I wouldn’t call the Arkansas Razorbacks a good team. I wouldn’t necessarily call them a bad team either. Instead second-year head coach Sam Pittman has turned Arkansas into something far more terrifying: frisky.
2020: 3-7 (3-7, SEC)
2021 S&P+ Projection: 41st
2021 Recruiting: 25th
Head Coach: Sam Pittman (3-7, 2nd season)
Offensive Coordinator: Kendall Briles
Defensive Coordinator: Barry Odom
On the one hand Arkansas got blown out by Georgia, Florida, and Alabama last season. The Hogs lost to the SEC’s top teams by a combined score of 152-48.
The thing is, Arkansas was never going to beat those teams and who knows if Pittman will ever get the program to a level where they can challenge the likes of Bama and Georgia. But look at the four other losses Arkansas suffered last year. The biggest margin of defeat was a nine-point loss at College Station. The others? Two points against Mizzou and Auburn, and by three against LSU. Now suddenly you’re looking at a team that could finish in the upper half of the West if Pittman continues to build off a solid foundation.
Speaking of foundations, the Hogs bring back 17 starters from last year’s team but will have a new-ish face at quarterback. Redshirt sophomore KJ Jefferson appears to be QB1 for Pittman. You may remember him from LSU’s 56-20 drubbing in the 2019 season. That night in Baton Rouge was Jefferson’s first career start and he went 7-14 for 105 yards.
Jefferson played sparingly in 2020, throwing 41 passes over the course of five games. His best day through two seasons was an 18 for 33 day against Missouri where he threw 274 yards and three touchdowns. Now in his second year in Kendall Briles’s system, possessing a skillset that Briles favors, we may see Jefferson take a leap. Say what you will about the Briles father-son duo, but he can draw up an offense with the best of them.
Briles and Jefferson have a couple of awesome pieces to work with at the skill positions. Treylon Burks comes into the 2021 season as a preseason first-team All-SEC pick at receiver and will likely hear his name called in the first round of next April’s draft. Burks caught 51 balls in 2020 for 820 yards and seven touchdowns. He has just as much a case to be considered the SEC’s best receiver as Kayshon Boutte and John Metchie.
At tight end Arkansas has Hudson Henry, who made the conference’s All-Freshman team in 2020. Henry is the younger brother of former Hog Hunter Henry who won the Mackey Award and was picked 35th overall in the 2016 Draft. Hudson projects similarly to his brother, he is on the Mackey Award watch list this season and 247 projected him as a 2nd-3rd round pick coming out of high school.
Arkansas and LSU’s offensive line situation is very similar. The Hogs bring back all five starters but those same five guys gave up 34 sacks last season. The group also lost offensive line coach Brad Davis to LSU, but Sam Pittman made his bones as an offensive line coach so perhaps he helps that unit take a step forward.
Defensively Barry Odom’s group was great at stopping opposing offenses from gashing them with big plays. The downside is, teams would instead death by a thousand cuts the Hog defense. Arkansas ranked 83rd in run defense and 97th in passing defense.
The unit is led by sixth-year senior linebacker Grant Morgan, who racked up 111 tackles en route to a second-team All-American season. Morgan added 7.5 tackles for loss, five PBUs, a pair of sacks and a pick-six which made him a semifinalist for last season’s Butkus Award.
Expect improvements in the Hog secondary as all the starters return, and that includes All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon. Catalon was second on the team in tackles and pass break ups last season and can really thump as evidence by his two forced fumbles.
This schedule though? Oh man this schedule.
Arkansas has maybe the toughest road ahead in all of college football. They have to play soon to be conference mates Texas in week two and the schedule doesn’t really let up at any point. The Hogs have to go to Georgia, Ole Miss, LSU, and Alabama this year and of course play A&M in Dallas. So in other words of the five toughest conference games on Arkansas’s schedule, four are on the road and one is a neutral site game. Good luck with that one, Hogs.
September 4 vs. Rice
September 11 vs. Texas
September 18 vs. Georgia Southern
September 25 vs. Texas A&M (In Dallas)
October 2 @ Georgia
October 9 @ Ole Miss
October 16 vs. Auburn
October 23 vs. Arkansas Pine Bluff
October 30 BYE
November 6 vs. Mississippi State
November 13 @ LSU
November 20 @ Alabama
November 26 (Friday) vs. Missouri