Just a few years ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks stood as one of the top teams in the country, but a simple motorcycle wreck hit the program as hard as Bobby Petrino hit the pavement. John L. Smith kept the coaching seat warm in 2012, posting a 4-8 record, in what could only be described as a bizarre season with a head coach on a ten month contract and in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Soon after, Bret Bielema took over the team, but the Razorbacks look far away from the product he produced at Wisconsin.
2013 Season in Review
Not much went right for Arkansas in 2013. The Razorbacks finished the season with only three wins, and none of those wins came in SEC play.
The season started optimistically with wins over Louisiana, Samford, and Southern Mississippi to open the season. Arkansas then suffered a four-point loss to Rutgers in Piscataway, and then had to play five straight SEC games against top-20 teams, losing all five to stand at 3-5. In back to back games against the Mississippi schools, Arkansas dropped a ten-point decision in Oxford and suffered an overtime loss to Mississippi State at War Memorial Stadium.
The Razorbacks struggled to move the ball through the air, ranking 117th in the nation with 148.5 passing yards per game. They did have more success on the ground, picking up 208.7 yards per game, good for 21st in the nation.
Brandon Allen, who will be the signal caller this year, posted pedestrian numbers in 2013. He finished the season completing less than 50% of his passes for 1552 yards, 13 touchdowns and ten interceptions. The running back duo of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams impressed last year, and the duo returns in 2014.
Defensively, Arkansas struggled, giving up over 30 points a game last year.
2014 Season Look Ahead
The Razorbacks return many pieces to the offensive puzzle,and that should help Arkansas put more points on the board. There are no doubts that Collins and Williams can have good seasons, but the pressure will be on Brandon Allen to produce. A completion percentage below 50% just will not cut it. Unless the offense produces, Arkansas will have trouble in most of their games.
Defensively, Arkansas will return many players, but again, this is from a defense that struggled to produce in 2013. The defensive line strategy has changed a bit this season, so if that area improves, the Razorback defensive backs will get tested this season.
Overall, the Razorbacks should be better, but they still have work to do to get back to a bowl game.
3 Big Factors
1. Will Mississippi State be healthy?
Last year, the Bulldogs barely escaped Arkansas with a victory. Injuries forced Mississippi State to rely on true freshman Damian Williams on the road in a place where Mississippi State has historically struggled. Mississippi State barely survived a game with bowl hopes on the line.
The game is again played late in the year in 2014. Will the Bulldogs be at 100% in the matchup?
2. What will be on the line for Arkansas?
The Razorbacks should improve this season, and they may have a faint chance for a bowl game. The Razorbacks should at least have three wins at that point of the season, and an upset might have it at four. A win against Mississippi State will be a must in any "go-bowling" condition for Arkansas. Should the Razorbacks be in position to make it happen, expect a fight from Arkansas.
3. No Looking Ahead
In years past, it was not uncommon for Mississippi State have played a big game the week before and another big game lurking the week after the Arkansas contest. This year, the Bulldogs play Kentucky the week before and UT-Martin the week after. Mississippi State should have its attention squarely on Arkansas this year.