The last year has been a tumultuous ride for Hog Nation. From Bobby Petrino to John L. Smith to Bret Bielema, most fans are wondering one thing……how will Arkansas football look this year? I will hope to provide as clear an insight as possible, especially given the lack of predictability last season had. What should you expect?
Arkansas’ offense will be the most obvious change. Bielema has proven over the spring that the main strength of the Arkansas offense will be the offensive line. The amount of work that has been put into the trenches (on both sides) will be very prevalent throughout this football season. I am expecting an offense that is capable of managing the clock throughout the entire game. Bielema showed an offense that looked to move the ball consistently 3-4 yards a down. Watch out for JUCO transfer FB Patrick Arinze to make a major splash this season in the running game. He will look to join RB Johnathan Williams and FB Kiero Small in the backfield this season. Arinze holds his HS weightlifting record with a Squat of 685 lbs, inevitably leading all rushers in the Spring Scrimmage with 66 yards on 9 carries. Alex Collins is a name a lot of people like to talk about, but we will see how he is introduced into Bielema’s system soon enough. I expect great things out of him over the next few years.
Arkansas returns 7 starters on defense including DE Chris Smith (4th in SEC for sacks with 9.5 in 2012), Trey Flowers and Bryan Jones. Look for a major increase in output from the Arkansas secondary this season as every single major contributor returns minus Darius Winston. This bodes very well for a defense that gave up 285.8 yards per game through the air last season, especially given the coaching changes in the offseason. Look for the defensive line to be a major factor in the overall outcome of games this season as Bielema has shown his forte for controlling the trenches.
Once again, I am looking to provide a game-by-game breakdown for this season. After missing last season entirely (who would have imagined the effect Bobby Petrino had?), I am looking to get back on track with consistent predictions given we now have a consistent coach.
Louisiana-Lafayette (Aug 31st)
Louisiana has been picked to win the Sun Belt conference for the first time since 2005 as Coach Mark Hudspeth has turned the Ragin’ Cajuns into a force to be reckoned with. Mark Hudspeth took over as HC for the Ragin’ Cajuns after spending two seasons at Mississippi State as the WR coach. Before Hudspeth came on the scene, the Ragin’ Cajuns had won just 18 games from 2007-2010 and had only won 8+ games in one season since 1976. In Hudspeth’s first two season, he has already attained 9+ wins in both seasons after winning back-to-back bowl games for ULL for the first time in school history (they only have a total of 3 bowl appearances). Hudspeth’s philosophy is very similar to Bobby Petrino in that he loves to move the ball and score a ton of points (ULL led the Sun-Belt with 35.5 PPG in 2012).
Ragin’ Cajun QB Terrance Broadway and RB Alonzo Harris (881 Rushing Yds, 170 carries, 10 TDs) are the main offensive talent. Terrance Broadaway took over for injured New Orleans Bowl MVP Blaine Gautier in Game 4 last season and still broke the Ragin’ Cajuns record for Total Offense (3616 yards) and Completion % (65.4). This game should be a great challenge for Arkansas in learning where they stand early in the season. ULL is coming off a great season and has not lost many starters. Look for a close game until depth charts start to show.
Arkansas 34, ULL 24
Samford* (Sept 7th)
Arkansas will face the Samford Bulldogs in football for the first time in school history. Samford is a FCS team in the Southern conference that also holds infamous Appalachian State. Samford only has 51 wins total in the last decade, with no more than 7 wins in one season. During the same time, Samford has never beaten a BCS team and finally reached the triple digit mark in points last season against BCS teams (100-373). This game should be a walk in the park for Arkansas. Samford stands very little chance even without analyzing this game further.
Arkansas 38, Samford 3
Southern Miss (Sept 14th)
Arkansas will face Southern Miss in football for the first time in school history. The Golden Eagles are looking for new HC Todd Monken to take over for Arkansas’
former temporary Defensive Coordinator Ellis Johnson. Johnson left for South Carolina back in 2008 after only about a month on the job. Before last season (and Ellis’ only season as USM HC), the Golden Eagles held a streak of 18 consecutive winning seasons. This will be Tedd Monken’s first HC gig after becoming Oklahaoma State’s Offensive Coordinator for two years. Monken faces an uphill battle in his first season as the Golden Eagles lost most of their offensive power due to transfers in the offseason.
Southern Miss’ sole strength with be in its defense, which returns 9 starters. However, USM has a lot of work to do for a defense that was 108th in rush defense, 113th in scoring defense, and 113th in takeaways. 6’3″ 308 lb. DT Khyri Thorton will try to lead the defense after USM lost Jamie Collins to the NFL Draft. I expect the Nebraska Cornhuskers to give the Golden Eagles quite a beating the week before playing Arkansas. At the same time, I don’t see how Southern Miss can compete with Arkansas solely relying on defense. This should be a better challenge than Samford, but shouldn’t be close.
Arkansas 23, Southern Miss 6
@ Rutgers (Sept 21st)
Rutgers looks to be the Razorbacks first major challenge this season. The Scarlet Knights are looking for one last BCS run in the
Big East American Athletic Conference before becoming a Big 10 team in 2014. Rutgers ended up with a 9-4 record last season after lacking a consistent offensive attack from QB Gary Nova and 1000-yard rusher Jawan Jamison. On Offense, Gary Nova returns as he looks to lock on to WR Brandon Coleman. At 6’6″ 220 lbs, Coleman led all Rutger’s receivers with 718 yards on 43 receptions and a single-season school record 10 TDs. Watch out for RB Savon Huggins. Huggins only had 410 yards on 119 carries with only 2 TDs last season. A five-star out of high school, Huggins has drawn comparisons to alum Ray Rice and most believe this to be his break out season. With 4 returning starters on the offensive line, this dream could turn out to be true.
Defensively, Rutgers is looking to fill huge leadership roles after losing 7 starters in the offseason. Twins Jamal and Jamil Merrell will look to lead the Scarlet Knights defense this season. Rutgers will look to return to its rush defense that only gave up a total of 6 rushing TDs last season. This game is important for both Rutgers and Arkansas. Neither team returns much experience in key positions. Look for this game to be quite low in total points as both teams enjoy controlling the clock and relying on defense.
Arkansas 16, Rutgers 10
Texas A&M (Sept 28th)
Texas A&M is one of the favorites this season in the race for the BCS Championship game. Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel returns at QB to lead the Aggies this sseason. Manziel has proven to be in the spotlight both on and off the field this last year. However, this season could prove to be a defining year for the young QB. Manziel passed for 3706 yards on a 26 TD, 9 INT ratio. He also added 1410 rushing yards on 201 carries with 21 TDs. He held an astonishing 64% of A&M’s total TD output with 68% pass completion. He threw touchdowns of 75+ yards to 4 different receivers, while averaging at least 11.0 per reception for A&M’s top 8 receivers. This kid can flat out play. A&M’s top 3 RB outside of Manziel (Malena, Michael, and Williams) all average at least 4.7 yards per carry. This massive offensive stat output can only be explained by A&M’s massive offensive line in Luke Joeckel (#2 overall in 2013 NFL draft) and Jake Matthews. Matthews will look to lead his younger brother Mike and redshirt freshmen Germain Ifedi into their first starting roles for the Aggie Offensive Line.
On defense, A&M will turn to LB Steven Jenkins this season after losing Damontre Moore who led the Aggies in Tackles (85) and Sacks (12.5). Unfortunately, A&M is the only team to not have a player picked defensively for a preseason All-SEC team. The Aggies will need to improve on a defense that gave up an average of 390.2 yards per game and 5.22 yards per play. This game could turn out to be quite an interesting matchup depending on how fast A&M’s offensive line is able to mesh together and if the A&M defense improves. Arkansas’ main strength lies within their ability to maintain the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and may pose a threat to the Aggies throughout this game. Look for this game to hinge on Johnny Manziel’s performance.
Arkansas 20, Texas A&M 34
@Florida (Oct 5th)
Arkansas will play Florida after the Gators finished with double digit wins in 2012 for the first time in 3 years. However, Florida finished last season with an interesting loss to a Louisville team last season that may cast light on the Gators’ problems this upcoming season. Florida returns only 6 returning starters on offense (3 OL), with Jeff Driskel leading the charge as the Gator playcaller. Driskel combined for a total of 2054 yards (1646 passing/408 rushing and 47% of all Gator yardage) with 16 total TDs (12 passing/4 rushing and 45% of all Gator TDs). The Gators suffer a major loss in RB Mike Gillislee (1152 rushing yards on 244 carries or 4.7 YPC). However, look for RB Matt Jones to make a big splash in the running game this year while Kelvin Taylor (Fred Taylor’s son) looks to pick up any slack. Neither RB has much experience (Jones has a total of 52 carries in his career). Florida also loses all 3 of their top WRs, easily posing the biggest question mark for the Gator offense. The Gator defense will also have a long way to go from last year after losing 7 starters. Florida lost a lot of defensive line support in Shariff Floyd and Omar Hunter, who combined for a total of 86 tackles last season (12% of all Florida tackles) Look for the Gator secondary to be the strength of this team as they return a strong depth chart with S Jaylen Watkins and CB Loucheiz Purifoy leading the charge.
Arkansas hasn’t beaten Florida since 1982 (never in SEC play) and is currently 1-8 all-time against the Gators. However, if Arkansas is able to stop Florida’s running game, we could be watching an upset in the making. With Florida’s defense growing early in the season, this game has potential if Arkansas can establish its running game and keep the Gator offense off the field.
Arkansas 13, Florida 27
South Carolina (Oct 12th)
South Carolina returns as one of the favorites to win the SEC East this season. With DE Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks hope to shut down opposing offenses. However, South Carolina has a long way to go this season on defense after losing 6 starters to graduation. South Carolina will look to rely on their rushing game to lead them to victory.
Steve Spurrier will once again look to a two quarterback system with Conner Shaw (1956 passing yds, 17 TD/7 INT, 435 rushing yards on 131 carries) as the primary QB. Shaw will look to throw to a plethora of WRs including Bruce Ellington (40 rec, 600 yds, 7 TD). With RB Marcus Lattimore gone, South Carolina will give the ball to Kenny Miles (104 carries, 359 yards, 2 TD) and Mike Davis (52 carries, 275 yards, 2 TD).
Arkansas will need to establish an offense that can work around Clowney and still maintain a consistent attack. Look for South Carolina to challenge the Arkansas secondary early on with their passing attack.
Arkansas 17, South Carolina 27
Alabama (Oct 19th)
Alabama is the hottest team in sports right now. After going 25-2 in the last two seasons and 3 National championships in 4 seasons, Alabama will look to become the first dynasty in college football since USC* in the early 2000s.
Alabama returns eight starters on defense and six on offense as Nick Saban looks to AJ McCarron to provide leadership on a young Tide team. McCarron (2933 yds at 9.34 YPA) threw for 30 TDs last season with just 3 interceptions. RB T.J. Yeldon (175 carries, 1108 yds, 12 TDs) and Amari Cooper (59 rec, 1000 yards, 11 TD) are easily the two most threatening playmakers for the Tide. Look for Alabama to struggle early on this season at offensive line with losses from Chance Warmack ( #10 overall to Titans), D.J. Fluker (#11 overall to Chargers), and Barrett Jones (#113 overall to Rams).
The Alabama defense returns with a strong core, losing DL Jesse Williams who was the foundation of the Alabama front and CB Dee Millner (#9 overall to Jets). The strength of this defensive group is easily their linebacker corps, returning ILB Adrian Hubbard (7 sacks in 2012) and Xzavier Dickson while also returning OLB C.J. Moseley (110 tackles in 2012) and Trey Depriest (2nd on team with 59 tackles in 2012).
Arkansas will struggle hard against a Nationally competitive Tide team. Look for Arkansas to try and take advantage of the inexperience of the Tide line on both sides of the ball. However, Alabama has plenty of playmaking ability to spread the ball around this season with A.J. McCarron’s precision passing.
Arkansas 6, Alabama 31
Auburn (Nov 2nd)
Gus Malzahn returns to the Tigers after only a year as a head coach at a lesser school. Malzahn has been apart of 5 coaching staffs within 7 years and is the epitome of job hopping (move over Bobby Petrino). This time around, he shouldn’t have the help of a Cam Newton. Auburn has had a rollercoaster of an offseason with Malzahn finally naming a QB in JUCO transfer Nick Marshall. This was after Malzahn named ex-Shiloh Christian QB, Kiehl Frazier as a Safety (Re: Kodi Burns).
On offense, the Tigers will return 6 starters with major losses in RB Onterio McCalebb, WR Emory Blake, and TE Phillip Lutzenkirchen. 57% is the magic number for the Auburn Tigers as McCalebb, Blake, and Lutzenkirchen combined accounted for 57% of all receptions and 57% of all recieving yards. Look for Auburn to lean on RB Tre Mason (171 carries, 1002 rushing yards, 8 TDS) this season. Mason accounted for 57% of all Tiger rushing yardage last season…..as a Sophomore.
Defensively, Auburn looks prepared for one of their most experienced years in recent history. The Tigers will return 9 starters this season only losing DE Corey Lemonier and LB Darren Bates. However, Auburn will need to make major improvements (SEC Ranks 2012: 13th Rushing Defense and 12th in Total Defense) after giving up an average of 420 YPG last season with only Tennessee having a worse defense (471 YPG).
This year does not look to be suited well for Auburn as they continue to make improvements to their offensive approach. Even though the Tigers return plenty of experience on defense, the lack of improvement will fall dirctly to Ellis Johnson who provided the University of Southern Miss with their worst football record in history last season This should be an easy win.
Arkansas 24, Auburn 10
@Ole Miss (Nov 9th)
Ole Miss looks to be in an upswing after Coach Hugh Freeze led the Rebels to a 7-6 record last season and a bowl win over Pitt. The Rebels had the #1 recruiting class this last offseason to add to their roster alongside 17 returning starters.
Offensively, Ole Miss returns 8 starters including QB Bo Wallace (2012: 3384 Total Yards or 61% of all Ole Miss yardage, 30 TDs), RB Jeff Scott (846 rushing yds, 4.3 YPC, 6 TDs), and WR Donte Moncrief (66 Rec, 979 yards, school record 10 TDs). Wallace will be the key to Ole Miss’ success this year in the Rebels new Spread offense. The Rebels were able to score on 91% of their red zone attempts last season while maintaining 423.8 YPG and 31.5 PPG.
On defense, the Rebels return 9 starters including sophomore LB Denzel Nkemdiche (82 tackles, 13 TFL, 3 sacks, 3 INT, 4 FF). Look for incoming freshman DE Robert Nkemdiche to make some plays this season as well. Ole Miss will need R. Nkemdiche to step up in the weakest area for the Rebels. Ole Miss has all the pieces to be a competitive team in the SEC this season. However, the lack of depth in their secondary poses legitimate questions as to whether or not the Rebels can make a run this season.
I expect Ole Miss to attempt to simply outscore Arkansas. Their lack of defensive strength up front could pose issues for the Rebels over the course of the game. However, if Bo Wallace can keep the Rebel offense moving, this game will have an ugly outcome.
Arkansas 24, Ole Miss 38
Mississippi State * (Nov 23rd)
Mississippi State is looking forward to breaking .500 this season in SEC play for the first time in Dan Mullen’s career as Head Coach. The last time the Bulldogs went 4-4 in SEC under Mullen, the Dogs bounced back with a 2-8 conference record. Will the Bulldogs be able to break the heat given to Mullen because of his lackluster record? The Bulldogs will come into Little Rok after having faced the gauntlet of the SEC West (minus Ole Miss). The most interesting stat for Miss State is that they ended 2012 with 424 pass attempts and 424 rushing attempts.
QB Tyler Russell will once again return to lead the Bulldog Offense. 7 starters will return for the Bulldogs including 4 OL and RB Ladarius Perkins (205 carries or 24.1% of total offensive production, 1016 yds, 8 TD). However, Miss State loses their top 3 WRs and TE including WR Chad Bumphis (58 Rec, 922 yards, 12 TD). This loss amounts to 70% of all passing production for the Bulldogs.
On defense, Miss State returns 6 returning starters including LB Benardrick McKinney who was 2nd on the team in tackles with 102 as a freshman last season. However, leading tackler Cam Lawrence (120 tackles), CB Johnathan Banks (4 Int, 124 yds), and CB Darius Clay (5 Int, 101 yds,1 TD) leave huge positions to be filled. Miss State does return 6 CBs with at least a season of experience under their belts.
Arkansas should be hungry for a bowl-clinching win after losing to Ole Miss. Look for Arkansas to try and shut down the Bulldog running game and force the Bulldogs to throw all game. I expect this game to be a brawl in the trenches with Arkansas commanding the play clock and ultimately controlling their own bowl destiny.
Arkansas 30, Mississippi State 20
@ LSU (Nov 29th)
Les Miles returns for his 8th season as the Tigers Head Coach in which he has led LSU to 6 double-digit winning seasons. During this same time, the Tigers have finished no less than 3rd in the Western division. However, LSU looks to return one of their weakest defensive teams in Les Miles’ history. Will the Tigers be able to continue their success without their long-term strength?
LSU may have one of the best RB corps in the nation as 6 different RBs have the talent to see touches this season. Jeremy Hill (142 car, 755 yds, 12 TDs), Alfred Blue(40 carries, 270 yds, 2 TDs), and Kenny Hilliard(82 carries, 464 yds, 6 TDs) all maintained an average of at least 5.3 ypc last season. The biggest question for the LSU offense will be whether or not Zach Mettenberger can step up and command the LSU offense behind an offensive line that has lost 3 starters including an injury in the offseason.
The Tiger defense will be hurting for players returning with starts under their belt. However, LSU still has a very talented defense that has plenty of experience including DT Anthony ‘Freak’ Johnson (30 tackles, 3 sacks, 10 TFL) , LB Lamin Barrow (104 tackles 7.5 TFL, 1 FF, 1 FR) , and CB Craig Loston (55 tackles, 3 Int, 103 yds, 1 TD).
I fully expect this game to be close as it usually is. Look for Miles to try and wear down the Arkansas defense early in the game by running the ball. However, if Arkansas can maintain its ground attack against a rebuilding defensive line, then this game may be closer than most people expect.
Arkansas 13, LSU 24