This will be a new-look version of the Razorbacks, in more ways than one. Interim head coach John L. Smith was not retained after last season. Offensive stalwarts like quarterback Tyler Wilson, running backs Knile Davis and Dennis Johnson and wide receiver Cobi Hamilton are also gone and must be replaced.
New head coach Bret Bielema, who came to Fayetteville after seven years as head coach of the Wisconsin Badgers, hopes to restore the program to a competitive nature after last season’s debacle.
Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney must find a quarterback to replace the departed Wilson. There was a competition for the job during spring practice, and the job was won by Brandon Allen, who has appeared in only five games in his career. Allen will be charged with directing the offense, and his style fits what Bielema and Chaney would like to do.
The running back positions appear to be wide open for Arkansas. Patrick Arinze, Kody Walker and Nate Holmes got the majority of the carries during the spring, but true freshman Alex Collins figures to be in the mix for the Razorbacks. Jonathan Williams will also be a factor in the backfield.
At wide receiver, Javontee Herndon had a big spring, as did Keon Hatcher and Demetrius Wilson. Mekale McKay may have the most natural talent at the position.
The offensive line has some holes to fill, but not at center, where Rimington Trophy candidate Travis Swanson returns. Swanson was second-team All-SEC last season. Left tackle David Hurd is the only other returning starter on the offensive line.
Defensive end Chris Smith will anchor the defensive line for the Hogs. Smith had 52 tackles last season, including 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Byran Jones also returns after recording 52 tackles, including five for loss, last season. Trey Flowers and Brandon Lewis will also be important pieces on the D-line.
Linebacker appears to be a position where development is needed for the Hogs. Jarrett Lake will need to step up for Arkansas, as will Braylon Mitchell and Daunte Carr. The linebacker play could be the key to the Arkansas defense in 2013.
The defense will rely heavily on the secondary, which improved as spring practice progressed. Ray Buchanan Jr. had a nice spring, as did Tiquention Coleman and Will Hines. Returning starters Tevin Mitchell and Rohan Gaines will provide experience in the defensive backfield.
Bielema and his staff were not given a grace period in their first year in the SEC. The beginning of the schedule isn’t bad, as Arkansas hosts Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Mississippi in its first three contests.
After that, the Razorbacks face tough SEC road games against the Florida Gators, the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Ole Miss Rebels and the LSU Tigers. At home, Arkansas faces the Texas A&M Aggies, the South Carolina Gamecocks and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Arkansas also has a non-conference road game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights.
Bielema is used to winning, and he will bring this mindset to Fayetteville. However, the brutal schedule, as well as breaking in a new quarterback and a new system will make the 2013 campaign a challenging one for Arkansas. If the Hogs can get to six wins and become bowl eligible, it would be quite an accomplishment.