2018 Record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC
2018 S&P+ Rankings: Overall (53rd), Offense (61st), Defense (49th)
The wait is just about over, as college football season is nearly here. It’s time to ignore our loved ones, stay up until 1 AM watching #Pac12AfterDark and get overworked about that missed targeting call. I’ve got my lucky shirt ready, optimism is at an all time high. Why don’t we check in on Arkansas fans...
While the psyche of Hog fans has been pessimistic since a certain motorcycle crash, last year was an all-time low. Chad Morris was supposed to come in and make this offense fun. We knew the defense wouldn’t be there, but the offense wasn’t supposed to be this bad. 2018 did give us some great highlights though. From this punt return to Rakeem Boyd’s tackling skills, 2018 was just a kick in the rear for Arkansas.
So let’s reset, Arkansas; the only way to go is up. Chad Morris got a Top 25 recruiting class, he’s had a year to install his scheme, and “The Chief” has an experienced and talented front seven to work with. After a year where the offense and defense both looked awful, let’s look forward to the offense being fun to watch and the defense being passable!
3 Key Questions
1. Who is going to step up at quarterback?
Chad Morris has been keeping his cards close to his chest all summer as to who will start. The QB room is much improved from 2018. You have Nick Starkel and Ben Hicks, the two grad transfers, John Stephen Jones and KJ Jefferson. While Jones and Jefferson have impressed everyone during camp, they don’t seem to be in the running just yet for starter.
Nick Starkel is a tall quarterback with a cannon for an arm and limited mobility. He started at Texas A&M as a freshman. He had some success during an injury-plagued season, even throwing for 499 yards in their bowl game. Last year though, he lost the starting job when Jimbo Fisher came to town, and he only appeared in a few games.
Ben Hicks is not as much of a pure passer, but he’s a hell of an athlete who can make all of the throws Chad Morris needs him too. He also has the upper hand in the competition because he played for Morris at SMU. In 2017, he threw for over 3,500 yards with 33 touchdowns while leading them to a 7-6 season. Last year he regressed a bit, partly due to a new coach, and partly due to his best receivers playing on Sundays.
While I expect both Starkel and Hicks to see playing time this year, I predict the former to be the full-time guy by November.
2. Can the new guys contribute right away?
Morris somehow got a Top 25 recruiting class to come to Fayetteville despite the Razorbacks’ nightmare season. That’s impressive. Now it’s time for the freshmen to come in and help.
Learn the name Trey Knox. He’s probably going to be the most impactful player on the offense by the end of the year and one of the top receivers in the SEC next year. He’s part of a stable of talent Chad Morris recruited at wide receiver. If Arkansas is going to improve, they’ll need Trey Knox and perhaps Treylon Burks to have a big season, especially with Deon Stewart out for the season with a torn ACL.
The most important freshmen, though, are in the secondary. Gregory Brooks is probably going to be starting, and Devin Bush will see time as well. These Louisiana boys are so important to improving a secondary that should actually have quality depth this season. The secondary’s success will depend on how fast these young men can develop.
3. Can the defense make plays?
The defense vastly improved from 2017 according to the advanced stats (rising from 112th to 49th in S&P+). They still were bad in some areas though, giving up 35 points per game and 413 yards per game. While I do expect those numbers to get better, the key is that they need to make plays. The Hogs only forced 16 turnovers last year and only 11 after you take out the Eastern Illinois game.
In addition, they only had 18 sacks in their 10 losses. With McTelvin Agin and De’Jon Harris returning, it’s time for some guys to step up and make things happen. Getting to the quarterback will vastly help the young secondary, which only needs to get six interceptions to pass their mark from last year.
Schedule & Outlook
The silver lining from last year is that the Razorbacks were competitive in a lot of SEC games. They were with the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Texas A&M Aggies until the end. They scored the most points on the Alabama Crimson Tide in the regular season. They absolutely had the game against the Ole Miss Rebels won, and they mounted a valiant comeback against the LSU Tigers.
This 2019 team is more talented than last year. The front seven will be nasty, the receiving corps is really good, Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley will be solid if they can stay healthy, and whoever the quarterback is will be markedly better. It’s Chad Morris’s time to show improvement. His first season at SMU they went 2-10; the next one they went 5-7. He’s been here before.
The schedule is one of the easiest in the SEC West, which isn’t saying much. With all out-of-conference games being played in Fayetteville and no Power 5 team thanks to Michigan’s bailing, the Hogs will get four wins right there.
The key game will be Ole Miss on September 7th. This game between the two projected cellar dwellers will tell us a lot about both teams. Ole Miss will be coming out of a dogfight with Memphis, and Arkansas will have just trounced Portland State. If the Hogs can find a way to win this, they will be in business.
Beat Ole Miss and then you just need to get one more SEC win to go bowling. A&M in Jerry World, the Kentucky Wildcats in Lexington, or the Mississippi St. Bulldogs at home are all possible options, but I think the Thanksgiving magic of Little Rock will help the Hogs beat Mizzou and get to a bowl game.
Prediction: 6-6, 2-6 in SEC play.