For Arkansas, the disastrous Chad Morris era came to a close after 22 games. Morris left Fayetteville with a 4-18 record, zero wins in conference play and a damning 2-4 record against Group of 5 teams.
The good news for Arkansas is things can’t get much worse. The bad news is that the program still exists in the SEC West and the Razorbacks have a long way to go just to finish outside the bottom of the division. In fact, per ESPN’s Bill Connelly the Razorbacks best outlook is four wins and have nearly identical odds to win two SEC games, 27 percent chance, as they do at going winless in SEC play, 21 percent chance.
2019: 2-10 (0-8 SEC), 108th S&P+
Head Coach: Sam Pittman
Offensive Coordinator: Kendall Briles
Defensive Coordinator: Barry Odom
Chad Morris is out, first-year head coach Sam Pittman is in. Pittman’s made a name for himself as one of the best offensive line coaches in the nation. He’s spent the last four years coaching Georgia’s offensive line and in his 34 years of coaching has produced seven first round picks and 15 draft selections overall, including both of the Bulldogs starting tackles from last season Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson.
The Razorbacks may not have a linemen of Thomas or Wilson’s caliber, but Arkansas does bring back four starters from last year’s group. While there’s stability there, the same could not be said about the Razorback quarterbacks in 2019. Last season, Arkansas used five different starting quarterbacks and the best among that group was Nick Starkel, who completed just a hair under 54 percent of his passes. I mean just look at these passing statistics.
Arkansas can’t really be any worse at quarterback in 2020 than they were in 2019 and graduate transfer Felipe Franks looks to breathe new life into the Razorback offense.
Franks comes to Arkansas after seeing his redshirt junior year at Florida cut short by a gruesome ankle injury against Kentucky. After playing in 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2017, Franks was the Gators’ full-time starter at quarterback in 2018 and had an impressive year, completing 59 percent of his passes for 2,457 yards and 24 touchdowns, and also added 350 yards and seven touchdowns with his legs. Franks won’t have the same caliber of a supporting cast at Arkansas, but he’s a more than capable starting quarterback and that’s a massive upgrade over what the Hogs had last season.
The lone bright spot for Arkansas was running back Rakeem Boyd, who picked up 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns last season. Boyd’s every bit as good as Alabama’s Najee Harris or Ole Miss’ Jerrion Ealy. If Franks can be even remotely competent at quarterback, defenses won’t be able to focus all 11 players on stopping Boyd.
The good news for Franks is that the Hogs bring back three of its top four receivers from last season. Junior Mike Woods and sophomores Trey Knox and Treylon Burks all averaged between 12 and 16 yards per catch last season, but the issue was the trio didn’t have a viable option throwing them the ball. Franks almost definitely resolves that. Rakeem Boyd is also a legitimate threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, catching 19 passes last season.
Pittman has tapped Kendal Briles to run the Arkansas offense. After stints at Baylor, Florida Atlantic and Houston, Briles spent 2019 with Florida State and the Seminoles saw tremendous improvement, especially in the running game. Florida State went from averaging 91 yards rushing in 2018 to 133 in 2019; the Seminoles also improved its third down conversion rate and red zone scoring percentage under Briles.
Defensively, Pittman has turned to former Missouri head coach Barry Odom. Missouri had a really good defense last season, ranking sixth in passing yards allowed (179.3), 14th in total yards allowed (312) and 17th in points allowed (19.4).
The bad news for Odom is that Arkansas loses a lot from last year’s team. Defensive linemen McTelvin Agim and linebacker De’Jon Harris both graduated, and the Razorbacks only bring back 3.5 of 21 sacks from last season.
There are a pair of bright spots for the 2020 Arkansas defense: second-leading tackler and excellently named linebacker Bumper Pool is back for his junior season, while the secondary will be led by junior free safety Joe Foucha, a New Orleans native. Foucha was third on the team in tackles with 84 and added an interception and four pass break ups.
For the special teams, Arkansas loses longtime place kicker Conner Limpert but filled the void by adding Duke graduate transfer AJ Reed. Reed hit on 15-18 field goals last year and made all 34 of his PATs last season. As for punting, Sam Loy will continue handling those duties after averaging 39.5 yards per punt and pinning 19 inside the 20.
2020 Arkansas Schedule
September 5: vs. Nevada
September 12: @ Notre Dame
September 19: @ Mississippi State
September 26: vs. Texas A&M (@ AT&T Stadium)
October 3: vs. Charleston Southern
October 10: vs. Alabama
October 17: vs. LSU
October 24: BYE
October 31: vs. Tennessee
November 7: @ Auburn
November 14: vs. Ole Miss
November 21: vs. ULM
November 28: @ Missouri