The Razorbacks’ 2009 squad seems to be divided roughly along the lines of Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. The offense, like West Germany, is a land of ample resources and careful governance. The defense, like East Germany, is a stark, sere blighted place where joyless workers yearn to escape to the other, happier side.
-- Cecil Hurt, Tuscaloosa News, Sept. 21, 2009.
For many seasons now, an assessment of the Alabama Crimson Tide football season's prospects has been the results of the Arkansas game writ large. This is not to ascribe some oracular value to the Razorback game itself, which can be diagnosed down to its core principles: in many years the Hogs are Alabama’s first conference opponent and for most of those years past they were coached by Houston Nutt.
Nutt, an enigmatic charismatic if ever there was one, has taken his road show to Oxford, where he’s dancing to the same tune from his Fayetteville honeymoon period, a heartfelt number that starts with poetry but ends with death threats (the joke remains that Clint Stoerner was voted the MVP for Tennessee’s championship season).
The point being that a Nutt-coached team is just as wildly capable of pulling a miracle as laying an egg (a point reinforced last night in Columbia), so how well an opponent handles the unexpected within the game provides a good measure for how it may perform the rest of the season.
Or at least it used to. Now in the second year of Bobby Petrino’s overhaul, Arkansas is half-way remodeled into a championship contending team and is fully formed into a Louisville clone, meaning that, as a measurement tool, the Razorback game has sacrificed its reliability and perhaps its applicability.
Any measurement comes down to comparison to a standard. And, therefore, all measurement tools, quantitative or qualitative, must exhibit consistent properties of reliability, consistent results after repeated comparisons, and applicability, verifiable connection to the matter of comparison.
For example, a yardstick contains both needed properties for the comparison of linear distance, but were one to attempt measuring velocity with one, its applicability, not its reliability (consistent in a fixed three feet), is nil.
And thus we have the new-look Arkansas Razorbacks, with their Orestes of a quarterback, their equally mountain-toppling offensive totals, and damn near no defense. The Razorback fanbase, those bipolar romantics all of them, swooned like a lucky slot jockey watching the scoreboard light up against Georgia--on both ends. If you seek a predictor of future conference success, you’d be hard pressed to find an SEC team that is less of an SEC team than Arkansas.
But perhaps the time has finally come--or should I say, returned--to Alabama that its team no longer needs to look to the opposition for measurement, that its known properties are visible and active to even the casual observer. Comparison is separate from assessment, and this Alabama team--resourceful, swift, brutal--may be the most SEC team in the SEC.
Everything’s different, but it sure feels like old times.