SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2013. Up next: Arkansas.
- Mississippi State
- Ole Miss
- South Carolina
- Texas A&M
1. Bowl game bound?
That’s the question all Arkansas fans want to answer, “Yes”. Bret Bielema’s track record screams winning. If he guides the Hogs to a bowl game, it will be a massive turnaround. That’s the reality of the talent in the program right now, and the reality of a brutal schedule. The offensive roster isn’t where it needs to be, but the defense will be good enough to keep the Hogs in several games. Swing games against Rutgers, Florida, Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State will be the telltale of whether the Razorbacks notch a bowl game. To me, Bielema is the most interesting coach of 2013.
2. Passing game in focus
The running game should be fine with an okay O-line and two backs – Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins – fully capable of carrying the rock. But the passing game is what I worry about. Can Brandon Allen carry the load and make this an attacking, down-field passing game? Now that Mekale McKay has transferred and Demetrius Wilson is out for the year, who will step up? Javontee Herndon is the leader, but TE Austin Tate’s injury hurts, too. Allen looked hesitant and very inexperienced in 2012 in minimal playing time, and there’s really no experience behind him.
3. Better than advertised
Arkansas’ secondary in 2012 was putrid and brutally awful. But the front seven, particularly the run defense, was better than advertised. They return four very good linemen, and linebackers Austin Jones, Braylon Mitchell and Jarrett Lake should be fine. The secondary returns all four starters, and the front four returns three. Under Bielema and Chris Ash, the defense has a chance to surprise in 2013.
4. Championships and longevity
The main issue I have with Bielema and Arkansas is three to five years down the road. He’s not like Gus Malzahn, Butch Jones or Kevin Sumlin; rather, he runs a very similar offense to LSU and Alabama in the same division. So, to me, it’s going to come down to talent. Can Bielema recruit and develop enough great talent to win the western division? His history says yes, but the reality of the parity of the SEC West, as well as improving teams like Auburn and Ole Miss, tells me no. But it’s going to be fun watching this play out.
SDS takeaway: Bielema can win six regular season games by playing like Florida did last season. Creating turnovers, running the football, playing great defense and limiting offensive turnovers can get this team to a bowl game.
Photo Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports