs (injured), Joe Adams, Jarius Wright, Cobi Hamilton, and DJ Williams, all capable of having big games on any given day. On the ground is breakout star Knile Davis, who started out the season in a crowded backfield but piled up 800 rushing yards in the 2nd half of the season.
A look back a year ago and there would be nothing for me to write in this section. However, a faster and smarter group entered the season and wound up 33rd nationally in total defense. Anchored by defensive end Jake Bequette, this unit still has a lot to prove if it wants to be competitive against the upper echelon of college football (especially against a formidable OSU offensive line, a premier quarterback, and a top-20 rushing attack. Defensive coordinator Willy Robinson looks for his players to “hold the rope” if the team is struggling, so that they won’t fall apart or fall over the edge of the cliff.
Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes are almost legendary, perennially in top-10 talk during football season. Even though their record against the SEC is shameful, 2 of the most recent games were in the National Championship, and getting there is enough ammo for some smack talk. Their only loss in the season was to Wisconsin, who ended up being ranked #5 by the end of the season.
The biggest names in the line-up are Terrell Pryor and Boom Herron, who will undoubtedly spear-head the attack against a vulnerable Arkansas run-defense. Look for Pryor to deliver a Cam Newton-esque performance, beating blitzes with his scrambling ability if his respectable throwing game isn’t on. Expect Herron, a 1000-yard rusher, to pound out around 100 yards. In terms of passing, Dane Sanzenbacher and DeVier Posey will be the most likely targets for Pryor, who might throw for 200 yards and run for another 50.
Ohio State’s bread and butter, the Buckeye defense is at the top of nearly every defensive statistic across the board. This will be the immovable object to Arkansas’ unstoppable force. They allow just 13 points and 250 yards of total offense per game while maintaining a +14 turnover margin. One thing to keep in mind is that they’ve allowed just 7 touchdown passes and forcing 18 interceptions this season. Expect a lot of pass rushes by Cam Heyward to throw Mallett off his groove.
What’s At Stake
The Buckeyes need to prove that, despite a weak schedule and the recent media controversy, they deserve a spot in the top 5 and can tough it out against the best of college football. The Hogs want the nation to know that they are legitimate contenders in the BCS picture, and were serious with their pre-season goal of making it to the National Championship Game. This should be one heck of a game, each team with something to prove and one last shot to prove it. The one thing both teams can agree on: Whether scarlet or cardinal, God meant for us to bleed Red. As for me, Woo Pig!
So far this season, I’ve predicted the outcome of every Razorback game correctly, save one. I thought they would lose the South Carolina game, but an early injury of star running back Marcus Lattimore pretty much sealed the Gamecocks’ fate. Furthermore, both teams score about a touchdown or so more than what I predict. In a showdown between two monster quarterbacks, brilliant coaches, and unconventional mascots, most experts (and conventional wisdom) predict that Pryor’s versatility along with Ohio State’s defense will bee to much for the Hogs. Having said all this, I dreamed that Razorbacks beat the Buckeyes 24-20, so look for the final to be around Arkansas 31, Ohio State 28.