FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — It will be hard, but try to take the fan blinders off for a few minutes.
The Arkansas schedule is typically difficult because the Hogs play in the SEC West. This year they've thrown some interesting non-conference folks into the mix, too.
Taking the Razorbacks' season game by game in July is a waste of time.
Nobody knows for sure who's going to still be playing then with injuries, or whatever, plus taking out any kind of possible momentum or someone letting go of the rope. It happens.
Years ago coaches would break the season down into stretches. Quarters seem best. It's easy to see trends that way.
No, I'm not making predictions in July. Those seldom work out unless you're projecting one of the teams that's going to be in the College Football Playoff and, barring a stunning surprise, the Hogs won't be in that group.
Here's a look at the Hogs' football schedule, three games at a time:
One of the biggest keys to last season's 9-4 year was being undefeated in the first quarter of the season.
Sam Pittman's team will need to do the same this year.
Opening against the Bearcats will either be a huge challenge or a cakewalk, according to various projections.
No one seems willing to account for any middle ground there, which is about where the game will probably be.
Cincinnati lost a lot of players to the draft, but return an experienced offensive line and some transfers who could make things interesting.
A week later is South Carolina, which finished about as well as anybody in the country last year with first-year coach Shane Beamer. Second seasons have been pretty good for new coaches in the league lately, in case you haven't been paying attention.
At the end of the first quarter, Bobby Petrino comes back to town after flying through the handlebars and not being interested in any deals to keep coaching the Hogs.
That was a decade ago, but fans still remember and the guess is so will Petrino. It wouldn't be particularly surprising if Petrino's staff spends the summer planning this game which should be a Hogs' win, but might not please the coaches, players or fans after a tough fight.
Sitting in July looking at things, the Hogs will have to win all three of these opening games to set up a run to come close to last season.
That doesn't mean it will be easy, though.
Second Quarter Gets Interesting
The meat of the schedule kicks in Sept. 24 in AT&T Stadium against Texas A&M.
Both teams should be undefeated at that point. It could be a national television game in front of a packed stadium full of fans over-paying for soft drinks, popcorn, and parking.
A win over A&M is not an absolute requirement, but with Alabama coming to Razorback Stadium the next week, back-to-back losses could kill any momentum from a perfect start.
Winning both games would be huge and already-high expectations might go into orbit.
At least until the Hogs have to go to Starkville the next week. Historically, that has often not worked out very well.
It's hard to see the Hogs being 0-3 through this stretch, but it's more difficult to see 3-0. Anything is possible in July, though.
Completing the first half of the season 5-1 would be a solid start to the rest of the year and could set the stage for big things. A 4-2 mark might be a more likely outcome.
Third Quarter Could be Big Wins
Going to Provo, Utah, won't be an easy trip. If you were thinking this was a guaranteed win you haven't been paying attention.
Teams have been blown up unexpectedly by the Cougars for decades.
The Hogs won't be able to afford falling down out in the thin air of Utah and can't look ahead to the road trip the following week at Auburn.
Bryan Harsin's team is a mystery and figuring out a Tiger fan's position on Bryan Harsin is next to impossible because it changes frequently. Nobody really knows what they've got on The Plains this year.
Then Liberty comes to town with former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze, who has proven he can recruit and coach at the SEC level and Liberty is becoming a force to be dealt with at their level.
The Hogs have to win at least two games in this stretch and a sweep isn't out of the question, heading into the final quarter of the season somewhere between 6-3 and 8-1.
Below six wins and fans may start looking at basketball season.
Final Stretch More Question Than Answers
By this stretch every year in November, it's just by guess and by golly taking a stab in July at what might happen.
Unless you can project development, improvement, injuries or other horrific things, nobody has a clue what team will show up for anybody.
Everybody is tired, some people will be injured and out for the year plus somebody doesn't like their playing time and is already in the portal or preparing for an NFL draft they won't actually be included in the names called.
By this point, Bryan Kelly will have had most of a season to get squared away in the SEC. We'll know what the talent level is in LSU by then, too.
Ole Miss will have either developed a quarterback or Lane Kiffin will be getting ready for next season.
Missouri, will probably be Missouri again the Gus Malzahn Starter Kit for a head coach may or may not be on one of the hottest seats in the league by the day after Thanksgiving.
The Hogs will have to do (again) at least 2-1 in this stretch, although 1-2 is a possibility and they should be bowl eligible in any event.
There you have it, although really it's pretty simple: go 2-1 every quarter and you have a pretty good season.
Anything less causes problems.
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