Is it too early to talk a little football?
Is it ever too early to talk football?
No and No are my answers. If you are like me, Razorback football is knocking around somewhere in your head just about everyday of the year. There’s no way to escape it, and for the most part no reason for me to want to.
Obviously, there are some plays, games, and even seasons I’d like to forget. Last year was definitely one of them. Very little went right for a Razorback team that had a low ceiling to begin with.
As a fan, I attempt to be optimistic, and make no bones about it, I write this column from a fan’s perspective, a fan that understands journalism and attempts to be fair except when I’m writing about the Texas Longhorns. Heck, I even try to be fair to the Longhorns most of the time.
But there was very little to be optimistic about last season. The mood entering the season was bad after the Razorbacks lost two games of the previous season that they should have won, and unfortunately, the season itself only got worse.
The high point of the season might have been how hard the Hogs battled a TCU team that finished 11-3 and No. 9 in the polls before eventually melting down for a final 28-7 loss. That game was close until late, and only turned into a blowout because former coach Bret Bielema and his staff attempted to win rather than just lay down and try to lose close.
I’ve seen teams rally after losses like that. One in particular was the 2006 Razorbacks who won 10 consecutive games and played in the SEC championship game after being hammered in the opener by USC. Ironically, Bielema’s first Wisconsin squad beat the Hogs, 17-14, that year in the Capital One Bowl.
I’ll admit that’s not really a fair comparison. Bielema’s 2017 squad wasn’t nearly as talented as Houston Nutt’s second-to-last team, which included Darren McFadden, Felix Jones, Peyton Hills, and Marcus Monk among others, but Bielema’s squad last year could have been better than 4-8 overall and 1-7 in the SEC.
Injuries played a huge role last season in what the Hogs were and weren’t able to accomplish. You could almost go down each position group and pick out the best player going into the season and find that he missed significant playing time because of injuries. Here’s a list: Frank Ragnow, offensive line; Austin Allen, quarterback; Jared Cornelius, receiver; Chase Hayden, running back; Dre Greenlaw; linebacker; Ryan Pulley, cornerback; and Kevin Richardson, nickel back/safety.
The Razorbacks have rarely had the type of depth to weather an injury storm to that extent since joining the SEC, if ever. To Bielema’s credit, he rarely mentioned that as an excuse, and generally only talked about it when asked.
However, something was askew with the Razorbacks dating back to the 2016 season, and just about everything unraveled last year. While some got a bit riled when Bielema was fired just seconds after walking off the field by interim athletics director Julie Cromer Peoples, ripping the band-aid off quick was probably an act of mercy.
The season spiraled out of Bielema’s control, and it was time for him and the bulk of his staff to go.
All that misery is retraced to point out a few of the many variables that come into play during a football season. Those variables are unforeseen in the summer when so many of us are making our initial predictions and prognostications about the Razorbacks.
Predicting how a team will finish is somewhat like balancing an equation. On the surface, it’s fairly easy. It only becomes difficult when more and more variables are thrown in.
This year there are even more variables in play with first-season head coach Chad Morris and his staff. While my favorite type of football is smash mouth, I’m excited to taste a new flavor under a coach who is considered to be one of the best at the hurry-up, no-huddle game.
I’m also excited about seeing the aggressive brand of defense The Chief, John Chavis, is going to put on the football field. High-pressure defensive coordinators have had degrees of success at Arkansas over the decades, and it will be interesting to see how well Chavis’ scheme mixes with the talent on hand this season.
The biggest variable for the Razorbacks at the moment is under center. Who is the quarterback going to be?
Coming out of spring practice, Morris described the competition between junior Ty Storey (6-2, 220) and sophomore Cole Kelley (6-7, 263) as too close to name a starter.
After spending some time with the UA coaching staff and covering Arkansas’ Red-White game, SEC Network analyst Chris Doering told radio host Bo Mattingly that he wasn’t sure if Arkansas’ eventual starter at quarterback was even on campus in April.
Now, in and of itself, Doering’s opinion isn’t all that important; however, he never would have said that on Mattingly’s show if he didn’t have compelling reason to do so.
For whatever reason, coaches sometimes feel more comfortable relating information to a regional or national member of the media than to those who cover a team daily. I’ve never understood it, but I’ve seen it with a number of Arkansas coaches over the better part of three decades.
If Doering is correct, then freshman Connor Noland of Greenwood and John Stephen Jones of Dallas have a shot at the starting job. Generally a freshman starting quarterback isn’t the best thing in the SEC. That said if the freshman gives you the best chance to win, then let it be.
Looking over Arkansas’ football schedule, I think a realistic view is a record in the range of 5-7 to 6-6 for the season. An optimistic view would be from 7-5 to 8-4. A pessimistic view would be a 4-8 record or less.
My call is for the moment is 6-6. There is too much uncertainty at quarterback to pick any higher, and it’s too early in the summer to go any lower.
I’d say the six wins would be over Eastern Illinois, Colorado State, North Texas, Ole Miss, Tulsa, and Vanderbilt.
Right now, the pivotal game of the season looks like the Sept. 8 trip to Colorado State.
2018 Arkansas Razorbacks Football Schedule
Sept. 1 – Eastern Illinois
Sept. 8 – at Colorado State
Sept. 15 – North Texas
Sept. 22 – at Auburn
Sept. 29 – Texas A&M at Dallas
Oct. 6 – Alabama
Oct. 13 – Ole Miss at Little Rock
Oct. 20 – Tulsa
Oct. 27 – Vanderbilt
Nov. 10 – LSU
Nov. 17 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – at Missouri