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Three Things We Know and Don't Know About Arkansas | SEC 2013

From the new signal-caller to John L. Smith's responsibility for 2012 and more, we look at the questions that could decide Arkansas' fate this season



1. The defense will set the team's floor, and maybe its ceiling
For the first time since Bobby Petrino set foot on the campus, the main driver for Arkansas' success or lack thereof this season might be the defense. Too much of the offense has simply disappeared in recent years, and what hasn't disappeared is going to be transitioned into something that's more in keeping with Bret Bielema's style of football. That means that the main burden of winning games will fall on the other side of the ball, and whatever the offense can provide will be the proverbial icing on the cake. The nightmare scenario for Arkansas could be that the offense doesn't provide much at all.

2. The trip to Rutgers is the swing game
It's pretty simple: Defeat the Scarlet Knights, and the Hogs likely start off 4-0 and just need two wins from somewhere -- anywhere -- over their last eight games to get to a bowl. Lose to the Scarlet Knights and the season is likely to start off 3-5 and on a five-game losing streak when the final four games come around. And with the LSU game at the end of the year, the window would be extraordinarily small. It's hard to see a bowl game visit for the Hogs without a win in New Jersey.

3. Brandon Allen will be the quarterback
This was already looking likely when Allen was tabbed as the starter after spring practice. It became all but a certain several days later, when Brandon Mitchell decided to transfer. (Mitchell will instead head to N.C. State for his senior season.) Allen's numbers when filling in for Tyler Wilson last year were not terribly encouraging; he was 21-of-49 for 186 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, and his passer rating ended the year below 70. But the job will be his now and the offense will be at least slightly different (more on that in a moment), which could be enough when combined with Bielema's comments about taking care of the ball to give Arkansas fans at least a little bit of confidence in Allen's abilities.


1. Exactly what the offense will look like
We chronicled in our introduction to the week that Bret Bielema is likely to be a far more run-friendly head coach than Bobby Petrino -- or, perhaps more accurately, a far less pass-happy head coach than Bobby Petrino. But as RazorJamon pointed out in a reply, Bielema's not the only man who will have something to say about the direction the offense takes in 2013. An All-SEC running back coming to Arkansas from nowhere would help, but that seems unlikely at best right now. In the end, Jim Chaney and Bielema will probably land somewhere in the middle, with a slight tilt toward the run, at least for the first season. But we'll have to wait and see.

2. How much of the 2012 mess was John L. Smith's fault
"A lot" seems like a solid preliminary answer, but we just don't know. And we might not ever know. Some degree of drop-off was probably inevitable for a team that relied on the pass and was losing its best three receivers. But if Arkansas still has the kind of talent to make a run in the SEC West and was being held back by Smith, then Bielema could find himself leading a surprisingly successful team. There are plenty of reasons to doubt that, and there is the attrition that always comes with coaching changes along with the almost complete turnover in the passing game over the last two years, but there could still be enough there to prove that the main problem last season was coaching. If so, something around seven or eight wins decides to look a little less like homerism and more like a reasonable possibility.

3. Whether their luck will improve
I am not quite as taken with taking turnover margin into account as some analysts, because I don't think the number automatically bounces back from year to year. (I think it's a bit more nuanced than that.) But the case can be made that Arkansas had extraordinarily bad luck last year, turning the ball over 31 times to 12 times for their opponents. That minus-19 total was worst in the SEC, and tied for worst in the nation. That's unlucky. At the same time, the Razorbacks' fumble loss rate (41.7 percent) was not that much worse than their opponents' (37.5 percent) -- it's just that Arkansas seemed to cough up the ball a lot more. Interceptions were a problem as well, but those are at least in part a matter of skill and less likely to improve significantly with a new quarterback. All that said, even a little bit better luck could have an effect on the bottom line this year, given that the Razorbacks lost four games by fewer than 10 points.