NCAA Football Preview - Arkansas Razorbacks

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Updated: 8/18 10:51 am

Bielema was able to drum up hope in Fayetteville early on in the 2013 campaign. The team opened their schedule with three straight wins at home, defeating Louisiana (34-14), Samford (31-21) and Southern Mississippi (24-3), but it would not win another game. After closing out its non-conference slate with a 28-24 loss at Rutgers, its losing streak climbed to nine with setbacks in each of its conference bouts, including embarrassing ones at the hands of South Carolina (52-7) and Alabama (52-0) in back-to-back weeks in October.

The nine losses for the Hogs, six of which came against ranked teams, were the most in school history, and they failed to make a bowl game for the second straight year after qualifying for the postseason in 11 of the previous 14 seasons.

2014 ANALYSIS:

OFFENSE: Unsurprisingly, the Razorbacks' offense failed to generate much success against its tough SEC competition, finishing the 2013 season averaging only 20.7 ppg and 357.2 ypg. There's some hope for improvement this season, however, as the squad returns seven starters on that side of the ball.

Brandon Allen's sophomore season under center was a struggle from start to finish. In 11 games, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes for 1,552 yards, throwing just 13 touchdowns paired with 10 interceptions. Despite Allen's uninspiring play, with three freshmen behind him on the depth chart, his status as QB1 is safe for the time being.

Undoubtedly Arkansas' biggest strength comes in the backfield. Alex Collins (1,026 yards, four TDs) and Jonathan Williams (900 yards, four TDs) split the load last season to outstanding results, especially considering the poor quarterback play. Returning for their sophomore and junior seasons, respectively, Collins and Williams will need to adjust to running behind an offense line that returns just two starters, guards Mitch Smothers and Brey Cook.

There's not much to rely on in terms of receiving options, with Keon Hatcher (27 receptions, 346 yards, two TDs) the most experienced of the bunch. Demetrius Wilson (6-3, 186), a senior, is expected to step into the starting lineup after using a medical redshirt last season, and sophomores Cody Hollister, Drew Morgan, Chris Saunders and Scotty Thurman will also get their chances to break out.

DEFENSE: The stagnant offense clearly didn't do many favors for the defense a season ago, but the unit still failed to hold up its end of the bargain after allowing 30.8 ppg and 413.4 ypg.

One of the few bright spots for the unit was defensive end Trey Flowers, who racked up 13.5 TFL, 5.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception. As one of the best defensive lineman in the SEC, Flowers could have headed for greener pastures in the NFL last spring but opted to return for his senior season.

"I knew under Coach Bielema and the guys he put around him as far as the staff, we're taking this program to a winning season," Flowers said. "I understand what we've been through the last two years. From my freshman year having an 11-win season, I understand what it takes to win. (I wanted to) come back to be a leader and help my team win."

The Razorbacks also return their top two tacklers in safety Alan Turner (97 tackles, two INTs) and linebacker Braylon Mitchell (77 tackles). Add cornerback Tevin Mitchel (47 tackles, INT) and defensive tackle Darius Philon (9.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) to the mix and the veteran unit should see a marked improvement in 2014.

SPECIAL TEAMS: John Henson will take over place kicking duties from Zach Hocker. Returning as the punter is Sam Irwin-Hill, who averaged 44.3 yards per punt last year, while landing 20 inside the 20-yard line.

Backup running back Korliss Marshall will act as the return specialist once again. He ran back 19 kickoffs in 2013 for 422 yards.

OUTLOOK: While it was reasonable to expect some growing pains for Arkansas in Bielema's first season, few could have anticipated such a disastrous turnout, especially from a coach who led Wisconsin to three straight Rose Bowl appearances from 2010-12. Learning from the mistakes he made during his first season in the SEC, Bielema understands that adjustments have to be made.

"We did a wholesale change," Bielema said. "We're still a certain type of offense, defense, (but) we're just going to do it a lot better. We've done a lot of little things that are going to affect the big picture. I get excited because the things we've done have shown they can win in this year. Year two, although we don't know the record yet, my full heart belief is it's going to be better than year one."

Arkansas will be put to the test immediately with an opening week clash at Auburn, and to follow will be one of the toughest roads in the SEC with a schedule that includes home games versus Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Georgia and road bouts at Mississippi State and Missouri. The Razorbacks should be able to find a way to snap their conference losing streak at some point during the season, but even with slight improvements, they are still clearly a bottom-rung SEC team destined to miss out on bowl season once again.

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