The Arkansas Razorbacks started the 2016 season brightly, but the fun did not last very long. Arkansas had planned a steady build upward under head coach Bret Bielema, but all signs suggest that the Razorbacks are stuck in the middle to lower portions of the unforgiving SEC West Division, with dim prospects in terms of reaching nine wins in the regular season and making a high-quality bowl game. However, every season brings its share of surprises, and Arkansas will try to be the team that ambushes SEC opponents in 2017.
How Did They End 2016
The Razorbacks simply could not handle prosperity last season. They took a big lead over Missouri in the regular season finale but crumbled in the fourth quarter and lost to a genuinely bad team. Then in the Belk Bowl against Virginia Tech, Arkansas sprinted out to a huge lead in the second quarter but unraveled after halftime, losing to the Hokies. The supremely frustrating aspect of the whole season was not necessarily the losing itself, but the fact that Bielema was a coach who – at Wisconsin, where he was immensely successful – prided himself on toughness, defense and physicality. At Arkansas, Bielema has tried to make the Hogs into his own image, giving his teams the same identity, but it has never really stuck. Arkansas gets pushed around too often, especially on defense, and that’s why opponents are able to make big comebacks against the Razorbacks.
Rawleigh Williams retired from football due to injury concerns. The running back made a name for himself in the SEC, but his departure now leaves Arkansas with an offense which will have to rely on the passing game. Bielema would prefer to run the ball, but a more pass-friendly approach will become a necessity this year. Austin Allen is an extremely talented quarterback, so Arkansas won’t suffer too much in terms of asking its quarterback to do more, but the limitation is that Allen will be subjected to more hits and will play in more predictable passing situations.
The defensive line stands out as the unit which simply has to get more work done for this team. Arkansas got dominated up front by Alabama and Auburn and LSU, the three teams which are clearly ahead of Arkansas in preseason rankings and expectations. The defensive weaknesses which pervade the Razorbacks’ roster own multiple areas of concern, but defensive line is the cornerstone. If Arkansas can somehow toughen up here, the domino effect on the rest of the defense could be positive, because opposing quarterbacks wouldn’t have as much time to throw and wouldn’t have as many favorable down and distance situations.
What To Expect From The Razorbacks This Year
The Razorbacks are in trouble. Alabama, Arkansas and LSU are the class of the SEC West. Texas A&M is probably faster. It is hard to see how Arkansas will do anything better than 4-4 in the SEC, which means that the team will not fulfill any high-level goal this season. No team can make a premium bowl game with that conference record.
Record Last 5 Seasons
Schedule and Outlook
The Razorbacks have a relatively easy schedule, so that’s a good sign for Bielema and his hot seat. Yes, they will have to host TCU in Week 2, which is a challenging non-conference game, but they only have four true road games this season. They’ll play Texas A&M at a neutral site but their only road games are at South Carolina, at Alabama, at Ole Miss and at LSU. While that’s challenging, the Hogs do get plenty of home games where they can try and build some momentum.
If Arkansas can’t do better than 4-4 in the SEC, it cannot do better than 8-4 in 12 games… and that’s an optimistic outlook. A loss to TCU in a non-conference game could put the Hogs at 7-5. When 8-4 is the ceiling, the operation is not where it needs to be. Still, given the amount of home games, we’ll say they get at least seven wins and push or go over.
Regular Season Win Total Prediction: Over 7
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