5 realistic goals for Arkansas in 2020
The 2020 football season is almost upon us, meaning reality is about to hit hard for plenty of fans.
In the preseason, it can be easy to get carried away dreaming about the best-case scenario for your team. Then a month into the season, you’re already fantasizing about next year (ask Texas fans how that feels). We’re all guilty of these delusions to some degree.
But Arkansas is a team whose fans in recent years have learned better than to get carried away with preseason hopes. The Razorbacks’ 19-game SEC losing streak is the longest in school history – and who knows how big it will grow before it’s snapped. Seven of Arkansas’ 10 opponents were ranked in the preseason Top 25. The past 2 seasons have tempered expectations more than usual in Fayetteville, but there is still a good deal of optimism to go around about this year with new coach Sam Pittman.
No one is projecting anything too crazy, especially not against that schedule, but there is hope that Arkansas will no longer be the league doormat. It’s only natural to look for the best. So, here are 5 realistic goals for the Hogs in 2020.
1. Win 3 games
The Razorbacks (at the moment) have without a doubt the toughest schedule in college football this season.
Arkansas faces 7 opponents ranked in the preseason AP poll, including 4 in the top 10. Coming out of this brutal year with 3 victories seems to be the best-case realistic scenario. Assuming the Razorbacks go 2-1 against their unranked opponents (which is a fairly big assumption), they only need 1 huge upset on the season.
Despite what you’ve seen the past 2 seasons, Arkansas has some offensive weapons — and a capable quarterback. Even against 10 SEC opponents, the Hogs will score.
If Arkansas’ defense finds a way to come together, it could easily reach 3 wins which might make it the most improved team in the conference.
2. Have an offense that finishes average or better in the conference
I might be a bit too high on the Razorbacks’ offense this season, but I really think it has potential to shock a lot of people.
Kendal Briles has, in just 5 years as a coordinator, developed a reputation as one of the more prominent offensive minds in the game. When he took over Houston in 2018, he improved the Cougars’ points per game from 28.2 to 43.9 and their yards per play from 39th to 12th in the country. Last season, Florida State went from scoring 21.9 points per game to 27.9 under Briles. Its yards per play went from 111th to 69th.
Arkansas is likely to see a transformation more akin to Florida State, but the potential is still there. Throw in running back Rakeem Boyd and grad transfer Feleipe Franks at quarterback as well. After averaging 21 points each of the past 2 seasons, it feels like the Razorbacks will at the very least be on par with the rest of the league offensively again – if not even slightly better.
3. Consistent quarterback play
Five quarterbacks started for the Razorbacks last season. The goal is to keep it to one this year.
There are somewhat high expectations for Feleipe Franks this season. It makes sense. The former 4-star showed at Florida that he can succeed in this league. Who knows what people might have been saying about Franks had he not injured his ankle in Week 4? But fate was the author of his junior season.
The big risk with Franks is how he plays after the injury. We know about the arm strength. It’s world-class. Will he be the same dynamic playmaker he was at times with the Gators, especially with his legs? If so, that’s huge for Arkansas. The Razorbacks need a guy they can count on leading the offense this season.
But Arkansas knows all too well that resting its hopes on a transfer doesn’t always work out. Nick Starkel (also coming off an ankle injury) transferred from Texas A&M last season and threw for 10 interceptions compared to only 7 touchdowns. Arkansas has to hope Franks is the better player. After all, his best season at Florida is better than Starkel’s best at A&M. Will he finally give the ‘Hogs stability or will it be the same story?
4. Defense not last in conference
Barry Odom was maybe the most valuable hire to Pittman’s staff this offseason.
Why? Take a look at Arkansas’ defensive struggles the past 5 seasons, compared with the dominant 2014 unit.
Getting back to 2014 levels would be nice, but that’s not realistic. Yet, anyway. But that’s why Odom is here.
Not only does Odom bring head coaching experience from Missouri, but he also has a reputation for putting together incredibly tough defenses. Missouri ranked 3rd in the SEC last year in team defense, whereas Arkansas ranked last.
The Razorbacks lose a lot defensively from 2019. Leading tackler De’Jon Harris, sacks leader McTelvin Agim and interceptions leader Kamren Curl are all gone. The veteran leadership will likely fall to Bumper Pool, who finished last year with 94 tackles.
Young players will be asked to step into starting roles. How they respond will be key. It feels right that Odom is getting a pretty fresh slate, and that ultimately might work to his benefit. Whatever the case, Arkansas has to expect him to bring this defense up at least a couple of spots from where it was last season.
5. A breakout season from Treylon Burks and/or Trey Knox
Treylon Burks and Trey Knox enter 2020 with tremendous potential following pretty productive freshmen seasons.
Burks finished with 29 catches for 475 yards while Knox had 28 catches for 385 yards and 3 touchdowns. One has to imagine those numbers will increase this year. Not only should they see the natural progression that comes with experience, but they’ll also have an offense that creates more opportunities for them. And a QB who can stretch the field like few in America.
Tight end Cheyenne O’Grady graduated, leaving 33 catches and 372 yards to replace as well.
Burks seems the bigger breakout candidate because he has more speed and big-play potential. And he likely won’t go without a touchdown this season like he did in 2019. Everything spells a big season for both players, though, which fans should feel excited about.