The Arkansas Razorbacks head into uncharted waters this August when they open their season. With a new coach, philosophy and mentality, the Razorbacks are undoubtedly heading in the right direction, but there will be plenty of growing pains this season.
Bret Bielema brings a style to Arkansas that not many teams use in the SEC. Fans will be pleased with the hard hitting and toughness the team will show, but wins will be hard to come by due to many shortcomings the Razorbacks suffer from.
In 2012, despite averaging more than 300 yards-per-game, the Razorbacks finished ranked 91 out of 123 teams in scoring with just 23.5 points-per-game. The offense has lost its best weapons in Tyler Wilson, Cobi Hamilton, Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson, but the change in philosophy makes up for some of those losses. One piece that has the potential to make up for what was lost is running back Jonathan Williams. Williams has been having a very good Spring and should lead the rushing attack going into the 2013 season. His inexperience, though, makes it difficult to expect too much out of him, with just 45 career carries and no rushing touchdowns. Incoming freshman running back Alex Collins should also see time during the 2013 campaign, as he should push for more carries during the Summer camps.
The rushing attack will keep Arkansas balanced and allow the Hogs to move the ball against most of the defenses they will play. However, the defense is still a liability that is not easily erased by increasing toughness. Arkansas’ defense gave up an average of almost 410 yards-per-game to opposing offenses and finished 83rd in the NCAA in scoring by allowing more than 30 points-per-game.
The secondary was just plain bad in 2012 as the defensive backs struggled to cover, tackle, and contain every offense they faced. With improvements in the front seven this offseason, Arkansas will be better against the run, but teams will throw even more if the running game is not working.
If the secondary fails to play better against the pass, the Razorbacks could be looking at quite a few early deficits and be forced to throw more on offense. This scenario is almost a worst-case situation for the Hogs and their fans, as quarterback play projects to be the worst since 2008. Redshirt sophomore Brandon Allen and senior Brandon Mitchell are still competing hard for the starting job. Allen is emerging as the front-runner, but someone has to line up behind center. This position battle is possibly the most difficult to judge, as it is picking the lesser of two evils rather than the better player. Neither option stacks up against other quarterbacks in the SEC nor have they shown the potential to be more than an average quarterback.
The problems Arkansas faces in 2012 are similar to that of the 2008 team. Changing philosophies, rebuilding both sides of the ball and instilling a new mentality is not the recipe for a good season. The Razorbacks are moving in the right direction, but 2013 will end with a 5-7 record at best.