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2022 Opponent Preview: Arkansas

Opening the SEC slate in Week 2 with an unusual opponent.

Western Kentucky v Arkansas Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Although it isn’t strange for the South Carolina Gamecocks to open their SEC slate as early as Week 2, that USC will travel to face the Arkansas Razorbacks is certainly unusual: the two squads, when they do play, usually face off much later in the year. This will be a test right off the bat for Shane Beamer’s crew, as the Hogs are surging under third-year coach Sam Pittman and looking to play spoiler in the always-challenging SEC West.

Last meeting: The last time the Gamecocks faced their one-time “permanent rivals,” South Carolina came away with a decisive 48-22 win in 2017, scoring a program-first three defensive touchdowns and otherwise battering what was a quickly fading Arkansas program under Bret Bielema. To say things have turned around in Fayetteville since then would be an understatement, but the Gamecocks currently own a three-game winning streak over the Razorbacks.

Last season: Under the tutelage of Pittman, and doing it largely in the shadows cast by SEC West heavyweights, Arkansas nonetheless broke out in 2021, racking up nine wins, finishing third in its division, and topping it all off with a victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl to finally get some attention from pundits. South Carolina’s knack for picking up rotating West opponents right in the middle of a program resurgence is alive and well.

Player to watch out for: While the defense is still a work in progress, the Arkansas rushing attack is firing on all cylinders. Quarterback KJ Jefferson led the Hogs with 664 rushing yards — also completing 67% of his passes and tossing 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions — and three other Razorbacks joined him with 500-plus-yard rushing efforts, which is enough to give Gamecock fans uncomfortable flashbacks to the Darren McFadden/Felix Jones/Peyton Hillis hydra of several years ago.

Prognosis: Life is always difficult in the rugged SEC West, and while Arkansas may take a step or two back in the win column as a result — I’ll commend the Razorbacks here for scheduling Cincinnati as one of their out-of-conference “cupcakes” — it should nonetheless be bowl eligible and continue making strides under Pittman.