- The Washington Times - Monday, November 13, 2006

Here come the Hogs.

Arkansas made a massive move into the BCS picture this week, capitalizing on losses by Louisville, Texas, Auburn and California and adding a second signature beatdown of its own to join the national championship chatter.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: Nobody deserves to share the field Jan. 8 with No. 1 Ohio State or No. 2 Michigan. If college football desperately has needed a playoff for decades to determine a true national champion, this year it doesn’t even need a postseason.

Is there anybody out there who doesn’t concede that the winner of this Saturday’s Shoedown deserves the national championship? Anybody? Frankly, you can’t even provoke a peep from perpetually delusional Gators or Pac-10 chip-toting Trojans on this count.

Each 11-0 behemoth has massacred all but one comer on its march to perfection. Fellow unbeaten Rutgers (9-0) has been less dominant against weaker competition. And each of the other four teams vying for a shot to play the Shoedown survivor has lost once and nearly lost three other times.

Barring a complete rout by one or the other this weekend, the Back Judge would prefer to see an Ohio State-Michigan rematch in the Nacho Bowl than see some tertiary team get a shot to steal a national title it never had a right to play for in the first place.

But because Fox isn’t likely to choose equity and a cancellation over drama and a semi-sham title game, at least the Back Judge can stump for the best candidate among a flawed bunch.

Right now that candidate is suddenly starting to look like Arkansas (9-1, 6-0 SEC). On a weekend when upsets and uninspiring performances (see Florida) were the norm, the Razorbacks reeled off their ninth consecutive victory by crushing Tennessee 31-14 in Fayetteville.

There is one massive blemish on Arkansas’ BCS bid: The Hogs were obliterated at home by USC in their opener (50-14). Now, there were some factors that partially explain that score: (1) It was the first college game for the Razorbacks’ quarterback/offensive coordinator duo of Mitch Mustain and Gus Malzahn; (2) supersoph tailback Darren McFadden was hobbled heading into the game and played sparingly; (3) senior quarterback Casey Dick, who has combined with Mustain this season to give the Hogs a nice duo, also missed the opener. Robert Johnson, now a distant third-stringer, threw two picks in a five-turnover debacle against the Trojans that led to the lopsided score.

That was nine wins ago (with considerably different personnel), but there’s no dismissing a 36-point loss. Until and unless USC loses, Arkansas is out. But if the Trojans stumble — and they have a nasty finish (Cal, Notre Dame, at UCLA) — the Razorbacks will control their own fate. Arkansas closes the regular season with LSU and the SEC West title on the line. And a victory over the Tigers would send the Hogs to Atlanta for a date with Florida, the only SEC team with a better current BCS profile.

If Arkansas drops LSU and Florida, and the Back Judge is betting on the Hogs to do just that given their current roll, watch out. Arkansas features the nation’s fourth-best rushing attack behind Heisman Trophy dark horse Darren McFadden (No. 7 in the nation at 121.9 yards a game), fellow sophomore Felix Jones and junior bruiser Peyton Hillis. Mustain and Dick have one of the SEC’s top receivers in 6-foot-6, 227-pound Marcus Monk (19.0 yards a catch). And Arkansas’ big-play defense features three of the league’s top eight in tackles for loss with defensive ends Jamaal Anderson (14 TFLs), Antwain Robinson (11) and linebacker Sam Olajubutu (nine).

Plus, the Razorbacks get downright nasty to defend when they drop McFadden into a shotgun set with Jones (7.78 yards a carry) beside him. In the last three games, the 6-2, 210-pound McFadden has passed for two scores and run for two others out of this set, making the formation considerably trans-Tim Tebow (sorry, Urban Meyer) and similar to West Virginia’s Pat White/Steve Slaton spread.

Current Heisman ladder: Troy Smith, Ray Rice, Darren McFadden and Steve Slaton.

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