After hopefully executing in a home win against the Tennessee Volunteers, the Gamecocks will renew what has become something of a minor rivalry against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Although the two programs had never played each other since joining the SEC and are separated geographically by over 900 miles, the Gamecocks have been squaring off against the Hogs each year since 1992. The series has been fairly close, with the Hogs leading 11 games to our 7 and the games often being quite exciting. This year should hold to form, as both teams come into 2010 with high hopes that they could have one of their best years in recent memory.
The Hogs, in particular, are getting lots of love from the prognosticators. With Ryan Mallett and a slew of other talent returning to play in Bobby Petrino's high-flying offense, there's a good chance that this could be one of the most high-scoring teams in the country. That combined with a favorable schedule that sees the Hogs get some of their toughest Western Division opponents at home has the Arkansas faithful hoping for they can supplant Alabama as the West's representative in the SEC Championship Game. Some skeptics are wondering, though, if Arkansas is going to be this year's Ole Miss, an overhyped team that ends up being good but fails to compete for the conference crown.
Offense: You probably know the story about Arkansas's offense. You may even remember that they ran hog-wild over us late last fall. The Hogs are going into reputed offensive mind Petrino's third year, and they've improved each year under his tutelage. (Check this out for an informative but somewhat dated run-down on Petrino's "power-spread" philosophy; Petrino is expected to make use of the pistol this year to spice up his running game.) The Hogs also return most of their key players from a year ago, including Mallett, Greg Childs, and D.J. Williams. By all accounts, this should be one of the country's best offenses.
Defense: Defensively, Arkansas is a bit more of a question mark. The Hogs return seven starters, including some talented players on the front. However, the secondary was a huge liability last year and doesn't appear to be poised to do much better this year. (Many of you may remember that we were moving the ball with ease against these guys last year until whoever was calling plays apparently decided that going deep to Alshon Jeffery was the only play we were going to run.) Depth is also going to be a major issue here, as it has been for the last couple of seasons. Don't expect the Hogs to be great on this side of the ball.
Player Whose Name You Should Remember: Jerry Franklin, LB. Mallett is the obvious choice here, but since everyone knows who he is, I'm going with Franklin. Arkansas had a shaky defense last year, but when things were going well, Franklin was usually the cause. He led the team in tackles, had three INTs, and returned a fumble over 80 yards for a TD in the Hogs grudge match against former SWC rival Texas A & M. Although he lines up in the middle, isn't quite as big, and doesn't get in the backfield as often, Franklin is reminiscent of Eric Norwood in terms of his penchant for the big play.
What to Expect: In short, expect scoring. My general thoughts on these two teams is that Arkansas has a moderately better offense and we have a much better defense, and their great offense and shoddy defense should equal them both scoring and giving up plenty of points. I really thought that this was what was going to happen last year in Fayetteville, and it's what we seemed to be in for in the middle of the third quarter. At that point, the Hogs led 17-16 and we were driving. Then, disaster struck in the form of an under-thrown, intercepted long ball from Stephen Garcia to Jeffery. From there, Arkansas continued to move the ball and wear out our defense, and our offense lost its mojo due to some combination of Arkansas's defense nutting up and our offensive coaching staff calling one the worst halves of its career. This time, things will be different: the coaching staff seems ready to get its act together, we have plenty of experience on offense, and the game is in Columbia, where we've generally had success against the Hogs in recent years, at least when I haven't been at the game and Darren McFadden hasn't been playing. Look for another good 'Cocks performance here, but don't sell on the Hogs--they'll be good this year and may be motivated by being in the thick of a late-season divisional race.
Prediction: Narrow Carolina victory, with both teams scoring in the high 20s-mid 30s.