Bret Bielema has Arkansas trending upwards. After a 3-9 start to his SEC career, the former Wisconsin coach has improved in each of the following seasons, notching seven wins in 2014 and eight in 2015.
The Razorbacks can take another step forward by dispatching visiting Louisiana Tech on Saturday. Arkansas will try to fine tune its offense against their Conference USA opponent before facing TCU in Week 2. However, the Bulldogs aren't the kind of team Bielema can afford to overlook -- especially after dropping a non-conference game to Toledo last fall.
Head coach Skip Holtz has guided Louisiana Tech to back-to-back nine-win seasons, but 2016 will be a challenge for a team missing vast chunks of last season's two-deep depth chart. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel is gone. So are leading rusher Kenneth Dixon and No. 2 wideout Paul Turner. Eight different defensive starters graduated as well.
Much like the Bulldogs rely on new contributors to fill the gaps, Arkansas will turn to Austin Allen to take over for since-graduated quarterback Brandon Allen. Fortunately, the team can rely on a bulldozing offensive line and the running triumvirate of Kody Walker, Rawleigh Williams and Devwah Whaley in the backfield. Allen is likely to make his share of mistakes in 2016, but his brutes up front should be capable of creating time and space against an undersized Tech front seven.
How to watch, stream and listen
TV: 4 p.m. ET, SEC Network
Online streaming: WatchESPN
Spread: Arkansas started the week favored by 26 points.
Three big things to know
1. Can Arkansas fill the gaps left behind by the graduations of Brandon Allen and Hunter Henry? Allen and Henry constituted one of the SEC's deadliest pitch-and-catch combinations in 2015, scraping together 799 yards through the air. Now, Austin Allen will have to develop the team's passing game without the luxury of a safety net like Henry operating in the middle of the field. Fortunately for the Razorbacks, leading receiver Drew Morgan (63 catches, 843 yards in '15) will be there to help guide Allen along.
2. With 10 starters returning, Arkansas' defense is ready to feast. Bad news for the Bulldogs. Arkansas is bringing back a ton of experience. The Razorbacks struggled on this side of the ball and ranked just 68th in the country in terms of scoring defense in 2015. Expect that number to shrink this fall.
3. Will Louisiana Tech's Class of 2015 step up to create an upset? The Bulldogs signed only seven three-star recruits in 2014. In 2015, they boosted that number to 13. Those players are all still pretty young -- sophomores and redshirt freshmen alike -- but they'll have an impact on Tech's two-deep and give them the talent they'll need to play four cohesive quarters on Saturday. There's still a massive talent gap between the two programs, but the Bulldogs' recent recruiting efforts have helped narrow that chasm.