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2019 SEC Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
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Matt Smith breaks down everything you need to know about the 2019 Arkansas Razorbacks.

Head Coach: Chad Morris; second year at Arkansas, fifth year overall (16-32 overall, 0-8 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Joe Craddock (second season)

Defensive Coordinator: John Chavis (second season)

2018 Record: 2-10 (0-8 SEC)

Returning Starters: 11 (6 offense, 5 defense)

2019 Schedule

Aug. 31 – PORTLAND STATE (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Sept. 7 – at Ole Miss (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Sept. 14 – COLORADO STATE (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Sept. 21 – SAN JOSE STATE
Sept. 28 – vs. Texas A&M (Arlington)

Oct. 12 – at Kentucky
Oct. 19 – AUBURN
Oct. 26 – at Alabama

Nov. 2 – MISSISSIPPI STATE
Nov. 9 – WESTERN KENTUCKY
Nov. 23 – at LSU
Nov. 29 – MISSOURI (at Little Rock) (2:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

What We Know

-The roster is still a mess. When a team already is lacking talent, and then it goes through a coaching change that overhauls the offense, seasons like last year’s 2-10 debacle happen. Unfortunately for Woo Pig people, Arkansas is still at least another year away from this team looking anywhere close to the way Chad Morris wants it. There are a couple nice pieces on defense, and the quarterback room now has much better fits for the offense than a year ago, but the Hogs have a long climb back. Patience is a rare commodity in SEC country, but this rebuild is going to require it in heavy doses.

-Defensive tackle. There’s not much depth, but John Chavis’ defense has a nice pair of interior pluggers in seniors McTelvin “Sosa” Agim and T.J. Smith. Agim doubles as the leader of the defense, having walked into a program on the rise under Bret Bielema four years ago, but experiencing just four SEC wins in his first three seasons. If Chavis can find some ends to help set the edge, the run defense should be able to again hold up as one of the team’s few middle-of-the-pack units in the SEC.

-There are plenty of options at running back. Senior Devwah Whaley is the household name, but he’ll be competing for touches with junior Rakeem Boyd and Chase Hayden. After a promising freshman season, Hayden didn’t progress as expected last season, but there’s still plenty to like there. Running back is the one position where Arkansas can suffer an injury and still put forth a capable SEC player.

What We Don’t Know

-The offensive line is in transition. Schematically, Morris doesn’t want as much beef up front as his predecessor, requiring more agility from his linemen. This year’s group is a mismatch of Bielema recruits and Morris recruits. Two starters return, including a solid left tackle in senior Colton Jackson, but training camp quickly dealt the Hogs a blow with the loss of potential starting right tackle Noah Gatlin for the season with a knee injury. The Hogs have allowed 30 sacks in each of the last three seasons since Sam Pittman left to join Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia. This doesn’t appear to be the year for that number to dip back down.

-Let’s talk quarterbacks. Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel both played elsewhere last season, but Hicks did play for Morris at SMU in 2017, and Starkel started five games at Texas A&M, Morris’ alma mater, that same season before losing his job to Kellen Mond. Hicks went through spring practice and knows the Morris offense better, so he’s the favorite to take the first snap on Aug. 31, but it would be surprising if one quarterback starts all 12 games. Starkel has two seasons of eligibility left, while Hicks only has one, so that could impact some decision-making as the season progresses.

-How quickly can some of Morris’ recruits at wide receiver make an impact? Tight end Hudson Henry followed in older brother Hunter’s footsteps in signing with Arkansas, while the Hogs also landed two four-star wide receiver prospects in Trey Knox and Treylon Burks. Knox was on campus for the spring, and could start from day one. There will be moments of excitement with this group, just probably not enough to have much effect on the win column. With adequate protection, this passing game is going to flash and give Hogs fans a look at what’s to come in future seasons.
 
Ranking The Units

1. Running Backs
2. Defensive Line
3. Linebackers
4. Receivers
5. Quarterbacks
6. Defensive Backs
7. Offensive Line

Schedule Analysis

National Ranking: 39
SEC Ranking: 10
Swing Game: Sept. 7 at Ole Miss
Trap Game: Nov. 9 vs. Western Kentucky

For the second straight year, because of a late cancellation of a series by Michigan, the Razorbacks will not play a Power Five non-conference game. None of Arkansas’ three FBS non-conference opponents won more than three games last season, so anything less than 4-0 outside of the SEC would be a disaster. An upset of Ole Miss in Week 2 would mean the Hogs might only need to steal one more league win to get to a bowl, which would be a huge mental boost for a team that has dropped 11 straight SEC games.

Season Prediction

The Razorbacks lost 17 SEC straight games from 2012-2014. I’m calling for them to get to one short of the school record before an early November upset of Mississippi State in Fayetteville. It’s pretty difficult to find another SEC win for the Hogs, especially with them only having three conference home games this season with the Texas A&M game in Arlington counting as a home game this season. The non-conference won’t be much of a problem, and don’t be surprised if a 5-6 Arkansas team scares the heck out of Missouri on Black Friday in Little Rock, but the season will end in November for a third straight year.

Overall Record: 5-7
SEC Record: 1-7
Final CFP Ranking: NR
Bowl: None

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.