Luckily for the Arkansas Razorbacks, last season’s record means very little at this point. It is a new year and the slate is wiped clean. New faces take the field with palpable excitement and a hint of uncertainty.
In this case, I am referring to their opponents. According to the NCAA strength of schedule calculation, the Hogs have the hardest schedule in the country in 2014. That calculation is simply based on opponents’ win-loss record from last season and Bret Bielema’s squad is facing 12 teams that went 103-54 in 2013.
This number may appear daunting, but as any fan knows, one great or terrible season does not necessarily begat another. The SEC West tilt is arguably the toughest in college football and the Hogs start the season at Auburn. Not exactly the tune-up that fans would want after a 3-9 season, but Auburn is a great example of why previous seasons matter very little.
The Tigers went winless in the SEC and 3-9 overall in 2012. Add a new coach and a new quarterback to the mix in 2013 and “boom,” as Gus Malzahn would say. The Tigers ran all over the SEC and crushed Missouri in Atlanta to win the conference championship. Nobody in the country would have figured that a team picked to finish fifth in their division would dominate the conference, but they did.
Arkansas has the talent and coaching to initiate that kind of turnaround. Many of their opponents have replaced key starters at the quarterback position and overhauled their defense due to attrition. Most of their tough games are at home, including Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss. The addition of Robb Smith as defensive coordinator has bolstered a maligned defense and the ever-important running game has come on strong this spring.
After two seasons of turmoil, the Hogs are due for some glad tidings. Maybe this will be the year the Hogs become “Bielema’s Believers.”