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14 for '14: Three Things We Know and Don't Know About Arkansas

The Razorbacks are better known on one side of the ball than the other.

Spruce Derden-USA TODAY Sports


1. All's set at running back.

If not for Alabama's impressive stable, the Razorbacks' set of tailbacks would be the unquestioned best in the SEC. You know Alex Collins by now, last year's SEC Freshman of the Year who went just over 1,000 yards on the season. You should also know his backfield mate Jonathan Williams, who had 900 yards of his own and caught a pair of touchdowns. Rising sophomore Korliss Marshall seriously impressed in the spring game, racking up 99 yards on just six carries. Bret Bielema and his staff are considering all three of them starters, making the position one of the few where the team is elite.

2. Brandon Allen must be the man at quarterback.

Allen didn't exactly impress last year with a sub-50% completion percentage and a passing efficiency of a mere 109.0. That said, only senior A.J. Derby out of the rest of the players on the roster has an appreciable number of attempts to his name, and he has just 36 of them. Oh, and Derby switched to tight end for his final year, so that eliminates any trace of experience behind Allen. Perhaps Allen's performance will pick up without him dealing with injuries like he did at times last year; after all, his best game other than Samford was the Hogs' near-miss against LSU to close out the season. If something bad happens to him though, Arkansas is staring into the abyss of starting an unproven freshman.

3. Special teams will be a bright spot.

Losing K Zach Hocker will hurt, but his replacement will likely be former Parade All-American Cole Hedlund. Senior Sam Irwin-Hill returns as the SEC's leader in punts downed inside the 20 (and has more pass attempts to his name than any of the backup QBs, incidentally). Marshall will be taking over as return man, and if he's as good at that as he is a tailback, the team should have at least a decent return game for the first time in a while. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing is at the special teams margins, so any strength here might mean Bielema finally picking up a conference win.


1. Who all these guys are on defense.

They're not all unknowns; Trey Flowers is superb rushing the passer from the end, for instance. For the most part though, there will be a lot of new faces everywhere. That fact is probably a good thing, considering that Arkansas was in a clear bottom tier of SEC defenses along with Texas A&M and Kentucky in 2013. Run defense was the best thing it could do last year, but only Flowers is back on a pretty thin D-line. Bielema replaced three guys on the defensive staff, but it will probably take more than just one year for them to make a seriously big impact. If the Razorbacks are going to finally get an SEC win for the first time since October of 2012, they're going to need to outgun someone.

2. How they're going to stop the pass.

If run defense was the thing that the Hogs were best at last year and the defense was still poor, you can imagine what that says about the pass defense. The hope I suppose comes from the fact that the defensive backfield will start all upperclassmen, and it will have two of the unit's four returning starters in Tevin Mitchel and Alan Turner. If Flowers continues his good play and DT Darius Philon progresses as he should, the backfield should get some help up front. To keep perspective though, the team allowed a passing efficiency of 152.23 against I-A competition last year; that figure puts the average figure it gave up somewhere between Aaron Murray and Connor Shaw in 2013. The team needs drastic improvement in this department.

3. Where any more wins will come from.

It's something of a cliché among preview features to point out that some team or another might be better than the previous season without actually winning more games. In Arkansas's case, it's entirely appropriate to make that assertion. The schedule is just brutal, with the sole major non-conference opponent being tougher than it was a year ago and Georgia filling the rotating spot. You could argue that the gauntlet is a blessing in disguise, allowing the team to continue to work on improving with less pressure to win. Maybe, but there's something to be said for building confidence through wins. Either way, this team will be taking more lumps this season.