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The Arkansas Razorbacks are again big, nasty, and in danger of a rough start

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Look at these schedule projections below. Every other Arkansas game is a tossup.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Check out the advanced-stats glossary here. Below, a unique review of last year's team, a unit-by-unit breakdown of this year's roster, the full 2016 schedule with win projections for each game, and more.

1. Timing is tricky

It's hard to get all your ducks in a row, especially when you're not signing elite recruiting classes. You need some diamonds in the rough to thrive at the same time on both sides of the ball. You need your classes balanced so that one unit isn't rebuilding as another peaks. You need to peak in-season as the biggest games arrive.

In three years as Arkansas' head coach, Bret Bielema has cleared quite a few hurdles. He's won big road games, established a physical identity,  clashed with colleagues, and provided quotes both maddening and wonderful. He has made an impact in all ways good and bad.

But he has yet to master the art of timing.

Eight programs have finished in the S&P+ top 15 in each of the last two years. But while Ohio State, Alabama, and Michigan State have combined for only nine losses in this span, and Baylor, Oklahoma, Ole Miss, and Stanford have averaged a 20-7 record, Arkansas is 15-11.

The Razorbacks began 2014 with a 3-4 record before hitting fifth gear, then began 2015 2-4 before doing the same. They have been one of the best November teams in the country but have sabotaged their goals with shaky Septembers.

2015 saw them solve one problem just in time to watch another emerge. A team with Arkansas' 2015 offense and 2014 defense would have had an S&P+ rating of plus-28.1; that would have ranked second in the country last year. But just as the offense hit its cruising altitude, the defense sputtered.

So for the second straight year, the Razorbacks had to settle for knowing they were very good, without the record to prove it.

Residing in the toughest division in college football, while playing solid non-conference slates, hasn't done them any favors. It might be nice to know you are taking on the best, but winning more than eight games is nice, too. In two years, the Hogs have played 12 games against teams that finished with at least nine wins. That they've won five is proof of their caliber. But that means they've still lost seven others.

So does this cycle ever end? In the most competitive environment, can Bielema ever break through with the type of win totals he managed at Wisconsin (12 wins in 2006, 11 in 2010 and 2011)? And if so, might it happen in 2016?

In a way, the answer depends on assumptions. In terms of experience, perhaps the biggest questions the Razorbacks have to answer this year are at running back and on the offensive line.

Arkansas' identity is premised around bruising running backs and a meaty offensive line; if we assume a Bielema team will have quality options in these two areas, then everything else could fall into place. Arkansas will be starting a new quarterback, too, but returns its top four wide receivers and a big-play tight end. And the defense has all of the experience it didn't have a year ago -- six of the top seven tacklers on the line, every linebacker, and eight of the top nine defensive backs return.

Experience alone doesn't dictate quality, but it helps, and Arkansas will have plenty of it. But the running game drives the bus, and if there is any major drop-off there, then that could gum everything up. At the least, it could lead to another slow star.

If there's a massive breakthrough coming, it probably won't happen in 2016. This might be another "clear quality and five losses" season.

2015 Schedule & Results

Record: 8-5 | Adj. Record: 11-2 | Final F/+ Rk: 11 | Final S&P+ Rk: 15
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Win
Expectancy
vs. S&P+ Performance
vs. Vegas
5-Sep UTEP 125 48-13 W 98% 100% +11.0 +2.0
12-Sep vs. Toledo 20 12-16 L 77% 66% -20.4 -25.5
19-Sep Texas Tech 60 24-35 L 38% 17% -27.0 -22.5
26-Sep vs. Texas A&M 34 21-28 L 54% 35% -3.2 +0.5
3-Oct at Tennessee 18 24-20 W 93% 97% +7.7 +10.5
10-Oct at Alabama 1 14-27 L 49% 7% +8.3 +4.0
24-Oct Auburn 33 54-46 W 79% 86% -6.3 +2.0
31-Oct UT-Martin N/A 63-28 W 86% 100% -4.3
7-Nov at Ole Miss 5 53-52 W 56% 17% +12.5 +12.0
14-Nov at LSU 10 31-14 W 94% 99% +29.7 +24.5
21-Nov Mississippi State 16 50-51 L 59% 37% -4.5 -4.5
27-Nov Missouri 75 28-3 W 96% 100% +8.1 +11.0
2-Jan vs. Kansas State 81 45-23 W 88% 99% +5.8 +11.0

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 43.7 2 28.4 67
Points Per Game 35.9 27 27.4 68

2. If Bielema ever fixes the shaky starts...

In 2014, Arkansas' average percentile performance was 71 percent for the first seven games of the year and an incredible 91 percent for the final six. Last fall, the Razorbacks didn't quite hit the same elite level late in the year, but they came awfully close. And they did so after starting even more slowly.

  • First 4 games:
    Record: 1-3 | Average percentile performance: 67% (~top 45) | Yards per play: Hogs 7.0, Opp 6.5 (+0.5)
  • Next 5 games:
    Record: 4-1 | Average percentile performance: 73% (~top 35) | Yards per play: Hogs 6.7, Opp 6.2 (+0.5)
  • Last 4 games:
    Record: 3-1 | Average percentile performance: 84% (~top 20) | Yards per play: Hogs 6.8, Opp 5.5 (+1.3)

Now, these starts are only so shaky. Arkansas outgained Toledo by nearly 200 yards in one of the flukier losses of the season, and while the performances against Texas Tech and Texas A&M left something to be desired, the fourth loss in the 2-4 start was by 13 points in Tuscaloosa (minimal shame in that). And it followed a win in Knoxville.

Still, for the second straight year, Arkansas was far better late than early. That would suffice if the schedule was harder late than early; instead, it's hard throughout. And with September games away from home against TCU and Texas A&M, nothing changes in 2016.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.28 59 IsoPPP+ 136.2 3
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 51.7% 2 Succ. Rt. + 134.2 1
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 28.0 29 Def. FP+ 26.6 11
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 5.3 5 Redzone S&P+ 134.5 1
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 18.0 ACTUAL 11 -7.0
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 29 1 1 3
RUSHING 34 5 1 17
PASSING 32 1 3 1
Standard Downs 6 4 6
Passing Downs 1 1 3
Q1 Rk 2 1st Down Rk 2
Q2 Rk 1 2nd Down Rk 3
Q3 Rk 5 3rd Down Rk 7
Q4 Rk 18

3. They added a deep ball

The 2014 Arkansas offense was rugged, physical, and mostly effective. But the Razorbacks were either unable or unwilling (or both) to stretch the field with the deep ball. That meant opponents could keep most of their defenders near the line of scrimmage, which rendered the run game relatively inefficient.

This also allowed opponents to adapt as a game wore on; Arkansas ranked third in first quarter S&P+ and 12th in Q2 but plummeted to 60th in Q3 and 82nd in Q4. To say the least, that can make a difference in close games against good teams, and  Arkansas lost in overtime to Texas A&M, by one to Alabama, and by seven to Mississippi State and Missouri. (For more evidence of this, see 2015 Tennessee.)

The offense was good, but as adaptable and solid as coordinator Jim Chaney can be, when he left for Pittsburgh, he left successor Dan Enos with a clear way to improve things.

To his everlasting credit, Enos did just that. Arkansas completed 24 passes of 30-plus yards in 2015 (27th in the country), up from 10 (114th) the year before. In 2014, the top six wideouts combined to average 12.8 yards per catch; in 2015, that improved to 15.3.

That made all the difference in the world. Despite losing 2014 leading rusher Jonathan Williams to injury in the offseason, then losing leading receiver Keon Hatcher two games into the year, Arkansas improved from 15th to second in Off. S&P+. Meanwhile, the quarterback in charge of the No. 1 Passing S&P+ offense wasn't Deshaun Watson or Jared Goff or Baker Mayfield -- it was Brandon Allen.

If you are good enough at establishing an identity, you probably know how defenses are going to try to defend you. That gives you a chance to counter punch. Under Enos, Arkansas both maintained a run-heavy identity and mastered every counter. (Enos also used end arounds and jet sweeps for misdirection on occasion -- three wideouts combined to carry 15 times for 165 yards.) And even with a new quarterback, the Hogs will do so again in 2016 ... if they can establish the run well enough.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2016 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Brandon Allen 244 370 3440 30 8 65.9% 14 3.6% 8.7
Austin Allen 6'1, 209 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8950 1 3 35 1 0 33.3% 0 0.0% 11.7
Rafe Peavey 6'1, 203 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8844
Ricky Town
(USC)
6'3, 214 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9602
Ty Storey 6'2, 212 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9088
Cole Kelley 6'7, 258 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8485

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Alex Collins RB 271 1577 20 5.8 5.5 43.5% 5 2
Kody Walker RB 6'2, 240 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 90 394 6 4.4 3.2 40.0% 2 0
Rawleigh Williams III RB 5'10, 223 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8659 56 254 1 4.5 5.1 28.6% 0 0
Brandon Allen QB 42 195 1 4.6 2.9 45.2% 4 1
Jared Cornelius WR 5'11, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8441 7 112 2 16.0 15.3 71.4% 0 0
Denzell Evans RB 6 48 0 8.0 8.9 50.0% 0 0
Damon Mitchell RB 6'2, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8333 4 29 0 7.3 2.8 75.0% 0 0
Dominique Reed WR 6'3, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8635 4 24 1 6.0 2.2 75.0% 0 0
Drew Morgan WR 6'0, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7891 4 20 0 5.0 2.3 50.0% 1 0
Juan Day RB 6'1, 214 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8528 4 17 0 4.3 1.9 50.0% 0 0
Chris Jones FB 5'11, 249 Jr. NR NR
Devwah Whaley RB 5'11, 216 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9523
T.J. Hammonds RB 5'10, 197 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9072
Hayden Johnson FB 6'3, 248 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8380

4. Either/or

Williams' injury gave Alex Collins a chance to become the bellcow, and he thrived. Averaging more than 20 carries per game, he improved both his efficiency and explosiveness numbers, and while he still fumbled a bit too much, his fumble rate decreased, too.

He also left, drafted in the fifth round by the Seattle Seahawks. And it appears three backs could be in line to split carries this fall: sophomore Rawleigh Williams III, sixth-year senior (and former fullback) Kody Walker, and four-star freshman Devwah Whaley.

Walker was a best-of-all-worlds back with good size and speed. Williams proved reasonably explosive in the open field but was dreadfully inefficient as a freshman. Walker was nearly as efficient as Collins but showed no top-end speed. Whaley might have both but is just a few months removed from prom.

Perhaps Williams will prove well-rounded with more experience, or perhaps Whaley really is ready from day one. (It should be mentioned that Walker has dropped about 15 pounds since last year, which could give him an extra boost in the speed department.) But this could turn into a situation where Enos must make pretty clear, situational choices -- Walker in short yardage, for instance. That can make the offense a bit more predictable.

The run game is where the other major question mark emerges. Enormous all-conference tackles Dan Skipper returns, as does starting guard Frank Ragnow (who appears to have moved to center). But the other three starters are gone, and since Arkansas has been mostly injury-free up front, no one else has really factored into the first-string with any regularity.

There's still plenty of size and talent up front. Among the 10 non-starters listed below, five were four-star recruits per the 247Sports Composite, and four are listed at 318 pounds or (much) larger. And Bielema inked two JUCO transfer to make sure this unit wasn't too green.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
Yds/
Target
%SD Success
Rate
IsoPPP
Drew Morgan WR 6'0, 193 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7891 80 63 843 78.8% 22.3% 10.5 58.8% 66.2% 1.55
Keon Hatcher (2014) WR 6'2, 207 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9017 78 43 558 55.1% 22.5% 7.2 44.9% 52.2% 1.51
Hunter Henry TE 74 52 799 70.3% 20.7% 10.8 50.0% 58.1% 1.77
Dominique Reed WR 6'3, 175 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8635 47 28 535 59.6% 13.1% 11.4 51.1% 46.8% 2.36
Jeremy Sprinkle TE 6'6, 256 Sr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8677 45 28 408 62.2% 12.6% 9.1 73.3% 53.3% 1.61
Jared Cornelius WR 5'11, 212 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8441 36 24 393 66.7% 10.1% 10.9 55.6% 61.1% 1.78
Alex Collins RB 14 13 64 92.9% 3.9% 4.6 50.0% 28.6% 1.54
JoJo Robinson WR
10 6 53 60.0% 2.8% 5.3 60.0% 40.0% 1.07
Damon Mitchell RB 6'2, 215 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8333 7 6 84 85.7% 2.0% 12.0 85.7% 57.1% 2.21
Kendrick Edwards WR
6 4 51 66.7% 1.7% 8.5 83.3% 50.0% 1.48
Cody Hollister WR 6'4, 209 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8069 5 4 65 80.0% 1.4% 13.0 60.0% 80.0% 1.30
Deon Stewart WR 5'11, 164 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8545 3 1 4 33.3% 0.8% 1.3 66.7% 0.0% 0.00
Anthony Antwine TE 6'4, 222 Jr. NR NR
Cheyenne O'Grady TE 6'4, 251 RSFr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9172
Will Gragg TE 6'4, 254 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9160
Austin Cantrell TE 6'4, 269 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8647
La'Michael Pettway WR 6'2, 216 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8616
Jordan Jones WR 6'1, 184 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8666
D'Vone McClure WR 6'2, 219 Fr. NR NR

5. If the run works, the pass will work

I shouldn't understate the importance of the quarterback change, but I think the passing game should be fine if the run game is doing its part.

Veteran Austin Allen (Brandon's brother) has been around for a while and has by most accounts had an excellent offseason. And he basically has two No. 1 receivers returning: Keon Hatcher was Brandon's security blanket before suffering a foot injury last year, and Drew Morgan exploded in Hatcher's absence. They're both back, and the next two wideouts on the list (Dominique Reed and Jared Cornelius) combined for 928 receiving yards at a whopping 11.2 yards per target in 2015.

Plus, while the prolific Hunter Henry is gone, that just means more opportunities for Jeremy Sprinkle, who emerged as a major target over the second half of the season; after catching 13 passes over the first eight games, he caught 14 for 167 in the last five games. And there are quite a few talented young tight ends on the roster to back Sprinkle up.

This might be putting too much faith in the younger Austin, but the potential quality of the passing game might give Enos a chance to lean on the pass while the run game gets its sea legs.

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 121.5 3.36 3.89 42.1% 68.3% 17.1% 170.0 1.9% 6.2%
Rank 6 7 10 27 48 27 18 11 43
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. 2015 Starts Career Starts Honors/Notes
Sebastian Tretola LG 13 24 2015 All-American, 2015 1st All-SEC
Dan Skipper LT 6'10, 319 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8625 13 34 2015 2nd All-SEC
Denver Kirkland LT 13 34
Mitch Smothers C 13 34
Frank Ragnow C 6'5, 319 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8913 13 13
Johnny Gibson LT 6'4, 344 So. NR NR 0 0
Josh Allen LG
0 0
Zach Rogers RG 6'1, 306 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8863 0 0
Marcus Danenhauer RG 0 0
Jake Raulerson RT 6'4, 301 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9432 0 0
Brian Wallace RT 6'6, 335 So. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9574 0 0
Hjalte Froholdt LG 6'4, 318 So. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9339 0 0
Jalen Merrick RT 6'4, 327 RSFr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.9057

Colton Jackson LT 6'6, 300 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8637

Paul Ramirez RG 6'6, 299 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8517

Deion Malone LG 6'3, 296 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8337

Jake Heinrich OL 6'4, 295 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8954


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Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 1.21 41 IsoPPP+ 92.3 93
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 47.9% 119 Succ. Rt. + 91.1 99
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 33.0 12 Off. FP+ 33.6 9
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Scoring Opportunity 4.8 104 Redzone S&P+ 90.3 107
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 17.8 ACTUAL 18.0 +0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 58 95 99 93
RUSHING 12 59 63 42
PASSING 117 115 118 110
Standard Downs 106 94 104
Passing Downs 85 105 67
Q1 Rk 80 1st Down Rk 87
Q2 Rk 106 2nd Down Rk 120
Q3 Rk 93 3rd Down Rk 24
Q4 Rk 64

6. Bouncing back from a collapse

While the Southwest Conference became known mostly for offensive innovation and scoreboard fireworks, Arkansas was based on defense during Frank Broyles' long run.

But the identity the Hogs have established over the last decade has been a little bit different.

In the last 10 years, Arkansas has ranked in the overall S&P+ top 20 six times; Houston Nutt, Bobby Petrino, and Bielema have utilized different styles but have put major offensive talent onto the field all the same.

The defense has been a constant drag on the Hogs' prospects. In this 10-year span, the Hogs have only three times ranked in the Def. S&P+ top 35. They surged to sixth in 2014 with a dynamic run front that featured end Trey Flowers, tackle Darius Philon, and linebacker Martrell Spaight, but all three left, and the 2015 defense simply couldn't match the same level of firepower.

Defensive coordinator Robb Smith had the same immediate impact in 2014 that Enos had in 2015, but it all fell apart last season. The Hogs fell from 11th in Rushing S&P+ to 59th and from 26th in Passing S&P+ to 115th. The Razorbacks were able to slow down limited offenses -- Tennessee managed just a 106.7 passer rating, Auburn 118.6, Missouri 51.7, and Kansas State 108.0. But good passing games wrecked shop. Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State combined to complete 83 of 113 passes (73 percent) for 1,234 yards, 10 touchdowns, and one interception. Passer rating: 192.6.

To the extent that inexperience was an issue last year, it won't be this fall. The front seven is loaded with mostly juniors and seniors, and the freshmen and sophomores that populated the secondary are now sophomores and juniors. Now we'll see if there's enough actual quality in the pipeline.

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 112.5 2.79 2.98 38.4% 80.5% 21.4% 78.9 4.2% 4.4%
Rank 23 48 46 68 123 46 100 97 114
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Jeremiah Ledbetter DT 6'3, 280 Sr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8919 13 39.5 5.9% 7.5 2.0 0 1 0 0
Deatrich Wise Jr. DE 6'5, 271 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8785 13 24.0 3.6% 10.5 8.0 0 3 3 0
DeMarcus Hodge DT 13 21.5 3.2% 8.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Tevin Beanum DE 6'2, 284 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8206 13 20.5 3.1% 7.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Taiwan Johnson DT 6'2, 284 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8980 13 20.0 3.0% 5.0 1.5 0 2 0 1
JaMichael Winston DE 6'4, 260 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8596 13 15.0 2.2% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Karl Roesler DE 6'1, 256 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) NR 13 9.5 1.4% 3.0 1.0 0 0 0 0
Mitchell Loewen DL 10 9.0 1.3% 1.5 1.5 0 0 0 0
Bijhon Jackson DT 6'2, 335 Jr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.9622 12 5.0 0.7% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Armon Watts DT 6'5, 293 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8535 11 2.0 0.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Brandon Lewis DT 6'4, 274 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8450
Daytrieon Dean DT 6'3, 281 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547
T.J. Smith DT 6'3, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8294
Michael Taylor II DE 6'3, 245 So. NR NR
McTelvin Agim DE 6'3, 289 Fr. 4 stars (6.0) 0.9868
Austin Capps DT 6'4, 309 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.9133
Briston Guidry DT 6'3, 294 Fr. 4 stars (5.9) 0.8983
Jonathan Marshall DT 6'4, 299 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8595

Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brooks Ellis MLB 6'2, 245 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8682 13 73.5 11.0% 8.0 1.5 1 3 0 1
Dre Greenlaw WLB 6'0, 226 So. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8522 13 70.5 10.5% 3.5 1.0 0 1 2 0
Josh Williams SLB 6'1, 249 Sr. NR NR 5 10.5 1.6% 1.5 0.0 0 0 0 0
Dwayne Eugene WLB 6'1, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8244 9 8.5 1.3% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Josh Harris MLB 5'10, 239 So. NR NR 12 7.0 1.0% 1.0 0.0 0 0 1 0
Khalia Hackett SLB 6'2, 223 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8358 13 7.0 1.0% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Kendrick Jackson MLB 6'1, 255 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8398
Alexy Jean-Baptiste LB 6'2, 231 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8564
De'Jon Harris MLB 6'0, 255 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8547
Giovanni LaFrance LB 6'1, 255 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8497








7. No push

The run front was a strength of the 2014 unit; Arkansas ranked fifth in Adj. Line Yards, 34th in power success rate, and ninth in stuff rate. In 2015, those rankings fell to 23rd, 123rd, and 46th, respectively. The Razorbacks were still reasonably invasive but were pushovers in short-yardage situations. Meanwhile, they basically had a one-man pass rush -- if Deatrich Wise Jr. wasn't getting to the quarterback, no one was.

In theory, there won't be any more short-yardage oomph in 2016. Perhaps enormous tackle Bijhon Jackson is ready to play a larger role, but the top two returning tackles, Jeremiah Ledbetter and Taiwan Johnson average just 282 pounds. They are quick and active but don't pack a lot of mass. But short yardage only matters if your opponents are creating third-and-2s instead of third-and-6s. The front seven is full of veterans and could indeed be supplemented by youngsters like Jackson and blue-chip end McTelvin Agim. If Arkansas can get back to make serious waves against the run on first down, short yardage won't matter as much.

Of course, you still have to stop the pass, too.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Rohan Gaines SS 13 55.5 8.3% 1.5 0 1 1 0 0
Henré Toliver CB 6'1, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8700 13 49.0 7.3% 4 0 1 8 0 0
Josh Liddell FS 6'1, 210 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8341 13 40.0 6.0% 1.5 0 2 3 1 0
Jared Collins CB 5'11, 173 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8432 13 36.5 5.5% 0.5 0 1 9 1 0
Kevin Richardson II NB 6'0, 178 Jr. NR NR 13 33.0 4.9% 0 0 1 3 0 0
Santos Ramirez SS 6'2, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8482 12 28.5 4.3% 0 0 1 3 0 0
DJ Dean CB 5'11, 199 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8249 12 28.0 4.2% 1.5 0.5 2 3 0 0
Ryan Pulley CB 5'11, 198 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8327 10 8.0 1.2% 0 0 1 2 0 0
De'Andre Coley SS 6'1, 214 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8163 13 7.5 1.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Willie Sykes DB
12 6.5 1.0% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Davyon McKinney DB 13 4.0 0.6% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Ryder Lucas DB 6'0, 190 So. NR NR 6 2.5 0.4% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Cornelius Floyd DB 5'11, 176 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8392 1 2.0 0.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Reid Miller FS 5'9, 197 So. NR NR 12 1.5 0.2% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Nate Dalton FS 6'3, 190 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8449
Britto Tutt CB 6'2, 177 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8367








8. Experience will help, part 2

Eleven Arkansas defensive backs averaged at least half a tackle per game; seven were either freshmen or sophomores. Unless you're loaded with blue-chippers, that's going to hurt you. The cornerback position, fronted by Henré Toliver, Jared Collins, and DJ Dean (combined: 6 TFLs, four INTs, 20 break-ups), showed quite a bit of potential. But while the SEC is loaded with exciting safeties, Arkansas' were lacking in both play-making and play-prevention.

As with the defensive front, the Arkansas secondary lacks in size compared to its peers, but you can get away with that if you can take full advantage of your speed. The Razorbacks did not. And they really might have the weakest set of safeties in the conference.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Toby Baker 6'3, 215 Sr. 43 41.2 2 16 15 72.1%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Lane Saling 70 60.6 11 1 15.7%
Cole Hedlund 5'10, 171 So. 4 32.0 0 0 0.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2016
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Cole Hedlund 5'10, 171 So. 58-58 8-11 72.7% 1-4 25.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2016
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Eric Hawkins KR 10 22.3 0
Dominique Reed KR 6'3, 175 Sr. 10 22.2 0
Jared Cornelius PR 5'11, 212 Jr. 7 13.3 0
DJ Dean PR 5'11, 199 Sr. 7 13.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams S&P+ 109
Field Goal Efficiency 118
Punt Return Success Rate 21
Kick Return Success Rate 122
Punt Success Rate 4
Kickoff Success Rate 106

9. What of the legs?

Arkansas' special teams unit certainly wasn't boring last year. The Razorbacks had one of the most successful punters in the country in Toby Baker -- he averaged only 41 yards per kick but allowed few returns and almost no good returns. Meanwhile, Jared Cornelius and DJ Dean were both dangerous in punt returns.

Meanwhile, they stunk at pretty much everything else. Opponents got return opportunities on nearly every kickoff, kick returns were mostly ineffective, and Cole Hedlund was a freshman kicker who ... looked like a freshman kicker.

Hedlund's a sophomore now, and Baker and Cornelius/Dean are back. But Arkansas still has a lot to prove in kickoffs and place-kicking.

2016 Schedule & Projection Factors

2016 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk Proj. Margin Win Probability
3-Sep Louisiana Tech 84 21.2 89%
10-Sep at TCU 31 2.0 55%
17-Sep Texas State 120 32.8 97%
24-Sep vs. Texas A&M 25 2.8 56%
1-Oct Alcorn State NR 40.4 99%
8-Oct Alabama 1 -8.1 32%
15-Oct Ole Miss 7 -0.2 50%
22-Oct at Auburn 24 -0.8 48%
5-Nov Florida 19 4.2 60%
12-Nov LSU 2 -5.7 37%
19-Nov at Mississippi State 21 -1.9 46%
25-Nov at Missouri 47 6.6 65%
Projected wins: 7.3
Five-Year F/+ Rk 21.5% (27)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 25 / 31
2015 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* 7 / -0.2
2015 TO Luck/Game +2.8
Returning Production (Off. / Def.) 63% (37%, 89%)
2015 Second-order wins (difference) 8.6 (-0.6)

10. All about the tossups

A 55 percent win probability at TCU; 56 percent against Texas A&M at Jerry World; 50 percent against Ole Miss at home; 48 percent at Auburn; 46 percent at Mississippi State.

I'm not sure there's a team in FBS that will have its fate and narrative decided more by 50-50 coin-toss games than Arkansas. The Razorbacks once again face an incredible schedule -- three games against projected top-7 teams, eight against the top 31 -- but the home-road split gives them only two likely losses. And even those games (32 percent against Alabama, 37 against LSU) are within reach.

There's a big season on the table here, but it will require the rebuilt run game to find its groove (and a potentially strong passing game to carry weight until then), and it will require the defense to not be absolutely awful against good pass offenses.

With just a little bit of variance in quality, Arkansas could be either 5-0 or 3-2 when Alabama comes to town and anywhere between 8-1 and 3-6 when LSU visits.