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Previewing The 2016 Arkansas Razorbacks

With key offensive starters missing, the Razorbacks turn to young talent in hopes of turning the corner as SEC competitors in what's expected to be a transition year that ends with Arkansas trending upward in 2017.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

2015 Record: 7-5 (5-3 in SEC)

Key Departures: Brandon Allen-QB, Sebastian Tretola-OG, Mitch Smothers-C, Jonathan Williams-RB (NFL), Hunter Henry-TE (NFL), Denver Kirkland-OT (NFL), Alex Collins-RB (NFL)

Key Additions: The Razorbacks had a decent 2015 recruiting cycle, adding a five-star and five four-star commits, as you can see below:

2015 Season Recap:

The Razorbacks were a team that national pundits were willing to hang their hat on during preseason, but stumbled to a 1-5 start including a three-game losing streak that was highlighted by a 16-12 loss to Toledo.

Arkansas finished their season on a serious hot streak, defeating the likes of Auburn, LSU,  Tennesee, and Ole Miss. Led by the dual-threat rushing attack of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, both of whom have departed for the NFL, the Razorbacks ranked 34th in the country and third in the nation on the ground with a total of 2,585 yards and an average of 5.01 YPC according to the NCAA’s statistics website.

Quarterback Brandon Allen also left for the NFL after throwing for 3,440 yards and 30 touchdowns last season, en route to a bowl game victory over Kansas State. Allen had seven games last year where he threw for two or more touchdowns, and also had five 300+ yard performances through the air.

The defense was a bright spot in the 2015 season, Brooks Ellis finished with a team-high 101 tackles, and Deatrich Wise, Jr. totaled eight sacks, which was the best on the team, and also 10.5 tackles for loss. Wise, Jr. will be a player to watch in 2016, having some of his best performances against top SEC opponents such as LSU, Mississippi State and Alabama.

Players to Watch

Quarterback Austin Allen

If the younger brother of former Razorbacks signal-caller Brandon Allen can show the same poise and decisiveness in key moments, Arkansas should be in good hands, considering the bloodline. There is going to be a lot of pressure on Allen’s shoulders, with nearly all new faces at key skill positions around him.

Linebacker Dre Greenlaw

In 2015, as a true freshman, Dre Greenlaw had 95 total tackles, easily cementing himself as one of the future pillars of the Razorbacks defense. Look for Greenlaw to be a major staple in the defensive gameplan for 2016, a year in which he should easily surpass the 100-tackle margin.

2016 Season outlook

The Razorbacks have a difficult schedule, with road games against TCU, Texas A&M, and Auburn, but have the luxury of playing nearly all of their tough SEC opponents on their home field. With home games against Alabama, Ole Miss, Florida, and LSU, the Razorbacks could steal a few games on their home field and interrupt any playoff dreams some of the top SEC schools may have.

Looking for the next pair of 1,000-yard rushers may not be as difficult as once thought, with both Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams returning, as well as top incoming freshman Devwah Whaley. Beilema loves to run the football, and it will be no different in 2016, especially with three out of last year’s five starting offensive lineman returning.

Defensively, the Razorbacks have key contributors coming back along the front seven, and both starting safeties returning in Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez, an experienced unit that should provide both leadership and productivity near the back-end of the defense.

2016 Prediction

Arkansas has an overall difficult schedule, and with a new signal caller, it could be a transition year until experience once again becomes an ally and not an enemy. It wouldn’t surprise many to see the Razorbacks finish around the .500 mark with a 6-6 record, but in-conference play is going to be the key for a young Razorback squad.