The long attrition of an SEC regular season comes to a conclusion for two teams on Saturday when Alabama heads west to take on Arkansas. The hard-fought season for the Razorbacks could wrap up in dramatic fashion if the improbable happens by handing the top-ranked Crimson Tide their first loss of the season while snapping a 13-game losing streak to their West divisional opponent.
After Alabama (9-0) squashed bitter rivals Auburn (42-13) and LSU (55-17) in back-to-back weekends, things are looking rosy in Tuscaloosa. The Tide are coming off a dominating performance in Baton Rouge, compiling 650 yards of total offense while the defense was stout in keeping LSU to 352 yards.
On the other sidelines, the Hogs (3-6) suffered their second consecutive defeat after surrendering a 14-point, fourth-quarter lead on the road against Missouri. The Tigers won 50-48 on a 32-yard field goal as time expired in a game that featured six lead changes and more than 1,200 yards of offense.
After giving up 653 yards of offense to Missouri, Arkansas must turn its attention to Alabama, a team that averages 548 yards and 49 points per game. The Crimson Tide have beaten the Razorbacks 13 straight times (although they vacated their 2007 victory) and only a handful of games during this streak have been close. The last three have been decided by an average of 36 points per game, which is roughly the spread for Saturday's meeting.
No. 1 Alabama at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 12 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Alabama -32
When Alabama Has the Ball
Make no mistake, this is the Mac Jones Show. The junior quarterback is fourth in the nation in passing yards (3,113) with an FBS-leading 210.8 quarterback rating. Jones has posted an impressive 27:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has two more TD passes in all but one game. That was against Tennessee and he still threw for 387 yards. Jones is among the leading contenders for the Heisman Trophy so don't be surprised if he throws enough early to add to his numbers before getting a quick hook with the SEC Championship Game against Florida looming next weekend.
Balancing out the Crimson Tide attack is one of the nation's best tailbacks, Najee Harris. Harris is fourth in the nation in rushing yards (1,038) and leads the country with 20 touchdowns. Jones' favorite target is wide receiver DeVonta Smith, who leads FBS in receiving yards (1,305) and shares the top spot with 15 touchdown catches on 80 total receptions (second nationally).
Since Arkansas defeated Tennessee at home on Nov. 7, the defense has been hobbled and depleted due to COVID-19 protocols. Facing a running game that produces 187.2 yards per game is a tough enough task but the Hogs might have to do it without the nation's top tackler, linebacker Grant Morgan (knee). Arkansas also might be without cornerback Montaric Brown as well. Without their full depth chart, the Razorbacks' defense has been exploited during their three-game losing streak. Arkansas currently ranks 11th in the SEC at 452.7 yards per game allowed. Alabama's offense averages nearly 100 yards more (548.3) per contest.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Which quarterback will get the start against Alabama is still up in the air. If Feleipe Franks returns, he'll put his 17:4 TD-to-INT ratio up against the Crimson Tide's defense. If redshirt freshman KJ Jefferson gets the ball for a second consecutive game, expect some growing pains. Jefferson kept Arkansas in the game against Missouri, throwing for 274 yards with three scores without a pick, but he only completed 54.5 percent of his passes. Franks gives Arkansas a steadier hand in the pocket with his 68 percent completion rate.
One of the pleasant surprises of the year for Arkansas has been the play of running back Trelon Smith. Smith's size (5-9, 185) makes him more suited for a scatback role, but with starter Rakeem Boyd injured for much of the season before opting out, Smith has assumed a larger role. He's averaging 106 rushing yards with five total touchdowns over the last three games. Sophomore wide receiver Treylon Burks is another young playmaker that has emerged this season. He is third in the SEC in receiving yards (804) with seven touchdowns among his 49 receptions.
There is not a flaw in Alabama's defense statistically speaking. The Crimson Tide are among the best in the nation keeping the opponent's scoreboard dim at 18.3 points per game. It will be hard for the Hogs to find holes up front to run through but they might be able to move the chains by way of the passing game, especially if Franks is back under center.
Alabama's four-year run to the national championship game was busted in 2019 thanks to LSU. The Crimson Tide looks the part of their 2017 team, the last trophy-raising campaign for head coach Nick Saban. The longer Arkansas can keep within a three-score game, the longer Mac Jones, Najee Harris, and DeVonta Smith pad their stats.
How much fight do the Razorbacks have left? Not nearly enough to prevent Bama from registering a 14th straight win in this series.
Prediction: Alabama 56, Arkansas 24
Podcast: CFB Rankings, Coaching Changes and Week 15 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.