If you looked at TU's schedule before the season, there's no question which matchup jumped off the page.
The preseason No. 10 Razorbacks won 11 games and defeated Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl just last season, and was expected to post similar results this year. But ever since that Jan. 6 bowl victory, 2012 has been one disaster after another for one of the proudest football programs in the country.
It started in the summer with then-coach Bobby Petrino's motorcycle incident. Petrino wrecked his bike while riding with former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell, injuring himself and revealing the adulterous relationship between the two. After an embarrassing couple of weeks, Petrino was fired and John L. Smith took over the reins.
All seemed to be going okay until the second week of the season, when Louisiana-Monroe stunned the college football world, beating the Razorbacks in Fayetteville 34-31 in overtime. That loss sent Arkansas into a downhill spiral that it still hasn't recovered from, going from preseason No. 10 to a 3-5 record.
The thought for Arkansas was that quarterback Tyler Wilson would contend for the Heisman and Knile Davis' return from injury would give the Razorbacks one of the strongest offenses in the country, but that's not how it's gone. Davis only has 340 yards and two touchdowns while Wilson has been forced to pick up the slack.
As far as Tulsa is concerned, this season is going about as well as it could. The Golden Hurricane has responded in strong form from its season-opening loss at Iowa State, winning seven games in a row and taking control of Conference USA. TU boasts one of the strongest rushing attacks in the country, using the three-headed monster approach with Ja'Terian Douglas, Trey Watts and Alex Singleton.
Despite this being a non-conference bout, there's plenty to play for. Arkansas likely needs this win to have any shot at a bowl game, while Tulsa could use a win over an SEC opponent to bolster its bowl resume.
Arkansas is a pretty atypical SEC program, relying on offensive explosiveness rather than defense and field position to win games. The Razorbacks finished No. 15 in the country in points per game last season with 36.8, an astonishing total for an SEC program. They also finished No. 13 in passing yards and 78th in rushing yards.
As I alluded to earlier, the Hogs' production has dropped this season. UA is down to 71st in points per game, 17th in passing and 103rd in rushing yards. Their only two FBS wins this season have come over Kentucky and Auburn who are a combined 2-15.
At first glance, it might look like Arkansas should struggle on the ground. Combine the disappointing Hog run game with Tulsa's run defense ranks No. 26 nationally against the run, but that's a little deceiving. A big reason for that has been TU's ferociousness in pursuit of the quarterback, leading the nation in both sacks (35) and sack yards (255) which count against the oppositions rushing totals.
With that said, the only way I really see TU stopping Arkansas from scoring is by getting pressure on Wilson. If they can cause some turnovers or even just some big losses via sacks, it can keep a still-strong Razorbacks offense on the sideline.
Regardless of what TU's defense does, the Hurricane isn't winning this game unless the offense brings its ‘A' game. Coming off an injury, Cody Green must do something he hasn't done consistently this season: protect the ball. If Green can make the throws the defense gives him, it should allow the high-powered Hurricane run game to blow through a subpar UA defense.
Make no mistake; this is a huge game for Tulsa. Sure, it has no impact on the conference race, but a win over an SEC program like Arkansas is not only fun for bragging rights, but should legitimize this Golden Hurricane squad to the national stage. Despite a 7-1 record, TU has only recently received any votes in the polls. It seems to me that voters are waiting to see how the Hurricane handles a stage like Fayetteville before fully believing. This game could be the difference between the opportunity to win-out and finish in the top 15, or win-out and sneak into the top 25.
Needless to say, I like Tulsa's chances a lot more today than I did coming into the season. In the same way Tulsa has found ways to win, Arkansas has found ways to lose. In addition to the excruciating loss to Monroe, the Hogs have blown 10-0 leads to both Rutgers and Ole Miss, each resulting in a home loss.
I'm going with the team that's been rolling over the team that's been rolled.
I'll take Tulsa, 31-30.