5 dream/disaster scenarios for Arkansas in 2022
If you spend time around the state of Arkansas, you will hear the men at the round table of any mom-and-pop diner talking about their hope for a great Razorback football season.
A returning superstar quarterback, a running game that led all of Power 5 and a defense with some dog with them. There’s a lot to like about 2022.
What will make this a dream season for the Razorbacks? Here are 5 scenarios the Hogs need to see another New Year’s Day bowl game … or even more. Followed by the bad news: 5 disaster scenarios they hope to avoid.
KJ Jefferson takes the next step, Heisman hype starts mid-October
I start with this because Jefferson performed well in October outside of the Georgia game last season. The Hogs again play a tough schedule with early matchups that include Cincinnati, South Carolina and Alabama. He threw the ball well in the Southwest Classic against Texas A&M with an 80-yard bomb and multiple runs to close out a monumental win to begin the season 4-0.
A lot of eyes will be set on what happens in Fayetteville on Sept. 3 with SEC Nation being there. Arkansas opens the season with the Bearcats coming off a College Football Playoff. People still doubt Cincinnati. Jefferson says he has a “chip on his shoulder” to prove his doubters wrong.
What does Jefferson need to do to become a Heisman candidate? If he can average 350 yards and 3 touchdowns per game to go along with a few signature wins, start the talk.
Defensive transfers solid unit as top 3 in SEC
Jordan Domineck, Terry Lambert, Landon Jackson, Dwight McGlothern, Drew Sanders and Latavious Brini are all capable starters at the Power 5 level and all chose Arkansas to finish their careers. Credit defensive coordinator Barry Odom for attracting such talent.
The Hogs needed pass rushers, a dominant linebacker to go alongside Bumper Pool and a couple of stud defensive backs to round out the deepest position group on the team. Arkansas also has returning all-American candidate Jalen Catalon at safety coming off an injury and looks phenomenal to begin camp. A true “no-fly zone” could be in order.
Sanders was emerging as a force at Alabama before his injury last season. Jackson (6-7 270 pounds) could be just what the doctor ordered as an edge rusher. He didn’t play much to start his career at LSU but the talent is there to become a factor for the Hogs.
Arkansas starts 5-0, beats Alabama to begin October
It’s been 14 long seasons since the Razorbacks beat Alabama. When the Tide’s winning streak started, it was tied at 8 (officially, thanks to some vacated games) and loaded with many memorable games through the years. Let’s call it what most programs in the SEC call it “BS” or “Before Saban.”
The stars align this season for an all-time great team and record. Seven total home games, a neutral site against Texas A&M and 3 true road games — at BYU, Mississippi State and Auburn. If Arkansas can start 5-0 and be a potential top-10 team, a matchup against a presumed top-ranked Alabama could put College GameDay (maybe) in Fayetteville for Week 5.
With all the eyes on the Razorbacks, a victory would show the nation that 9-4 wasn’t a fluke and that the Arkansas program has arrived in the SEC much earlier than anyone anticipated.
A victory over Alabama truly starts the talk of a “dream season” on The Hill.
Run game leads Power 5 again
Arkansas was very competitive and physical in 2021, which helped the Hogs lead Power 5 in rushing (227 yards per game).
It all started with the shellacking of Texas in front of a raucous crowd in Fayetteville. Then, after losing 3 straight during October, they rebounded to win 5 of 6 en route to their first bowl win since 2015 all due to their dominant run game.
They certainly can do it again with 73 percent of the production returning in Rocket Sanders, Dominique Johnson and AJ Green. The expectation is that they’ll outpace last season’s numbers. If so, they’ll be sitting pretty in November.
Sam Pittman crowned unanimous coach of the year
Ah, yes! The most unlikely coach to win this award when hired in the 2020 cycle has quickly brought the program back.
The process was tough, but what else does he have to prove? A team that won a single conference game in 3 seasons from 2017-2019 actually won an SEC game in its second try in Starkville in 2020.
A team with something to prove won all 4 trophy games last season — and came within a possession of defeating Alabama.
What if they do indeed win 10 or 11 regular-season games? Is it Pittman’s award to win? Bet your chocolate gravy it does!
A Coach of the Year award is the icing on the cake for a dream season for Arkansas in 2022.
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And now for the bad news:
5 nightmare scenarios
An 0-2 start to the season
If Arkansas loses its first 2 games — both at home — it would be hard to overcome.
Yes, Cincinnati made the Playoff last season, but the Bearcats are starting over at quarterback and replacing several other NFL Draft picks, too.
South Carolina is going complete Beamer Ball this season. There are a lot of fresh faces, including former 5-star QB Spencer Rattler, who hope to boost the Gamecocks to the next level in the SEC East. If the Razorbacks are reeling following a loss to Cincinnati the week prior, the Gamecocks could sneak a win with an 11 AM CT kickoff.
An 0-2 start could wash away all of the momentum the Hogs gained last season, setting up a potential 1-4 start.
The defense isn’t as good as touted
The Hogs added a lot of talented transfers on defense. Jordan Domineck (Georgia Tech), Landon Jackson (LSU), Latavious Brini (Georgia), Dwight McGlothern (LSU) and Drew Sanders (Alabama) all arrive with the hope of taking Arkansas to the next tier.
What if this group doesn’t find its chemistry with an 0-2 start? Could the trust they put in Barry Odom fold? A letdown could be massive on social media with all the hype surrounding the program this offseason.
The lookout block …
Arkansas could have up to 2 or 3 new starters on the offensive line. Who replaces left tackle Myron Cunningham? The answer is former 4-star and Charlotte transfer, Ty’Kieast Crawford. He has tremendous upside but hasn’t started a game since the 2020 season.
Right tackle has all but been solidified, too, with Dalton Wagner returning for his 5th season. Expect Wagner to win a position battle against Notre Dame transfer Luke Jones. Wagner has a history of back problems, though, so Jones will have opportunities to make an impact.
Worst-case scenario? What if both tackle positions flop? Does that mean a lot of sacks and scramble opportunities for Jefferson? A subpar season could be ahead.
Lack of production post-Burks
No one player will replace Treylon Burks’ production (1,104 receiving yards, 11 TD catches).
Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers come in as transfers. Isaiah Sategna is a true freshman from Fayetteville who boasts game-breaking speed. There’s so much unknown ahead of the season. Can the receivers get open? Can they make plays in space? This is a true concern for the Razorbacks in fall camp and one that could cause a crisis Week 1 and beyond if not solved.
No pass rush
Pittman put a huge focus on recruiting the defensive line this offseason. For the third consecutive season, he replaced the position coach. Deke Adams is the new guy and has a track record of fielding an active line while also recruiting very well.
Adams’ new defensive line could fail without proven edge rushers this season. John Ridgeway, Tre Williams and Markell Utsey are all gone. Domineck and Jackson arrived via the portal. Will they blend in with the returnees like Zach Williams, Eric Gregory and Jashaud Stewart? Adams has his hands full trying to figure out the answer. Although Pittman feels confident in his d-line, but it’s still is a huge question mark.
Finding a pass rush could be the difference in being a 6-win or 10-win team.