There are some things to like about Arkansas' roster heading as football season approaches. Up to three-fifths of the offensive line will be made up of returning starters, and getting transfer Cameron Jefferson will help. The top two tacklers for the Hogs are back in Alan Turner and Braylon Mitchell, while Darius Philon and Trey Flowers bring back a combined 22.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks between them. Factor in that Arkansas lost three games last year by a single possession, and you start to get the glimmer of hope.
But after years of offensive upheaval for the Razorbacks, the question might still end up being: How well will the offense do? The Razorbacks scored more than 17 points three times in SEC play last year, and topped 30 points against just one conference defense: Texas A&M, which only counted as a defense in 2013 in the sense that there were 11 men out there trying to keep the other team from scoring. Growth in the defense is still needed, no doubt, but only if it's met with an improved offense will that lead to an improvement in the Hogs' fortunes.
BIGGEST RETURNS: RB Alex Collins and RB Jonathan Williams
Expect Arkansas to do a lot of running again this year. Last year's offense relied heavily on the ground game, and the Razorbacks lose less than 10 percent of their rushing yards from 2013. Much of what returns came from Collins and Williams, who combined to rush for 1,926 yards and eight touchdowns on 340 carries. That could be the best one-two punch in the conference, and if there are any hopes for the Hogs to have a better-than-expected season, they're going to need a big year from at least one of these backs, and probably both, in addition to seeing some improvement elsewhere on offense.
BIGGEST LOSS: C Travis Swanson
Swanson was the leader of the offensive line that helped Collins and Williams rush for all those yards; he was also a finalist for the Rimington Trophy. If there's one hurdle to both the running game being able to regain its form and/or the passing game finding its way, it's the loss of Swanson. (The only real competitor would be Kiero Small, who in addition to his blocking duties was the third-ranking rusher last year and had the fourth-most catches for the Razorbacks.) Swanson's likely replacement is Luke Charpentier, a redshirt senior who's seen action in a handful of games every year but now has very large shoes to fill.
BREAKTHROUGH POSSIBILITY: QB Brandon Allen
This is a bit process of elimination and a bit of a hunch. Allen's career has not been a model of stability during his first few seasons in Fayetteville: Redshirting under Bobby Petrino, playing in the rolling circus of doom that was John L. Smith's season at the helm and then transitioning to the more run-heavy offense that the Razorbacks ran in their first year under Bielema.
And while I've grown to hate the "it can't get any worse" reasoning for saying a certain facet of a team's game is going to get better -- it really can't get much worse for Allen and the Hogs' passing game. Allen completed just 49.6 percent of his passes last year and finished with a (very) subpar 109.02 passer efficiency rating. Early returns on the spring were good; later returns, not so much. If Arkansas is going to make any progress though, it's going to require Allen to do a lot better under center. The one hitch: Three of Arkansas' top receivers last year are gone.