SQ College Football Top-25 Preview: #20 Arkansas
The college football staff at SQ have put together a ranking of the top-25 teams heading into 2015. To get our readers prepared for the upcoming season, the staff has created a preview for each one of these teams. Today’s focus is on #20 Arkansas.
SQ Ranking: 20
2014 Record: 7-6
Finish in AP Poll: Not Ranked
Head Coach: Bret Bielema (3rd year)
Key Departures: DE Trey Flowers, FB Patrick Arinze, TE A.J. Derby, P Sam Irwin-Hill, LB Martrell Spaight
Previewing the Arkansas Offense: Entering QB Brandon Allen's senior season, the Razorback offense is expected to be a well-oiled machine. Led by one of the best running back duos in the country, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins will need to build off their combined 2290 yards and 24 touchdowns from last season if Arkansas wants to be successful.
Another positive for the Razorbacks is that OL Sebastian Tretola is returning. If you don't remember, Tretola was the 300 pound offensive lineman who threw a touchdown pass against UAB on a well-designed trick play. Most importantly, don't be surprised if Bielema gives Tretola another chance to showcase his arm this season.
As for the rest of the offensive line, there should be no letdown because anywhere Bret Bielema has coached, he has stockpiled great offensive lineman. The Arkansas offense has the ability to bully opposing teams in the trenches and punish linebackers for biting on play-action.
Characteristic of a Bielema offense, two of the top three pass-catchers last season were tight ends, which isn't a bad thing. With the confidence of QB Brandon Allen at an all-time high, I expect WR Keon Hatcher to have a great year. Outside of Hatcher, the Razorbacks will need some inexperienced wideouts to step up and take on some key run-blocking and pass-catching duties.
Previewing the Arkansas Defense: In the final game of the 2014 season, the Arkansas defense completely dominated Texas in every aspect. The Razorback defense forced two turnovers, including a fumble recovered in the end-zone for a touchdown, and held the Longhorns to 59 total yards. Texas QB Tyrone Swoopes had little time in the pocket as Arkansas controlled the line of scrimmage from the first snap.
The departures of defensive end Trey Flowers, defensive tackle Darius Philon, linebacker Martrell Spaight, and safety Alan Turner deal a decent-sized blow to the Razorback defense but they should be able to rebound. Arkansas has plenty of depth at the defensive line but the question going into next season will be if the secondary and linebacking core can be consistently solid.
Junior LB Brooks Ellis will need to be the leader of the defense as he returns as the most experienced linebacker, having played significantly the last two seasons. The Razorback defense might struggle in the first few games but they will find their groove at some point.
Three Key Games:
1. Arkansas at LSU, November 14th - Whenever a team travels to play in Death Valley against LSU, it is always a difficult game to win. Last season the Razorbacks shut out the Tigers in Fayetteville, so Arkansas better be ready to face Leonard Fournette and company. Late in the season, this will be a key SEC-West matchup for both teams.
2. Arkansas at Alabama, October 10th - Yet another important game for the Razorbacks is SEC-West opponent, Alabama. Arkansas lost to the Crimson Tide because of a missed PAT last season, so I would expect the Razorbacks to have plenty of confidence heading into what will be a tough battle in Tuscaloosa.
3. Arkansas vs. Texas A&M, September 26th - Last season, the Aggies and Razorbacks played one of the more exciting games of 2014, and it was one of the many close games that Arkansas couldn't win. The Razorbacks will want revenge in their SEC opener and will look to set the tone for the remainder of the season.
Final Analysis: Looking at Arkansas' schedule, I see the Razorbacks going undefeated in the non-conference games against UTEP, Toledo, Texas Tech, and UT Martin. Outside of those four games is the SEC schedule. Everybody knows at least two things about the SEC-West: anything can happen, and that its one of the toughest slates of games in the country.
The Arkansas offense will have another great statistical year but the overall success of the Razorbacks will depend on the defense. With only four true road games and with the number of marquee games on their schedule, Arkansas has an outside shot at a New Year's Six Bowl game. More reasonably, the Razorbacks could get third in the SEC-West and reach 10 wins after their bowl game.