FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas will begin football practice today at 6:15 p.m. as they prepare for the 2019 football season.
The Razorbacks are obviously expecting to be improved over a 2018 season that ended 2-10. That was a transition year for Chad Morris and his staff.
The staff recruited one of the best classes in recent memory and feel they have upgraded the talent level. But there’s more reason to give hope to Arkansas having an improved season.
Here’s three questions that if answered positively a brighter season is likely to happen.
Transition Period Finished?
The transition year allowed Morris and his staff, which all but one assistant returned, a time to get to know more about what to expect in the SEC. Bret Bielema and even Bobby Petrino also had to adjust to the SEC in their first year at Arkansas. Petrino had been an assistant in the SEC, but never a head coach. Bielema went from 3-9 his first season to 7-6 year two. Petrino was 5-7 his first year and 8-5 in the second. So the pattern has been there in recent years for Arkansas to show improvement the second year under a new coach. Morris and his staff hope to see that in 2019. If they do then 6-6 or better is attainable. That would get them to a bowl game and thus the extra practices that go along with playing in a postseason contest. In year two, Bielema and the Hogs beat Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl and Petrino led the Razorbacks past East Carolina 20-17 in the Liberty Bowl. Admittedly Petrino’s deal in his first year might have been needing to upgrade the talent level more than complete adjustment to the SEC, but no doubt there was some transition time even for him and his staff.
Can Someone Take Control of Quarterback Position?
It has been well documented Arkansas started three different players at quarterback in 2018. The battle is set to start today with senior Ben Hicks, junior Nick Starkel, redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones and true freshman KJ Jefferson set to battle for the job. Jack Lindsey is a junior walk-on who is also returning. Hicks went through spring drills and knows the offense having played for Morris and Joe Craddock three years, including a redshirt his first season, at SMU. Starkel and Jefferson didn’t go through spring drills, but both are capable of making a push. Starkel in particular played at Texas A&M and seems to possibly be, at least on paper, the most ready to give Arkansas its best chance to win this fall. But Hicks and the others won’t surrender the job without a battle. This is a position that always gets the attention and most scrutiny from fans as well as the media. It is well worth watching how it plays out this preseason and fall.
Can Defense Create Turnovers?
Arkansas ranked last in the SEC in 2018 with only five interceptions. South Carolina had six while Ole Miss and Texas A&M each had seven. LSU led the league with 17. Auburn, Florida and Alabama each had 14 while Mississippi State and Vanderbilt added 13. Missouri had 10 while Kentucky and Tennessee each had nine. Georgia finished with eight. The Hogs did recover 11 fumbles which tied with Kentucky for second best in the SEC behind Florida’s 12. South Carolina recovered 10. So Arkansas’ defense forced 16 turnovers in 2018 which tied for ninth in the SEC. Missouri and South Carolina also each forced 16 turnovers. Only Ole Miss and Tennessee, 15 each, and Texas A&M with 11 had fewer. Florida topped the SEC with 26 forced turnovers while LSU was close behind with 25. Auburn and Vandy each had 22, Alabama 21, Mississippi State and Kentucky, 20 each, and Georgia with 17. If Arkansas’ defense can continue forcing fumbles, but also pick off more opposing passes the defense should be improved. Arkansas has a young secondary. Last year it was two players who had all five interceptions for the Hogs and neither are back. Cornerback Ryan Pulley had three while linebacker Dre Greenlaw added two.