Alabama's SEC opener at Arkansas on Saturday was supposed to serve as one of college football's early marquee matchups this season.
Instead, the top-ranked Crimson Tide will face a Razorbacks team reeling from a stunning upset and the uncertain status of senior quarterback Tyler Wilson due to a head injury.
Alabama and Arkansas were both ranked in top 10 heading into last weekend and the Crimson Tide (2-0) handled Western Kentucky 35-0 in its tune-up for this game. Arkansas (1-1), though, couldn't do the same with its unheralded opponent - blowing a 21-point lead to Louisiana-Monroe in a 34-31 overtime loss.
The Razorbacks' drop from No. 8 to unranked was the second-largest in the history of the AP poll.
"We are playing a really good Arkansas team. Regardless of what happened last week, that doesn't change how we feel and how we respect their players and the team that they have," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "We still have to expect that we are going to get their very best performance. We need to have our very best performance."
It's unknown if the Crimson Tide's defense will have to face Wilson - who had to stay overnight in Little Rock after last Saturday's game - freshman Brandon Allen or junior Brandon Mitchell, who is normally a wide receiver.
Allen had 85 yards, a touchdown and an interception during a 6-for-20 performance Saturday. Wilson, meanwhile, threw for a pair of TDs and 196 yards in the first half, giving him 563 this season.
"He still has some symptoms, grogginess. He will not go to the field until the doctors okay him and he's symptom-free," coach John L. Smith said. "We're making preparations with Brandon and Brandon. If we get Tyler back, that would be icing on the cake."
The Razorbacks are expected to play without cornerback Tevin Mitchel, who was taken off on a stretcher Saturday with "an injury above the shoulders." His absence could prove a big blow to a secondary that allowed 412 passing yards last week.
The team's other cornerback, Kaelon Kelleybrew, is expected to play despite an arm injury. Kody Walker, who served as the fullback last weekend after Kiero Small's surgery, is likely done for the year due to a lower-leg injury.
"(We need to) wrap our arms around each other, come to work, get better and get ready for Alabama," Smith said.
A.J. McCarron will try to prevent an upset and take advantage of Arkansas' short-handed secondary while building off one of the best performances of his career. The junior matched a career high with four touchdown passes against Western Kentucky and completed 14 of 19 for 219 yards.
McCarron didn't throw an interception for a fifth straight game but was sacked a career-high six times.
"It is something that we have to get corrected. Our guys have to pay more attention to detail, focus on doing the little things right," Saban said.
McCarron was touched only twice by Arkansas defenders in last season's 38-14 home victory. He completed 15 of 20 passes for 200 yards and two TDs in Alabama's fifth consecutive win in the series.
Wilson, meanwhile, was held to 185 yards, a season low in his first team all-SEC campaign.
The Crimson Tide are expected to have cornerback Dee Milliner and nose guard Jesse Williams back for a defense that's already forced seven turnovers. Milliner sat out last week's game after straining a hip flexor and Williams suffered a concussion in practice.
Alabama, though, won't have running back Jalston Fowler, who is scheduled to undergo surgery on his left knee. Fowler rushed for 385 yards and four touchdowns during last year's BCS title-winning campaign and had 11 carries for 85 yards this year.
"It's going to be real tough," linebacker Nico Johnson said. "He's more like a back like Trent (Richardson). He can run, catch out of the backfield, and he's tough to tackle. So, it's going to be real tough, but we've got enough guys and depth for somebody to step in and fill his role."
This is Alabama's first game against an unranked Arkansas since a 35-7 rout Sept. 26, 2009. The Crimson Tide have won 32 straight against teams outside of the Top 25 dating back to a 21-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Nov. 17, 2007.
Arkansas, meanwhile, has won seven of its past 10 matchups with ranked teams and four of the last five.
- Tyler Wilson
- The Razorbacks