Updated with the doings of upstart Tennessee and backsliding Florida, the previously espoused premise that Arkansas has a favorable SEC schedule still holds true.
In late November, SEC teams in The AP poll were No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Kentucky, No. 9 Texas A&M, and No. 24 Alabama and the Razorbacks’ play three of those only once, including Kentucky in Fayetteville. Arkansas’ only home and home is with A&M. A plus, indeed.
The third week in December, The AP Poll included No. 7 Kentucky, No. 8 Texas A&M, No. 21 Tennessee, and the sole meeting with the Vols is Saturday in Fayetteville — an even bigger positive for the Razorbacks than playing the Gators only in Gainesville. Although Florida has lost three of its last four, the Gators are still likely to contend for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Off to a solid start, Arkansas’ two losses underline the fact that even though freshman Daniel Gafford is the Razorback most likely to be in the NBA, solid scoring from either Daryl Macon or Jaylen Barford or both senior guards is a must to beat a quality opponent.
In losses to North Carolina and Houston, Macon was 5-of-21 from the field. Barford was 12-of-28, but the season-long 45 percent shooter from long range, made only 2-of-9 3s in those games. In contrast, Barford was 16-of-34, including 5-of-12 3s, and Macon was 11-of-25 in victories over quality opponents Oklahoma and Minnesota.
For the season, Barford is shooting almost 51 percent and Mason is at 44 percent.
A tired refrain, but winning begins with shooting well.
For instance, Oklahoma made half of its 40 field goal attempts, including 10-of-23 3s, while building a15-point halftime lead on its way to a 91-83 upset of then-No. 3 Wichita State on Dec. 16. In the 11-point loss to Arkansas in Portland, the Sooners connected on 8-of-29 3s.
In Tennessee’s first loss, the Vols made only 6-of-20 3s vs. No. 1 Villanova. Eight days later, Tennessee and North Carolina attempted the same number of shots, but the Tar Heels made four more than the Vols and won 78-73.
Sticking with the theme of looking ahead, how about a College Football Playoff prediction reflecting anticipation of the consternation that will ensue if a team from the supposedly offense-only Big 12 shoots down conventional wisdom that the SEC and ACC are superior to the other Power Five conferences.
Oklahoma beating Georgia would do just that.
Also part of endorsing the Sooners over the SEC champion is an appreciation for the competitiveness of Baker Mayfield, who walked on at Texas Tech and won the Heisman Trophy at OU.
Mayfield had such a consistently brilliant season — never completing less than 63 percent in a game and throwing three touchdown passes or more in 10 games — that the name at the top of my Heisman ballot was in place in November for the first time in years.
That said, his sideline antics at Kansas were distasteful, but KU players lit the fuse when they refused to shake hands prior to the coin toss.
Georgia’s freshman quarterback, Jake Fromm, had a solid year and he has more help than Mayfield at running back with Nick Chubb and Sony Michel gaining more than 2,100 yards between them and scoring 13 TDs each. And, Georgia’s defensive stats are far superior to those of the Sooners.
Nine times out of 10, the best defense and big-time running game is the choice. But, once in a while, faith in an individual wins out.
OKLAHOMA 35, GEORGIA 31.
Defensive coordinators around the country, including Arkansas’ pending hire, can use the Alabama-Clemson film to teach textbook tackling. Nobody does it better than the Crimson Tide and the Tigers.
Although the winner is favored to beat Oklahoma or Georgia, there are questions:
—Can Alabama’s Jalen Hurts complete a deep pass when needed?
—Can Clemson freshman Kelly Bryant handle the month-long build up?
The edge goes to Alabama’s quartet of running backs.
ALABAMA 27, CLEMSON 21
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org