2019 College Football Preview: Arkansas Razorbacks

(Photo: Keon Hatcher, 2015)

Arkansas Razorbacks

Head Coach: Chad Morris

2018 Record: 2-10, 0-8 Conference

Bowl: N/A

O/U 5.5 wins (O +125, U -155)

To Make Final 4: 200000

Arkansas is on the verge of breaking through, however tough that sounds from a team that failed to win a single SEC game a year ago. Arkansas has to get better on defense and make some plays, but a lot of the improvement can come just from winning close games. The Razorbacks boast a top-25 recruiting class that will make its impact felt, perhaps sooner than later. Vegas oddsmakers set the over/under a full 3.5 wins higher than last season’s win total so it is time to take a look at just why everyone expects such a big turnaround from this program.

Offense

With a new quarterback, this offense will see some changes and adjustment. Ty Storey is in. Cole Kelley joins as well. But the starting role will likely be held by former SMU QB Ben Hicks. He passed for 9,081 yards, 71 TDs, and 34 INTs in his three seasons at SMU. He is basically as good as a coach on the field, and his experience will help this offensive unit make big strides. Arkansas ranked No. 114 in scoring last year (21.7 points per game) and No. 118 in offensive yardage (335.7), so improvement should be an easy thing to find for this year’s iteration of Razorback football.

The backfield will feature tailbacks Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley. Both missed spring drills, so Chase Hayden shined as a guy who did stand out in 2017 as a freshman. Between the three of them, The Razorbacks should form a good ground game. Deon Stewart, De’Vion Warren, and Michael Woods are all great receivers and 6’5” true freshman Tyler Knox will make some plays. Jordan Jones is lighting quick, and Koian Jackson offers some potential as well. Hicks will have options.  Cheyenne O’Grady will be one more target as a tight end.

The OL was stunted mostly by injuries last season. Colton Jackson and Ty Clary are the only two returning starters. Jackson was looking good in spring before he suffered a knee injury that held him out for a while, and there are three vying for the starting guard position. JUCO transfer Myron Cunningham and Chibueze Nwanna are both going to see playing time, too. The OL must improve but given that last year’s situation was hampered by injuries it would take similar misfortunate circumstances to be in the same place.

Defense

Defensive coordinator John Chavis is hoping he can get his group to be more aggressive with pressure this season. The front looked great in spring, and seniors McTelvin Agim and TJ Smith are both interior linemen who should help in that regard. Edge players, which include Dorian Gerald, Gabs Richardson, Jamario Bell, and Mataio Soli all must become better stoppers of the run. They also have to improve on blitzes.

DeJon Harris is the best of the linebacking group after recording 118 tackles (No. 3 in SEC) last season. The depth has been weak, but there are five good linebackers hoping to prevent that from being the case this season. The Razorbacks secondary also lacks depth, but it returns some starters including junior safety Kamren Curl and sophomore cornerback Jarques McClellion. Nickel D’Vone McClure is back, too. The secondary did a poor job on long plays last year, and adding some speed to its play is a must.

Special Teams

Connor Limpert returns to the kicking unit, but it struggled last year with him. North Texas had a “viral” play against Limpert and company that highlighted the embarrassment of Razorback football in 2018. Warren will be good on kick off returns, while punt returns will be handled by senior Deon Stewart. He showed signs last year. All the special teams have to get better in 2019, though.

Final Word

For a team that won just two games last year, the Razorbacks are fairly formidable this season. Recruiting does that. It has to sweep its nonconference schedule and pull a few SEC victories, and it could possibly attain to landing itself in a bowl. That sounds silly following a two-win season, but it is definitely possible.

Prediction: 5 wins (under)

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