SEC Team Preview Series: Arkansas

SEC Team Preview Series: Arkansas

Welcome to WNSP’s preview series to get you ready for SEC and Sunbelt Media Days. Each day, we will preview a new team in each conference and get you ready for football season. We’ll take a look at what Vegas has their win total set at, make a prediction, and talk about their season outlook. Today’s team: The Arkansas Razorbacks

 

Players to watch:

Offense: QB KJ Jefferson, WR Jadon Haselwood, OT Dalton Wagner

Defense: LB Bumper Pool, LB Drew Sanders, S Jalen Catalon

 

O/U Win Line: 7.5

Dave Schultz’s Pick: Over

Mark Heim’s Pick: Over

Lee Shirvanian’s Pick: Over

Nick Wiggins’ Pick: Under

Michael Brauner’s Pick: Over

 

The Arkansas Razorbacks are undoubtedly a program on the rise heading into the third season of the Sam Pittman era. Winning 8 games in the regular season and their bowl game against Penn State gave the Razorbacks their first 9-win season since the end of the Bobby Petrino era in 2011.

Pittman appears to finally have things going in the right direction and with a ton of returning talent to go along with a manageable schedule, it’s not unrealistic to see the Hogs finishing as high as second in the SEC West. Quarterback KJ Jefferson is back after a stellar 2021 campaign where he commanded a balanced Razorbacks offense that averaged over 200 yards passing and 200 yards rushing for the first time in over 50 years.

While star receiver Treylon Burks departed for the NFL Draft, the Razorbacks dipped into the transfer portal and found Oklahoma’s Jadon Haselwood who should be a solid go-to target for Jefferson. The offensive line also returns four starters from last season, one of them being one of the biggest humans in college football in RT Dalton Wagner who stands at 6’9” and weighs 337 pounds. It also should not be understated that the entire coaching staff from last season remains intact, which is a massive help for a program that is trying to build some sustained success.

On defense, the Hogs did lose some, but dipped into the transfer portal there as well, with a huge addition coming from Tuscaloosa in former five-star outside linebacker Drew Sanders, who just simply was not going to be able to see enough time on the field for his talent given the likes of Will Anderson and Dallas Turner for Alabama. Besides having the best name in college football, Bumper Pool is a legitimate playmaker at linebacker and him electing to return for his final year of eligibility will help this defense tremendously. Jalen Catalon, who suffered a season-ending injury last season after just six games, is one of the best safeties in the nation and will be a huge part of anchoring the Hogs secondary.

Schedule wise, non-conference is very interesting. Opening with last year’s Cinderella playoff team Cincinnati at home who loses a ton on both sides of the ball should be a win, as should Missouri State. They do have a road matchup against BYU and a home matchup against Liberty. All four of these should be wins for the kind of program Arkansas is trying to become, but if they do slip up, the path to eight wins gets tough.

In the SEC, the Hogs will have to win a couple of tough games with matchups against Texas A&M in Cowboys Stadium, Alabama at home, at Auburn, at Mississippi State, and LSU and Ole Miss at home. If the Hogs do indeed take that next step into a legitimate program this year, however, 8 wins or even better is beyond realistic. I’m buying what Sam Pittman is selling, and I’ll take the Hogs at 9-3.

Michael Brauner