- Associated Press - Friday, October 10, 2014

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) - As Arkansas fell from the ranks of the Southeastern Conference’s elite in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal, its rock bottom - two years running - came against Alabama.

More than anything, the Razorbacks want to prove - after back-to-back 52-0 losses against Alabama - how far they’ve come under second-year coach Bret Bielema, and that they can be competitive with the SEC’s gold standard. The Razorbacks (3-2, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) host the No. 7 Crimson Tide (4-1, 1-1) on Saturday.

“As a team, we’re a night and day difference from where we were last year,” Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said. “I think our play has shown that at times this year … We’re such a much improved team than we were at any point last year.”

Allen knows well the frustrations of losing to the Crimson Tide, having started in each of the blowout losses. Two years ago marked the junior’s first career start, while he played last year with an injured shoulder - resulting in a combined 17-of-43 passing (40 percent) for 151 yards and four interceptions.

Arkansas has improved greatly this season compared to the team that was winless in the SEC a year ago, thanks in large part to a physical offensive line that has led the way for the league’s top rushing attack.

However, an overtime loss to Texas A&M; two weeks ago was the school’s 14th straight in conference play. It’s a streak that appears unlikely to end this weekend against an Alabama roster highly motivated after a shocking loss at Mississippi last week.

The Crimson Tide is in an unfamiliar position this week after the loss to the Rebels, sitting in fifth place in the vaunted SEC West. On Alabama’s side, though, against Arkansas is the fact the school hasn’t lost back-to-back SEC games since 2007 - Nick Saban’s first year as coach.

That was three national championships ago, though Saban clearly isn’t counting on any trophies to aid against the up-and-coming Razorbacks.

“This is going to be a very challenging game,” Saban said. “These guys are a very, very good football team and our team is going to have to play as well as we’ve played and continue to improve to be able to have success, especially on the road.”

Other factors to watch as Arkansas looks to end a seven-game losing streak to the Crimson Tide:

COOPER’S IMPACT: Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is off to the fastest start in SEC history with 52 catches through the first five games of the season. The junior is second in the country with an average of 149.2 yards receiving per game, and he is likely to pose a significant matchup problem for an Arkansas secondary that allows 263.8 yards passing per game.

RUSHING RAZORBACKS: Led by the backfield duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, Arkansas leads the SEC with an average of 316.6 yards rushing per game. Collins is second in the conference in rushing with an average of 124.2 yards per game, while Williams averages nearly 100 yards per game and leads the Razorbacks with eight touchdowns.

INJURED ALABAMA: The Crimson Tide will be without three key performers due to injuries on Saturday, including running back Kenyan Drake, linebacker Denzel Devall and center Ryan Kelly. Drake had 22 carries for 112 yards and four touchdowns this season before breaking his left leg against Ole Miss.

HANGOVER WATCH: Both Alabama and Arkansas are coming off disappointing losses and must overcome any potential emotional hangover. That’s likely easier for the Crimson Tide, which is accustomed to bouncing back and wild success under Saban. For the Razorbacks, Saturday could truly prove how far they’ve come under Bielema as they try to recover after losing a 14-point fourth-quarter lead against Texas A&M; two weeks ago.

CHAMPIONSHIP CELEBRATION: Arkansas will have plenty of championship experience in Razorback Stadium on Saturday, with members of the school’s 1964 team returning to be honored for the 50th anniversary of their national championship. Among those on the team were Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson. Alabama was crowned national champion by The Associated Press in 1964, but there was no vote in the AP poll following the bowl games. The Crimson Tide lost to Texas in the Orange Bowl, while the Razorbacks finished undefeated and were named champions by the Football Writers Association of America.

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