Even more so than most bowl games, which are notoriously bad ways of evaluating a team's future, it's difficult to know how much to take away from Arkansas' 45-23 win against Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl on Saturday. Brandon Allen had another great game to cap a turnaround senior season, going 20-of-26 passing for 315 yards, a touchdown and an interception. And he'll be gone.
Alex Collins ran the ball 23 times for 185 yards and three touchdowns to cap what will go down as one of the greatest careers by a running back at a school that also saw Darren McFadden go through not a decade ago. Barring an unexpected decision about the , he will also be gone when the Razorbacks take the field in 2016.
But here's the positive spin you can put on it: Bret Bielema continues to make progress in Fayetteville. After a four-win swing from his first year with Arkansas to his second, the Hogs ticked up by one victory in Bielema's third season. That comes despite the tendency of SEC coaches to experience a bit of a drop-off in their third season. Yes, Bielema and Arkansas are losing some great players off of this team, but they've defied the odds before.
There were also some positive signs from members of the team who will likely return next year, including Jeremy Sprinkle, a tight end who at times seemed to be the star of the show for Arkansas, even though his four catches for 81 yards didn't register as the top performance by a Hogs receiver. (Sprinkle did have the one touchdown reception for the Razorbacks.) Drew Morgan, who grabbed eight passes for 92 yards, should also be back in 2016.
In any case, all the stars were still there for the offense on Saturday, and the Arkansas defense largely shut down the tepid Kansas State offense. The Razorbacks gained 569 yards of total offense to 242 for the Wildcats. Kansas State picked up just 13 first downs, and went 3-for-10 on third down. The Razorbacks gave up a few long plays -- particularly early on and then again shortly after the half -- but the defense mostly held.
The win also moved the SEC up to 8-2 on the bowl season and set an NCAA record for wins by a conference in a bowl season. It's worth noting that there haven't been many season with 14-team conferences before, which is a major caveat. And the SEC is probably not quite as good as it looked in the 2015-16 postseason, just as the conference wasn't as bad as it looked during the lackluster 2014-15 round of bowls.
After getting a bunch of buzz coming into this season, in part based on a bowl victory against Texas, Arkansas knows the threat of reading too much into postseason wins. The difference is that programs have a trajectory, and the Razorbacks appear to be headed in the right direction. On its own, Saturday's win doesn't prove that -- but it is another confirmation that better things are likely ahead for Bret Bielema and Co.