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Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

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In last Saturday’s 38-10 dismantling of Georgia, Alabama once again proved it’s not to be underestimated. Two weeks after suffering a six-point home loss to Ole Miss, Alabama turned in a dominating performance reminiscent of the 2008 “Blackout” game to put the Crimson Tide back in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt. 

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Arkansas snagged its second win of the season last week, eking out a 24-20 victory over Tennessee in Knoxville. The win snapped a three-game losing skid by the Razorbacks in a disappointing start to a season that began with much optimism. All hope is not lost, however. The Hogs still remain very much in contention in the SEC West and a win Saturday would give them a one-game advantage over the Tide in the division.  

Both teams have met 25 times since 1962 and Alabama leads the series in wins. The Crimson Tide escaped Fayetteville with a one-point victory in 2014 and currently own an eight-game win streak.

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Arkansas at Alabama

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)

TV Channel: ESPN

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Spread: Alabama -12.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Arkansas QB Brandon Allen

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has quietly crafted an impressive early-season body of work. Widely regarding as one of the SEC’s premiere quarterbacks entering the season, the third-year trigger man has been a bright spot on a team that struggled in September. He scorched the North Texas defense for 308 yards and four touchdowns in the season opener and shelled Toledo for 412 yards one week later. He currently ranks second in the SEC in passing yards — behind Ole Miss’s Chad Kelly — with 1,360 and has tossed eight touchdowns against three interceptions. His 9.65 yards per attempt tops all SEC passers and ranks sixth in the nation. Tide defensive backs have struggled against high-powered pass offenses and they’re certain to get a test from Allen. The position group held him to 246 yards and a touchdown in 2014 and forced a game-sealing interception with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter. Allen leads all current SEC quarterbacks in career starts with 30.

2. Alabama’s Defensive Line

Arkansas’s rushing attack suffered a hit when it lost returning 1,000-yard rusher Jonathan Williams to an injury he sustained in an August scrimmage. Luckily for the Razorbacks, depth at the position is not a problem, as Williams shared the backfield with Alex Collins, who also rushed for more than 1,000 (1,100) yards in 2014. Overshadowed this year by the play of LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Georgia’s Nick Chubb, Collins has rushed for 656 yards and six touchdowns in five games this season, placing him just below the LSU and Georgia running backs in the conference’s rushing totals. His 656 yards give him the eighth most in the nation and he’s rushed for more than 150 yards in three of the team’s games this year. Backup running back Rawleigh Williams III, a true freshman, turned in the first 100-yard rushing game of his career last week against Tennessee and combined with Collins’s 154 yards to produce Arkansas’s first conference game since 2007 where two rushers each gained 100 yards.  It’s no secret that the strength of ‘Bama’s defense is its line. Since 2005, it’s allowed just 16 100-yard performances to opposing rushers, its most recent occurring last week when Georgia running back Nick Chubb ran for 146 yards and a touchdown.

3. Arkansas Offensive Line

When it comes to offensive lines, Arkansas boasts perhaps one of the nation’s finest. Bret Bielema consistently recruited and groomed NFL-sized offensive linemen as the head coach at Wisconsin and he’s brought his run-heavy brand of football to Arkansas. The Razorbacks offensive line is the heaviest in the country, averaging 327 pounds. It’s the SEC’s most experienced, too, with all five linemen having totaled 3,411 snaps entering the season. Behind it, Arkansas's running backs have rushed for 1,020 yards and eight touchdowns this season. Alabama has held opposing rushers to 84 yards rushing per game this season and the matchup between the two units should be a good one. Alabama’s defensive line will face a difficult task in pressuring Allen as Arkansas’s offensive line has allowed two sacks in 2015. The Razorbacks lead the SEC in time of possession (35:44) and rank third nationally.

Final Analysis  

Both programs enter Saturday’s game with one conference loss and one will likely see its opportunity to capture the SEC crown vanish with defeat. When the two teams met last October, the Razorbacks kept a dynamic Crimson Tide offense in check by holding it to 227 yards and 14 points. But Arkansas’s offense struggled to find the end zone as the Hogs scored just 13 points. Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2006 and hasn't won in Tuscaloosa since 2003.  While many of the players in this year’s edition of the game have departed, the stakes remain the same for the Crimson Tide. Last year’s loss to Ole Miss galvanized the team and it went on to win the SEC and play in the College Football semifinal. Arkansas, not devoid of talent and size, will be a difficult out. But home field advantage and a deep roster should power the Crimson Tide past the Razorbacks. Look for Alabama quarterback Jake Coker, running back Derrick Henry and the Crimson Tide defense to turn in impressive performances Saturday night in Tuscaloosa.

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Prediction: Alabama 28, Arkansas 17 

— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.