The specter of “NovemBERT” is upon us. This term describes the phenomenon of the resurgence of the Arkansas Razorbacks football team each November under head coach Bret Bielema. This really has only become a thing the last two seasons, as the 2013 version of the Hogs in Bielema’s first season lost all of their November games (and all of their SEC games). And while NovemBERT is a catchy nickname, the Razorbacks have not actually finished that month undefeated in either of the last two seasons.
But, nevertheless, the perception is that Arkansas has had a (very recent) tendency to get better as the year wears on. This means that defeating the Razorbacks will only get more difficult as the season progresses. And I would say that the evidence holds that this has been true of late. I remember some consternation among Gator fans, myself included, when I learned that Florida would be waiting until November to take their trip to Fayetteville this year.
The NovemBERT lore has its origins in the 2014 season, when a five-loss Razorbacks team, who had just lost on November 1st to then-No. 1 Mississippi State, shut out then-No. 20 LSU, 17-0. Arkansas followed up that performance by pitching another shutout, this time of then-No. 8 Mississippi 30-0, and thus the NovemBERT meme was born. But Arkansas would drop their next game, their final November contest, falling to eventual SEC East champion Missouri in Columbia. But the 6-6 Hogs, who really made their only two SEC wins count, defeated Texas easily in a bowl game, and earned themselves offseason hype as an improving squad.
The Razorbacks started 2015 ranked No. 18 in the AP poll. But after winning their opener against UTEP, they reeled off three straight losses. The Hogs steadily improved and had their characteristic late season surge. Arkansas won in Knoxville to start October and also beat Auburn in four overtimes. The only game they would lose that OctoBERT was against Alabama. And while I did mention at the outset of this post that Arkansas had not finished either of the last two Novembers undefeated, it is fair to note that they were so close to doing so in 2015. The Razorbacks defeated then-No. 19 Ole Miss in overtime (aided by a wild 4th and 25 conversion), then-No. 9 LSU in Baton Rouge, and their permanent cross-divisional rival Missouri. The only game that the Hogs dropped was a 51-50 shootout against Mississippi State. See how close? They were two points away from a true undefeated November.
Bringing things back to the boys in orange and blue, Florida had the opposite of November luck last season. The Gators finished the month 3-1, and clinched the SEC East – something they are in a position to do again - but Florida’s offense was well, kind of atrocious. The Gators needed a late field goal to stave off Vanderbilt at home 9-7, went to overtime against Florida Atlantic, and scored only a safety against Florida State at home.
This season, the Gators enter the penultimate month of the year with their toughest run of games ahead of them. Florida travels to both of its SEC West opponents, to the aforementioned Razorbacks and to their cross-divisional rival LSU. Their permanent rivalry with the Tigers has never been considered much of one by fans from either side, but this year figures to be different as animosities over the rescheduling of the game loom large. (There is also a dumb cat skeleton nontroversy.) In between those contests, the Gators host possibly competent South Carolina, under former UF head coach Will Muschamp, on Senior Day. Florida closes its regular season by again traveling, this time to Tallahassee to face a talented but susceptible FSU team.
So, is Arkansas hitting their late season stride again this year? The Razorbacks are 5-3, with losses to three good teams in Texas A&M, Alabama, and Auburn. Arkansas spent last week on a bye. In their last outing, the Hogs were ran the hell over by Auburn. The 543 yards that Auburn rushed for against the Razorbacks marked a SEC conference-game regular season record, the most rushing yards in a game by any FBS team so far this season, and also set a school record for the most rushing yards allowed by Arkansas’ defense. The Hogs, known of late as a potent running team under Bielema, also had their worst day on the ground (25 yards, 0.8 ypc) since playing Alabama in 2011. As Andy noted, the Razorbacks have given up 30 or more points in four of their last five games, with the outlier being Alcorn State. Arkansas has also given up 150 or more rushing yards in each of those games.
Will Arkansas regroup and add more fuel to the NovemBERT fire by winning three or four of the games in their November slate? I’d give the Razorbacks a good chance of at least going 2-2, with wins over Mississippi State and Missouri to close out their regular season. (Their other two games are Florida, of course, and then LSU.) How do you think the Gators’ ground game will fare on Saturday? Will the Gators achieve some sort of redemption for their 2015 late season slump? Does the prospect of Arkansas’ November surge affect how you feel about Florida’s chances this weekend? Tell us in the comments!