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Bielema's Arkansas breakthrough already happened. The hard part's building on it.

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Don't let the record fool you. The Hogs were close to elite last year. Can they improve in a few key areas against a brutal schedule?

Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. Sometimes the wins come last

There's almost always a name that stands out in the advanced stats.

  • In 2005, Michigan went 7-5 but ranked sixth in the F/+ ratings, ahead of 10-3 Georgia and 11-2 LSU.
  • In 2006, 7-5 South Carolina ranked 16th, sandwiched by 10- and 11-win teams.
  • In 2007, 9-4 Florida ranked third, behind West Virginia and national champion LSU.
  • In 2008, 9-4 Iowa ranked ahead of Big 12 North champ Missouri.
  • In 2009, 8-5 Oklahoma ranked ninth, ahead of 14-0 Boise State and six others with double-digit wins.
  • In 2010, 9-5 South Carolina ranked ninth, ahead of 12-1 Oregon and six with at least 11 wins.
  • In 2011, 8-5 Notre Dame and 7-6 Texas A&M ranked ahead of 16 teams with double-digit wins.
  • In 2012, 8-6 Wisconsin and 8-5 Oklahoma State ranked ahead of 24 teams with at least nine wins.
  • In 2013, 8-5 Georgia ranked ahead of two 12-1 teams.

There has been hell to catch for some of these ratings. But in the following seasons for these 11 teams, seven finished in the F/+ top six, nine won at least 10 games, and 10 improved their win totals. (The outlier: 2007 South Carolina, which went 6-6 and finished 32nd. Steve Spurrier's always got to be different.)

Since you're reading an Arkansas preview, the reason I bring this up should be obvious. Last year's F/+ ratings produced a handful of odd results; Ole Miss' collapse from No. 1 through two months to barely-top-50 thereafter made their No. 5 finish odd, and Auburn's collapse made their No. 7 finish eye-catching.

But the strangest team sits at ninth. Arkansas went 7-6 and finished ahead of No. 10 Baylor, No. 11 Michigan State, No. 12 UCLA, and No. 15 Florida State, among others.

We'll get into the how and why. For now, consider this a warning. Bret Bielema's almost got his pieces in order. Sometimes the wins come after the breakthrough, but make no mistake: Arkansas broke through last fall. After a frustrating 2013 that saw Bielema's Hogs go 3-9 and finish 78th, they mastered the art of a pummeling ground game and took immense steps forward on defense. And while a four-win improvement is impressive, Arkansas was so close to more, going 0-4 in one-possession finishes.

So the Hogs are winning 10-plus games this year, right? Well ... we'll see. I'm not worried about the offense, which returns nearly everybody. The UA offense was basically a set of 11 wheat threshers, and that should be the case again. But the defense has questions after losing its top two linemen, three of five linebackers, and three of seven defensive backs. Plus, sometimes when a team makes an enormous surge, it regresses toward the mean.

Oh yeah, and the schedule is incredible. They play three road games against projected top-10 teams and drew Tennessee and Missouri from the SEC East. That makes 10-plus wins a longshot. But Arkansas was awesome and should be very good again.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 7-6 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 9
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
30-Aug at Auburn 7 21-45 L 44% -3.3 4%
6-Sep Nicholls State N/A 73-7 W 100% 68.9 100%
13-Sep at Texas Tech 82 49-28 W 88% 26.9 95%
20-Sep Northern Illinois 69 52-14 W 97% 44.8 99%
27-Sep vs. Texas A&M 42 28-35 L 55% 3.1 15%
11-Oct Alabama 2 13-14 L 74% 15.2 16%
18-Oct Georgia 4 32-45 L 37% -7.5 0%
25-Oct UAB 79 45-17 W 99% 51.3 100%
1-Nov at Mississippi State 13 10-17 L 71% 13.1 22%
15-Nov LSU 22 17-0 W 99% 60.0 100%
22-Nov Ole Miss 5 30-0 W 99% 58.3 100%
28-Nov at Missouri 20 14-21 L 79% 18.6 61%
29-Dec vs. Texas 53 31-7 W 96% 41.9 100%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 38.7 15 15.6 6
Points Per Game 31.9 45 19.2 10

2. Spectacular six times

In some ways, advanced stats measure how frequently you were awesome. Our eyes remember certain games more than others, but the stats see everything.

And in college football, that's important. Even while seeing everything, you only get 12 to 15 opportunities to judge a team. When our eyes boil things down to a few specific games, drives, or plays, we're setting ourselves up to be awfully inaccurate.

Here's what our stats saw from Arkansas last year. They were magnificent -- 95th percentile or better (top-five-caliber) -- in six of 13 games. Only three teams hit that mark more: Ohio State, Oregon, and Ole Miss.

Games at 95th percentile or better
8 Ohio State, Oregon
7 Ole Miss
6 Arkansas, Georgia
5 Alabama, Michigan State, Oklahoma, UCLA
4 Auburn, Boise State, Georgia Tech, LSU, Miami, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Wisconsin
3 Baylor, Clemson, Louisiana Tech, Stanford, Texas A&M, USC
2 Florida, Kansas State, Michigan, Missouri, Notre Dame, TCU, Texas, UTEP

If you're looking at last year's F/+ rankings and zeroing in on teams that seem to grade higher than you anticipated -- No. 5 Ole Miss, No. 7 Auburn, No. 9 Arkansas, No. 19 Oklahoma -- this clues you in. Some of these had poor performances, but when they were good, they were top-notch.

And since precedent is everything, since the best way to predict who might look good is by who has looked good, voila: Arkansas finished as a top-10 team last year.

The Hogs also finished strong.

  • Average Percentile Performance (first 7 games): 71% (~top 35 | record: 3-4)
  • Average Percentile Performance (last 6 games): 91% (~top 12 | record: 4-2)

This says wonderful things about Arkansas' prospects ... at least until you look at the schedule.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.86 60 IsoPPP+ 121.1 26
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 43.8% 48 Succ. Rt. + 115.0 22
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 27.7 22 Def. FP+ 104.0 26
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.5 58 Redzone S&P+ 119.0 20
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 22.8 ACTUAL 17 -5.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 63 25 22 26
RUSHING 26 22 42 13
PASSING 102 28 17 41
Standard Downs 33 32 39
Passing Downs 8 7 12
Q1 Rk 3 1st Down Rk 28
Q2 Rk 12 2nd Down Rk 12
Q3 Rk 60 3rd Down Rk 68
Q4 Rk 82

3. Practicing what you preach

Bielema has emerged as the biggest critic of the hurry-up, no-huddle style of offense. And while Nick Saban has shown signs of hopping on the tempo bandwagon, Bielema has done no such thing.

Arkansas' tempo ranked 116th in FBS last year. The only power-conference offenses that moved more slowly: Kansas State, Oregon State, Stanford, Michigan, and Vanderbilt.

The head hog has no interest in spreading defenses out, either. With five running backs weighing 215-plus pounds, seven linemen going 325-plus, countless tight ends, and something called a "fullback," Bielema leans on power as much as anybody. Among power-conference teams last year, only LSU allowed fewer solo tackles than Arkansas.

Bielema is clear in his vision of what an offense should look like, and in Jim Chaney, he found a man willing to create most of it. Chaney's off to Pitt, however, and we'll see if new coordinator Dan Enos makes significant changes. Doubtful.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brandon Allen 6'2, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8766 190 339 2285 20 5 56.0% 12 3.4% 6.3
Austin Allen 6'1, 210 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8950 8 16 153 0 1 50.0% 2 11.1% 7.8
Rafe Peavey 6'2, 204 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8844
Ty Storey 6'2, 215 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9088

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Jonathan Williams (injury) RB 6'0, 223 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9248 211 1190 12 5.6 4.8 44.5% 5 1
Alex Collins RB 5'11, 215 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9795 204 1100 12 5.4 5.2 42.2% 6 4
Kody Walker FB 6'2, 256 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 31 149 1 4.8 1.6 48.4% 1 1
Brandon Allen QB 6'3, 210 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8766 30 91 2 3.0 4.8 26.7% 7 2
Korliss Marshall RB
26 119 1 4.6 3.8 38.5% 1 0
Denzell Evans RB 5'11, 222 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8297 7 36 0 5.1 2.7 42.9% 0 0
Jared Cornelius WR 5'11, 202 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8441 7 26 0 3.7 2.3 28.6% 1 0
Damon Mitchell WR 6'2, 207 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8333 6 58 0 9.7 4.5 83.3% 0 0
Keon Hatcher WR 6'2, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9017 5 112 1 22.4 20.8 80.0% 0 0
Austin Allen QB 6'1, 210 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8950 5 17 1 3.4 1.1 40.0% 1 1
Juan Day RB 6'1, 206 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8528
Rawleigh Williams III RB 5'10, 215 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8659







4. Still room for improvement

Identity is a powerful thing. It can get everybody on the same page. It can spell out how you plan to earn yards and points. It paints a picture of how you intend to lean on strengths and mask weaknesses.

To say the least, Arkansas had an identity. The Razorbacks ran nearly three-quarters of the time on standard downs, playing at a sumo pace, and looking for numbers advantages that were more of the five-on-four kind than two-on-one. They had two big backs, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, who produced 32 carries and 176 yards per game, and only two players (receiver Keon Hatcher and tight end Hunter Henry) were targeted more than three times per game.

[Update: Williams is likely lost for the year due to a foot injury.]

Arkansas knew what it was, and that worked to its advantage. That doesn't mean there weren't weaknesses.

Arkansas didn't close well. This style should be expected to wear opponents down, but it didn't. Arkansas ranked third in Q1 S&P+ and 12th in Q2, but only 60th in Q3 and 82nd in Q4. Third downs were their worst downs, and they averaged only 4.5 points per scoring opportunity.

Predictability was an issue, and opponents were able to adapt over the course of 60 minutes. If Enos can make any single positive change, perhaps expanding the game plan and incorporating more diversity in the first 45 minutes would make Arkansas more effective late.

Another weakness: fumbles. Of the 44 FBS backs with at least 200 carries, only Appalachian State's Marcus Cox had more fumbles per carry than Collins, and only Cox, Collins, Western Michigan's Jarvion Franklin, and USF's Marlon Mack had more than Williams. A late Collins fumble contributed to the loss to Missouri, and even with Brandon Allen throwing only five interceptions, turnovers let opponents off the hook a few times.

One last area for improvement: big pass plays. When you've got this identity, you should have chances at play-action bombs. But only 16 of Allen's 190 completions gained 25-plus yards, and only six came on first down, a prime play-action situation. Of Arkansas' top five wide receivers, only one (Drew Morgan) averaged more than 13 yards per catch, which is odd for an offense with such play-action potential.

Because of Chaney's adaptability, he is one of my favorite coordinators. But there are areas where Enos can make the Hogs better. A few more big strikes -- to Hatcher, other returnees, or a newcomer like JoJo Robinson or Dominique Reed -- would make this offense nearly impossible to stop.

Because Arkansas' backs are nimble and its linemen are excellent at screening defenders with their massive size, opposing teams have to be concerned when the QB feints a draw handoff. The result is safeties and deep defenders getting drawn to the backfield at the last minute, allowing receivers such as Hatcher space downfield when it's most valuable.

(Quick note for Enos: no more fade passes on two-point conversions, please. Even with Hunter Henry.)

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Keon Hatcher WR 6'2, 210 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9017 78 43 558 55.1% 22.5% 44.9% 7.2 22 7.4 80.6
Hunter Henry TE 6'5, 253 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9622 63 37 505 58.7% 18.2% 50.8% 8.0 50 7.7 73.0
Demetrius Wilson WR
37 17 220 45.9% 10.7% 43.2% 5.9 -1 5.9 31.8
AJ Derby TE
34 22 303 64.7% 9.8% 52.9% 8.9 37 8.8 43.8
Jared Cornelius WR 5'11, 202 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8441 31 19 240 61.3% 9.0% 41.9% 7.7 8 8.2 34.7
Cody Hollister WR 6'4, 208 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8069 25 13 137 52.0% 7.2% 48.0% 5.5 -27 5.4 19.8
Drew Morgan WR 6'0, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7891 16 10 181 62.5% 4.6% 56.3% 11.3 59 11.5 26.2
Jonathan Williams RB 6'0, 223 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9248 16 11 65 68.8% 4.6% 62.5% 4.1 -66 4.1 9.4
Jeremy Sprinkle TE 6'6, 255 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8677 10 7 84 70.0% 2.9% 50.0% 8.4 1 8.0 12.1
Kendrick Edwards WR 6'5, 212 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8458 10 4 70 40.0% 2.9% 70.0% 7.0 16 7.4 10.1
Korliss Marshall RB
6 6 37 100.0% 1.7% 50.0% 6.2 -31 6.4 5.4
Kody Walker FB 6'2, 256 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 6 3 15 50.0% 1.7% 83.3% 2.5 -23 1.7 2.2
Eric Hawkins WR 5'11, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8422
JoJo Robinson WR 5'11, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9000
Dominique Reed WR 6'3, 180 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8635
Jovante Siglar WR 6'2, 180 Jr. NR NR
CJ O'Grady TE 6'4, 240 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9172
Will Gragg TE 6'4, 255 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9160

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 106.1 3.05 3.65 43.2% 70.0% 19.4% 150.8 4.6% 3.7%
Rank 46 52 34 25 42 69 17 65 9
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Brey Cook RT 30
Dan Skipper LT 6'10, 331 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625 21
Mitch Smothers C 6'3, 322 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9304 21
Denver Kirkland RG 6'5, 340 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9324 21
Sebastian Tretola LG 6'5, 334 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8660 11
Luke Charpentier LG
3
Austin Beck RG 6'7, 325 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8619 0
Marcus Danenhauer OG 6'4, 312 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8482 0
Reeve Koehler OG 6'3, 331 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8881 0
Frank Ragnow RG 6'5, 312 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8913 0
Brian Wallace OT 6'6, 317 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9574
Josh Allen OL 6'2, 300 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8722
Jalen Merrick OL 6'4, 339 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9057
Zach Rogers OL 6'1, 310 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8863
Colton Jackson OL 6'6, 303 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8637

5. 6'6, 327

There are six juniors and seniors among Arkansas' returning linemen above. They average 6'6, 327. This does not include 331-pound sophomore Reeve Koehler or 339-pound freshman Jalen Merrick. In terms of beefiness, Arkansas' offense is in the 99th percentile.

It should be noted that Arkansas' line stats really weren't all that good. The relationship between line stats and overall offensive stats is a tenuous one -- just because Arkansas ranked 22nd in Rushing S&P+ but only 46th in Adj. Line Yards doesn't mean that the line was holding the Hogs back -- but for a team with a power identity and the meatiest of lines, you would expect better. And you would expect something more than a mediocre stuff rate (run stops at or behind the line).

Arkansas' line didn't quite get the push you would have expected, even adjusting for opponent. Perhaps experience will help: the Hogs now return four players with at least 11 career starts (74 total). There wasn't a ton of continuity up front heading into 2014. That's not an issue now.

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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.80 36 IsoPPP+ 122.2 18
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 40.5% 58 Succ. Rt. + 117.6 17
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 32.7 20 Off. FP+ 109.2 6
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.7 17 Redzone S&P+ 128.4 5
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 26.4 ACTUAL 24.0 -2.4
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 10 18 17 18
RUSHING 12 11 19 9
PASSING 37 26 25 31
Standard Downs 15 25 13
Passing Downs 28 13 42
Q1 Rk 5 1st Down Rk 20
Q2 Rk 31 2nd Down Rk 14
Q3 Rk 5 3rd Down Rk 14
Q4 Rk 51

6. A hell of a coordinator hire

Arkansas' most famous coach, Frank Broyles, was one of those old-schoolers who decided that the offense's main job was to get out of the way of the defense.

Football in the 1960s featured far less polish, but still, from 1959 to 1966, Broyles' Razorbacks allowed under 10 points per game six times. The undefeated 1964 squad that one a share of the national title scored more than 21 points just three times in 11 games but allowed only 5.8 points per contest. After beating Texas, 14-13, they outscored their final six opponents by a margin of 126-7.

What must Broyles have thought about the last decade of Arkansas football? Since 2006, Arkansas has ranked in the Off. S&P+ top 15 four times and in the top 30 six times. The defense peaked at 16th in Def. S&P+ in 2006 and ranked outside of the top 50 four times.

Wow, did things come together last year. Bielema hired Robb Smith as his new coordinator, a talented set of upperclassmen gelled, and Arkansas improved from 78th to sixth. The Greg Schiano disciple led Rutgers' defense to a No. 13 ranking in 2012 before spending a season with Schiano in Tampa Bay.

Like the offense, the defense experienced diminishing returns as a game progressed. The Hogs were fifth in the first and third quarters but only 31st in the second and 51st in the fourth. And while the run defense was fantastic (70th in Rushing S&P+ in 2013, 11th in 2014), the pass defense was only good. Still, Smith's defense went from weakness to strength over the course of a single offseason.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 128.5 2.61 2.70 38.4% 61.8% 24.9% 106.8 3.0% 7.6%
Rank 5 27 23 56 34 9 53 105 62
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Trey Flowers DE
13 51.0 8.0% 15.5 6.0 0 6 1 0
Darius Philon DT
13 35.5 5.6% 11.5 4.5 0 2 1 2
JaMichael Winston DE 6'4, 262 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8596 13 20.5 3.2% 2.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Taiwan Johnson DT 6'2, 290 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8980 13 20.5 3.2% 8.0 4.5 0 0 0 0
Mitchell Loewen DE 6'5, 275 Sr. NR NR 9 9.5 1.5% 2.0 0.5 0 2 0 0
Deatrich Wise Jr. DE 6'5, 272 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8785 10 9.0 1.4% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Tevin Beanum DE 6'4, 280 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8206 12 7.5 1.2% 2.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Bijhon Jackson NG 6'2, 325 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9622 13 6.0 0.9% 1.0 0.0 0 1 0 0
Brandon Lewis DT 6'4, 279 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8450 11 4.5 0.7% 2.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
DeMarcus Hodge NG 6'1, 340 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8640 12 3.5 0.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 1 0
Karl Roesler DE 6'1, 255 So. 2 stars (5.2) NR 12 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Cordale Boyd NG 6'3, 282 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8640
Anthony Brown DE 6'3, 270 So. 2 stars (5.2) 0.7901
Armon Watts DT 6'5, 304 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535
Jeremiah Ledbetter DL 6'3, 280 Jr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8919
Hjalte Froholdt DT 6'4, 299 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9339
Jamario Bell DE 6'5, 253 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9100
Daytrieon Dean DT 6'3, 265 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Martrell Spaight MLB
13 95.5 15.0% 10.5 1.0 1 3 2 0
Brooks Ellis WLB 6'2, 242 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8682 11 50.5 8.0% 5.5 0.5 2 5 2 0
Josh Williams SLB 6'1, 237 Jr. NR NR 13 19.0 3.0% 1.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Braylon Mitchell MLB
13 16.5 2.6% 2.5 1.0 0 0 0 0
Daunte Carr LB
11 8.5 1.3% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Khalia Hackett MLB 6'2, 230 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8358 11 8.0 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Randy Ramsey SLB
7 6.5 1.0% 0.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dwayne Eugene WLB 6'1, 235 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244 13 3.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Tiquention Coleman LB
3 3.5 0.6% 0.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Josh Harris LB 5'10, 220 RSFr. NR NR
Dre Greenlaw LB 6'0, 222 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8522








7. Questions to answer in the front seven

Fading over the course of a half suggests that there might be depth issues. Needless to say, lopping off half of the two-deep in the front seven is not a good way to improve depth.

Arkansas will take the field without end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon, linebacker Martrell Spaight, and four of the other eight linebackers who made at least 3.5 tackles. Flowers, Philon, and Spaight were by far the best play-makers in the front seven, so both depth and star power could be obstacles.

All is obviously not lost. Tackle Taiwan Johnson is a potential star, eight returning linemen made at least one play behind the line of scrimmage, and up to three new four-star signees could join the rotation: JUCO play-maker Jeremiah Ledbetter, freshman tackle Hjalte Froholdt, and freshman end Jamario Bell.

At linebacker, a lot is riding on the progress of sophomore Khalia Hackett, who will be succeeding Spaight in the middle. Brooks Ellis is a nice play-maker, and Josh Williams saw time in the rotation, but Spaight was a hell of a defensive quarterback, and Hackett, a nice special teams contributor, faces pressure. If he doesn't work out, I'm not sure who else might be a candidate.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Alan Turner FS
13 48.0 7.6% 1 0 1 4 0 0
Jared Collins CB 5'11, 172 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8432 13 46.0 7.2% 4 1 0 13 1 0
Rohan Gaines SS 5'11, 195 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8138 12 44.0 6.9% 1 0 1 5 1 0
D.J. Dean CB 5'11, 202 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8249 13 17.0 2.7% 0 0 2 5 0 0
Tevin Mitchel CB
11 16.5 2.6% 1 0 2 8 0 0
Henre' Toliver NB 6'1, 186 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8700 11 14.5 2.3% 1 1 2 1 0 0
Carroll Washington CB
12 13.5 2.1% 1 0 1 1 0 0
De'Andre Coley SS 6'1, 202 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8163 11 9.0 1.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Josh Liddell FS 6'1, 210 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8341 12 8.0 1.3% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Kevin Richardson CB 6'0, 175 So. NR NR 13 6.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cornelius Floyd CB 5'11, 172 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8392 9 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Davyon McKinney SS 6'1, 215 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8585 4 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Matt Dodson CB 5'10, 202 So. NR NR
Santos Ramirez FS 6'2, 202 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8482
Nate Dalton DB 6'3, 197 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8449








8. Shore up the big pass plays

The run defense might regress in 2015, but the pass defense could improve. Of the 11 defensive backs who made at least four tackles, five were freshmen, and two were sophomores.

Leading safeties Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines were a senior and junior, but it stands to reason that, with the overall youth, big plays would be an issue. The Hogs allowed only 33 passes of 20-plus yards (24th in the country), but 12 of those 33 went 40-plus (94th). The discipline was fine, but the breakdowns were breakdowns.

Gaines returns, as do aggressive junior corners Jared Collins and D.J. Dean (combined: four TFLs, two INTs, 18 PBUs). Sophomore Henre' Toliver is a potential star at nickelback. There is speed to burn, and perhaps improvement in the back can offset regression in the front.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Sam Irwin-HIll 58 40.1 2 24 27 87.9%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Adam McFain 6'0, 197 Jr. 45 60.3 10 2 22.2%
Sam Irwin-HIll 18 61.9 6 1 33.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
John Henson 31-33 2-2 100.0% 0-2 0.0%
Adam McFain 6'0, 197 Jr. 20-20 6-8 75.0% 1-2 50.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Korliss Marshall KR 9 30.1 1
Keon Hatcher KR 6'2, 210 Sr. 6 23.2 0
D.J. Dean PR 5'11, 202 Jr. 11 11.0 0
Jared Cornelius PR 5'11, 202 So. 9 10.1 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 87
Field Goal Efficiency 118
Punt Return Efficiency 116
Kick Return Efficiency 24
Punt Efficiency 3
Kickoff Efficiency 110
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 18

9. Special teams will make a big difference in the West

Sam Irwin-Hill was an underrated weapon, a fair catch machine who allowed only 49 yards' worth of returns in 58 punts. His 40.1-yard average wasn't special, but his net yardage and consistency were.

That Irwin-Hill was part of a special teams unit that ranked 87th overall tells you all you need to know. Korliss Marshall was a good kick returner, but Arkansas ranked 110th or worse in kickoff efficiency, punt returns, and place-kicking. And now Irwin-Hill and Marshall are gone. Yikes.

There is potential. Adam McFain showed a strong leg on field goal attempts, even while missing two shorter kicks, and D.J. Dean did average 11 yards per return, even if 63 of his 121 return yards came on a single jaunt. Still, when special teams is a weakness, and you lose your two strengths, that doesn't tend to work out.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
5-Sep UTEP 99
12-Sep vs. Toledo 69
19-Sep Texas Tech 53
26-Sep vs. Texas A&M 22
3-Oct at Tennessee 20
10-Oct at Alabama 1
24-Oct Auburn 5
31-Oct UT-Martin NR
7-Nov at Ole Miss 6
14-Nov at LSU 8
21-Nov Mississippi State 21
27-Nov Missouri 23
Five-Year F/+ Rk 23.9% (25)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 28 / 33
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 7 / 3.7
2014 TO Luck/Game +1.3
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 15 (9, 6)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 8.1 (-1.1)

10. You better be good on the road

Arkansas was frequently awesome, but there's clear room for growth. The passing game needs to get a little bit more vertical to de-clog the box. The offensive line needs to play as big as it is. The front seven has to find a few new pieces to fill out a two-deep. The secondary needs to cut down on big plays. Special teams needs to be a little bit more special.

But even with some of the issues, the Razorbacks were capable of spectacular highs in 2014. Unfortunately for the 2015 Hogs, most of those highs were at home. Of Arkansas' six elite performances last year, five were at home and one was on a neutral field.

The baseline road performance was still solid, but Arkansas will have to be more than solid on the road. The slate includes trips to Tennessee, Alabama, Ole Miss, and LSU, top-25 teams in both projections and preseason polls. Combine that with a neutral-site battle against Texas A&M, and you've got a schedule that isn't friendly to ideas of 10-win seasons.

In this year's Football Outsiders Almanac 2015 (the college portion of which is available via $6 PDF), Arkansas is projected a conservative 21st -- 12th in S&P+ but 28th in FEI -- in part because of the suddenness of last year's success. And at 21st, the Razorbacks are given only an 18 percent chance of finishing 9-3 or better and a 29 percent chance of finishing 6-6 or worse. This division is brutal.

I think more highly of Arkansas than those projections, but it's hard to picture the Hogs topping out higher than 9-3. That's the bad news. The good news: Arkansas won a combined seven games in 2012-13. An 8-4 campaign would be another definitive step forward.