Tusk to Tail: The season’s second half … ignore the score, tailgate on!

In the first part of our tailgater’s preview, Tusk to Tail spanned more than 5,500 miles in six weeks to follow the Hogs. We predicted that the Razorbacks burst out of the gates with a 4-0 start, but now we find our gridiron heroes in the middle of a four-game stretch against Top 10 competition. It seems likely that they lose the first two against Texas A&M and at Florida. Read below to see what we expect from the season’s Back Nine.

Razorbacks vs. South Carolina (Oct. 12 – Fayetteville)
Unless Arkansas was able to upset at least one of the ranked opponents in previous weeks, this game seems destined for that dreadful 11 a.m. time slot. No matter. The revelers come out in droves this gorgeous fall morning, perhaps for a chance to see South Carolina Defensive End Jadeveon Clowney, widely expected to be the first pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Besides the usual breakfast fare, several trays of Gamecock chicken are gobbled up at the tailgate.

South Carolina is the only Eastern Division opponent the Hogs have played every season since joining the SEC, and Arkansas has a 13-8 advantage over the Gamecocks. But conference expansion and schedule changes dictate that this is the last year of the so-called rivalry, as South Carolina will be replaced by Missouri as our permanent cross-division opponent beginning in 2014.

I suspect that attempting to contain Clowney allows the rest of the Carolina defense to disrupt the Razorback offense, and Arkansas may struggle to put many points on the board outside of Zach Hocker field goals. But the Hogs have a formidable defensive line as well, and it would not be a surprise to see Chris Smith, Byran Jones, Robert Thomas, and Trey Flowers make an impact. The Gamecocks win, but not in dominating fashion.

Razorbacks at Alabama (Oct. 19)
Is there ever a good time to play the two-time defending champions at their place? If there is, I’m sure that the fourth consecutive week against Top 10 competition is not that time. Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban rarely allows his teams to run up the score, but the Crimson Tide should dominate every phase of this game. It could get ugly.

Tusk to Tail still manages to have a good time, spending the night in Tuscaloosa for the first time ever. It is usually difficult for visitors to secure rooms in this little college town, but our crack team of tailgate planners made the reservations far enough in advance.

A trip to the Rendez-Vous for ribs in Memphis is guaranteed, but another early kickoff prohibits the gang from enjoying too much of the nightlife. We enjoy a low-key morning of tailgating on Alabama’s intramural fields.

Bye Week (Oct. 26)
The Razorbacks’ hot 4-0 start was followed by a stretch of four consecutive Top 10 teams that should beat Arkansas as they continue developing into the type of physical team Coach Bielema desires. Luckily, the Alabama game was followed by a week off, allowing the Hogs to lick their wounds while Tusk to Tail gets reacquainted with family and ties up loose ends following eight weeks on the road.

I personally guarantee that Arkansas will not lose this weekend.

Razorbacks vs. Auburn (Nov. 2 – Fayetteville)
This one is going to be fun. Auburn’s head coach Gus Malzahn has been the offensive coordinator at Arkansas and the head coach at Arkansas State. He literally wrote the book on the no-huddle spread offense, helping lead the Tigers to the 2011 BCS Championship as their offensive coordinator. But he has never been a head coach in the SEC.

Bielema is not a fan of the hurry-up no-huddle approach, preferring “normal American football” that focuses on defense and a strong running game. Both coaches took a few verbal jabs at one another during the SEC Media Days in July.

How will this one turn out? I have no idea, but I can’t wait to find out. With any luck, the drama surrounding the game will help secure an evening kickoff, leading to a raucous stadium after a day of tailgating. A good homefield advantage may be needed for Arkansas to win.

Razorbacks at Ole Miss (Nov. 9)
Speaking of raucous, this road trip has a chance to go absolutely gonzo. Tusk to Tail has rented a 29-passenger Party Bus, complete with driver, for the trip to Oxford. It does not matter what time the game starts. We’re coming to your town. We’ll help you party down.

It’s tough to win on the road in the SEC. Arkansas has the talent to compete with the Rebels, but I’m not quite bold enough to predict a Hog’s win. Details about the game will most likely be a little hazy the following morning anyway, so let’s just move on, shall we?

Bye Week (Nov. 16)
What a great time for a week off. Is it normal to have a 7-day hangover?

Razorbacks vs. Mississippi State (Nov. 23 – Little Rock)
The Grove at Ole Miss is a tailgating Mecca, but I still prefer the way we do things in my hometown. Chandeliers and sterling silver are replaced with box wine and mud tires, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tusk to Tail warms up the golf course with hot chili and strong cocktails, while the Hogs hold serve in Little Rock with another impressive win.

Razorbacks at LSU (Nov. 29)
In addition to playing South Carolina every year, fans could always count on Arkansas playing LSU on Thanksgiving weekend. Sadly, that tradition is going the way of the leather football helmet. This will be the last time that the Hogs and Tigers close the season with the “Battle for the Boot” trophy.

Arkansas has given LSU fits over the years, beating some very good Tiger teams at key times. Assuming the Razorbacks continue to improve throughout the season, this last Thanksgiving tilt could swing in our favor, and Tusk to Tail will be down in Baton Rouge to enjoy it.

Assuming Arkansas has at least six wins at season’s end, a bowl bid is imminent. How does Tusk to Tail celebrate a season of steady improvement over the course of more than 9,000 miles?

Pack your bags for beautiful Shreveport, Louisiana! Or maybe it will be Memphis. We’ll cross that bridge at season’s end.

It’s going to be a wild trip, so buckle up and enjoy the ride with Tusk to Tail. It’s game week!