Head Coach: Bret Bielema
2014 record: 7-6 overall, 2-6 SEC West
2014 Postseason results: Beat Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl
2015 returning starters: 9 offense, 5 defense
Odds to win 2016 College Football Championship game: 51/1
Odds to win 2015 SEC Championship Game: 19/2
Odds to Win 2015 SEC West Division: 11/2
Regular season wins: over 8 -115 / under 8 -115
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After a 3-4 start last season, the Arkansas Razorbacks finished 2015 strong going 4-2 down the stretch, including shut out wins over LSU and Mississippi. The Razorbacks would crush former Southwest Conference rival Texas 31-7 in the Texas Bowl to finish 7-6. The Razorbacks had only won 7 games total in the previous 2 seasons.
Now coach Bret Bielema is back for his third year, and the Razorbacks expect to make even more strides with 14 starters back, including 9 on offense. Arkansas is even a semi-dark horse to contend for the conference title.
Last year, Arkansas averaged 406 yards per game including 218 rushing yards. While the Razorbacks were #26 in rushing the passing game was #102 out of 128 FBS teams at 188 yards per game. Arkansas scored 32 points a game. None starters are back for coordinator Dan Enos.
Senior quarterback Brandon Allen is a three year starter. Allen completed 56% of his passes for 2,285 yards with 20 touchdowns and 5 interceptions, and also added 2 rushing touchdowns. Sophomore Austin Allen is the back-up. He threw for 153 yards with an interception and a rushing touchdown in mostly mop-up duty.
Arkansas was the only team in FBS that had two 1,000 yard rushers. Both Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins return in 2015. Williams had 211 carries for 1,190 yards with 12 touchdowns, and also 11 catches with 2 touchdowns. Collins had 204 carries for 1,100 yards with 12 touchdowns. No other running back had more than 31 carries for the Hogs last year.
Leading receiver Keon Hatcher is also back after making 43 catches for 558 yards and 6 touchdowns, and also rushing for 112 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Hunter Henry is also back after making 37 catches for 513 yards with 2 touchdowns. Jared Cornelius is also back after making 18 catches for 212 yards and 2 touchdowns. Freshmen Dominique Reed and JoJo Robinson should provide much needed speed to the receiving corps.
Four starters are back on the offensive line, but some have moved to new positions. Guard Denver Kirkland moves to left tackle and Dan Skipper moved to right tackle. Left guard Sebastian Tretola and center Mitch Smothers is also back.
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Top 10 ranked defenses seem to grow on trees in SEC country and Arkansas was no exception. The Razorbacks allowed 323 yards per game including 115 rushing yards. Arkansas allowed 19 points per game. The Razorbacks were #12 or better in all three categories and even the pass defense was in the top 40 nationally. Five starters are back for coordinator Robb Smith.
Taiwan Johnson moves from nose tackle to defensive tackle after a breakout sophomore season. He had 4.5 sacks last year. Bijhon Jackson and DeMarcus Hodge will split time at nose tackle. JaMichael Winston and Deatrich Wise, Jr. will start at the ends.
Brooks Ellis moves from the middle to strong side linebacker. Josh Williams and Khalia Hackett will start at the other two linebackers. Randy Ramsey was supposed to get playing time at linebacker but he left the team in June.
Jared Collins and D.J. Dean return at the corners, and will be challenged for playing time by Henre’ Toliver. Rohan Gaines will start at strong safety and sophomore Josh Liddell will be a physical free safety.
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Adam McFain made 7 of 10 field goals last year, but will compete with Lane Saling and Cole Hedlund for the kicking job. Toby Baker and Blake Johnson will compete for the punting job. Hatcher will return kicks and Cornelius will return punts.
Arkansas has home games against UTEP, Toledo (in Little Rock) and Texas Tech, and play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas. October brings road games at Tennessee and Alabama, and home games against Auburn and Tennessee-Martin. November doesn’t get any easier with road trips to Ole Miss and LSU, and home games against Mississippi State and Missouri to close out the season.
The offense should be improved, but the Razorbacks will still lean heavily on Williams and Collins. I see the defense taking a step back because they lost a lot of talent. While the non-conference schedule is very soft, the conference schedule is brutal. Still, all the Razorbacks have to do is win 2 of those games to get to a bowl game. I think Arkansas wins six games and maybe seven. The Razorbacks return to a mid-tier bowl.
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