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2021 SEC Football Season Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

Year 1 under Sam Pittman saw a pretty pesky Hog squad. Year 2? Well... with this schedule, Godspeed.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Eastern Illinois at Arkansas Photo by Andy Altenburger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2020 at a Glance

Record: 3-7
SRS: 3.99
SOS: 11.39

2021 Schedule

(All times are Eastern)

9/4: Rice (2 p.m., ESPN+/SEC Network+)
9/11: Texas (7 p.m., ESPN)
9/18: Georgia Southern (4 p.m., SEC Network)
9/25: Texas A&M
10/2: at Georgia
10/9: at Ole Miss
10/16: Auburn
10/23: Arkansas Pine Bluff
11/6: Mississippi State
11/13: at LSU
11/20: at Alabama
11/27: vs. Missouri

Overview

The first year for Sam Pittman at Arkansas was an intriguing one.

It’s true that the team finished below the .500 mark once again, going 3-7 in the truncated 2020 season. Their offense at times was a little bit sluggish, but at times they played competitively. Three of their seven losses were decided by three points or less, including a 27-24 loss to rival LSU and a 50-48 defeat by rival Mizzou. They were clocked 52-3 by eventual National Champion Alabama in the final week of the season, ending things on a sour note. But there was, at least, some fight in this team for many weeks in the season.

They found themselves overmatched by the upper tier of the conference. They scored a win over Mississippi State in Week 2, ranked 16th at the time, but lost to Georgia, Texas A&M, Florida, and of course Alabama. All four of those teams were certainly the best the SEC had to offer, and they lost by double digits to each of them. That shouldn’t be too surprising. What is a relief for Arkansas is that they were able to compete heavily against the middle of the conference. Expectations aren’t so high in Fayetteville, and after some abysmal seasons the last few years, they can at least take solace that they were in pretty close affairs or were able to score some victories along the way.

A seasoned supporting cast on offense and experience on defense makes Arkansas an interesting team in the middle of the pack. With Bumper Pool anchoring the defense, while an experienced receiver group led by De’Vion Warren and Treylon Burks, the Hogs might be a fun one this year. If the quarterback situation can take care of itself, don’t be surprised if the Razorbacks are pesky here yet again.

Biggest Questions

Thanks to Jacob Davis of Arkansas Fight, and friend of the Blog Chris Turner for answering our questions!

Year 1 under Sam Pittman was intriguing, as even with their suboptimal record, Arkansas was a pretty pesky team to deal with for a few teams around the conference. Do you foresee the same occurring in Year 2?

Jacob Davis:

I do see some of the same things coming for Arkansas in 2021. They return 20 of their 22 starters from a team that was vastly improved a year ago. They return an All-American linebacker in Grant Morgan, preseason All-American safety in Jalen Catalon and added depth along the defensive line, too, with three transfers in John Ridgeway, Markell Utsey and Tre Williams.

Being able to play more four man fronts will allow Arkansas to apply more pressure to the quarterback than a year ago. Offensively, everyone returns except our quarterback. KJ Jefferson was in the top 12 of quarterbacks in the 2019 class. He takes over after his lone start against Missouri. He was very exciting and almost led the Hogs to a victory on the road. Razorback fans and everyone in the SEC will see Briles offense take the next step and so will the defense under Barry Odom.

Chris Turner:

I think this Arkansas team has the vibe of some of Bobby Petrino’s early teams. You saw flashes in those first years, but the big dogs would always put them in their place. There’s enough experience and young talent for the Hogs to really annoy some teams this year. On Twitter, I equated playing Arkansas to getting into a barfight. Hogs may not win that fight but they’ll get some shots in. Unless, of course, they are ruining Alabama or Georgia’s drinking vibes.

Arkansas’ defense has plenty of experience everywhere. Who stands out among the pack?

Jacob Davis:

I like Jalen Catalon. He’s a hard hitting safety and you don’t want to slant on him. A season ago he was ejected after a couple of “illegal hits.” He has learned from them but he says it won’t change how he plays the game. John Ridgeway at defensive tackle is a notable newcomer I like. He’s 6’6 325 pounds but is very athletic and runs well at his position. He gives the hogs versatility and the ability to chase down skill players in the backfield. Like I mentioned earlier that is definitely something the Hogs lacked a season ago.

Chris Turner:

I think Jalen Catalon is an absolute stud. He racked up the awards last year and made a name for himself as a RS Freshman. The secondary has a lot of flexibility beyond him as well. The LB group with Bumper Pool and Grant Morgan are under-appreciated, and will turn some heads too. Up front, you have a lot of experience and intriguing options to plug in. Tre Williams and Markell Utsey back in Barry Odom’s scheme is gonna be fun to watch.

Who do you foresee emerging at quarterback, a position that right now has little experience going for it?

Jacob Davis:

I kind of answered that question earlier. It’s definitely going to be Jefferson at quarterback for the Hogs. He’s waited for this moment and I expect him to play well this year. We will see the backup Malik Hornsby play, too. He was the eighth-ranked quarterback in the 2020 class. He won’t be starting unless it’s due to injuries but there should have some sort of package for him from what I’ve heard from fall camp.

Chris Turner:

Right now, KJ Jefferson is the guy. He’s waited for his turn, and really put on an impressive display against Mizzou when called to replace Felipe Franks. The Rice game will be a feeling out process for him, but by year’s end, I predict he will be rolling on full cylinders toward a big 2022. The battle for the No. 2 spot is still up in the air, with electric RS freshman Malik Hornsby going up against true frosh Lucas Coley and junior John Stephen Jones. (Jerry’s blood)

Projection

Christopher Novak: The schedule is absolutely brutal in November, so the hope for Arkansas has to be that they don't dig themselves into too big a hole in September and October. The first early test will obviously be Texas, and Arkansas has the luxury of hosting the Longhorns. At worst, they’re 2-1 going into the A&M game. Right now, I’m going to give them a 5-7 record, with a chance to flip that into 7-5 if they can pick off some squads like Ole Miss and Mizzou along the way.

Jacob Davis: I think if Arkansas beats Texas in week two they can win eight in the SEC. Why would I say that? There’s too much talent and hunger on this team to succeed. This team wants to play for this staff and fight their butts off every single play. This team also has an exceptional amount of depth on both sides of the ball to reach that goal. The Hogs could also sneak up and maybe steal a win or two depending on how other teams' seasons go. Maybe a road win against LSU or Texas A&M in Arlington to give Coach Sam Pittman his first signature win as head coach.

Chris Turner: As we all have learned the hard way (Hi, Nebraska!), nothing is a given in college football. Not an extra point, or a week one game against Rice. Hogs getting a full camp and entering Year Two of the Sam Pittman era will lead them to more success than they had last year. The first big test will be when Sark brings Texas into Fayetteville, for one of the biggest games in recent memory at Razorback Stadium. I predict the Hogs will stun the Horns and put themselves back on the CFB map…until the following tradition and losing to Texas A&M in Dallas. A fair non-conference slate with all but two conference games being coin flips, I’ll say the Hogs improve to 7-5 and make their bowl return in December.