MOUNT LAKE, Iowa (AP) After an early exit from the college football playoff, the Mountaineers could have an even bigger shot at reaching the next level.
It’s the first time in more than 30 years that the Mounties will be a finalist for the BCS, but a win against Arkansas this week could be an important step in that process.
After losing quarterback Deondre Francois, the only quarterback on the team that hasn’t had to sit out the first three games of the season, Arkansas is coming off a 34-14 victory over Iowa on Sunday, which gave it a 10-point edge heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.
It’s also tied with Texas for the conference’s most wins in a season.
The Mountaineer offense should have the firepower to go off and score a ton of points, which will help the defense get better with more weapons.
“It’s really important for our team to get back to a certain level,” defensive tackle Matt Miller said.
“If we can get back into that type of level, then we can be really good.”
Arkansas’ offense scored three touchdowns in the first quarter, but was unable to put together another drive in the second half.
It went 7 of 13 on third-down conversions and had three fumbles.
The Mountaineres offense could be more dangerous down the stretch, but it’ll be up to the defense to keep it close in the postseason.
The Razorbacks finished with the league’s most offensive touchdowns in 2017.
They averaged 27.5 points and 38.1 yards per game, which ranked third in the nation.
The team is trying to regain its footing after losing quarterback Dak Prescott to the NFL draft.
Prescott, a true freshman, is now the fourth quarterback taken in the 2019 NFL draft, joining LSU’s Deshaun Watson, Baylor’s Baker Mayfield and North Carolina State’s DeShone Kizer.
The 2017 season was the first in which the Razorbacks won three consecutive games and were ranked in the top three nationally in total offense.
Prescott and the team had the best offensive season of any team in the country, scoring 29,788 yards and scoring 17,977 rushing yards.
The offensive line, led by junior right tackle Jake Fisher, is expected to be among the best in the SEC.
The offense should also be able to improve when it faces a bigger, stronger opponent.
The Razorbacks were No. 1 in total defense and No. 2 in scoring defense in 2017, according to Football Outsiders.
Arkansas’ defense was ranked No. 6 in both categories.
Arkansas went 5 of 7 on third down Sunday, but the defense was more efficient and helped keep the game close.
The defense also allowed just 2.4 yards per carry in its two losses to Iowa, which was its fewest in three years.
The last time the Mountie defense allowed a rushing touchdown was the 2016 season opener against Arkansas, when the Razorback offense scored 20 points on the ground.
Arkansas had only eight turnovers and committed only seven penalties in 2017 — the fewest penalties of any offense in the league.
That was good enough to beat the Sooners and put the Razorbears in a tie for first place in the Big 12.
A win over the Cyclones in the season opener was the Mountains’ first since losing a 24-24 overtime battle at Kansas State on Dec. 8, 2015.
The game also marked the Mounts’ first bowl game since 2010, and was the third in four years between the two teams.
A win on Sunday will give Arkansas a first-round bye in 2019.