With the NCAA Football season just a matter of days away from starting, we take a look at the Arkansas Razorback of the South Eastern Conference. This is a team that wants to make amends with fans for their disappointing 2013 season. They ended last year with a record of 3-9, and begin their training camp looking for some immediate improvements.
The Hogs have less than 30 days before they find answers for last year’s season and enter 2014. This is the second season under Coach Bret Bielema, and the media has ranked them 7th in the Western Division. On August 30, they will begin their 2014 season on the road on SEC TV against the Auburn Tigers, the defending conference champions and national title runner-ups. In that game, Arkansas is listed by SBG Sportsbook as +21 point road underdogs. The over/under has not been set yet.
The Razorbacks are coming off a nine game losing streak in 2013, the longest drought in school history. However, there are reasons for optimism in 2014 as their coach has seen them improve in his offensive system, which is a more rugged running game that sets up the play action passing game. On offense they have seven returning starters in QB Allen, TB Williams, WR Hatcher, TE Henry and OL Cook, Kirkland and Skipper. On defense they return eight starters in DL Flowers and Philon, LB Mitchell and Ellis and DB Gaines, Hines, Mitchell and Turner. On special teams, their Punter Hill returns along with deep snapper D’Appollonio but they will need to replace all-time scorer and place kicker Hocker.
Arkansas has not been to a bowl game since 2011 when the beat Kansas in the Cotton Bowl under coach Bobby Petrino. To return to a bowl game, the present coach has a long list of issues to be addressed before they entertain the return to bowl games.
The questions as the head into the 2014 season start with:
Can the Play Improve at the QB Position?
Coach Bielema has made it clear that Allen will be the QB this season. In 2013 Allen started in eleven games and after the third game with an injury to his right shoulder and as a result had a disappointed season in 2013 and hopefully this season he enters the games in much better physical and mental condition. The team’s offensive coordinator has been impressed with how Allen has come back from that 2013 season and rebounded and his seeking the opportunities that await him and his team. The back-up quarterback are still involved in the quarterback operations and have true freshman Peavey and redshirt freshman Austin will gain more experience with the system during these training sessions.
Is the Secondary a Primary Concern?
Coach Bielema will depend on the defensive backfield being greatly improved, and would not be a exploitable as the media has indicated and he predicts his cornerbacks will be the most improved unit in the 2014 season. This group is coached by new defensive coordinator Robb Smith and they are experienced and eager to play a more aggressive defense.
Who is the Go-To Receiver?
This group has a lot of potential but needs an increase in impact players. Newcomers are welcome and they have a lot of talent to select from.
Defensive Line: Is there Enough Depth and Performance?
The defensive unit does have a lot of depth and it is expected with senior end Flowers, tackle Philon and Hodge will produce some excellent results teamed with the upcoming stars.
Offensive Line: Not New but Improved?
After losing center Swanson who started 50 games and with LT Hurd out with injuries, Arkansas recruited heavily for those positions. With the remaining starters, transfers and newcomers many newbie’s will be pushing for playing time which is great for the team.
How Strong are the Linebackers?
This 2014 will be the first time in many years the Hogs will have an experienced group of linebackers with a lot of playing time. LB Coach Shannon expects this unit with its familiarity with the new system to produce faster results and better performance.
According to SBG odds, Arkansas is a very longshot wo win the SEC championship, with futures odds at +22500. That ties them with Vanderbilt, and puts them ahead of Kentucky, the team with the lowest odds. The Razorbacks win total is set at 4 1/2 games.