5 reasons Arkansas should be top 25 team in 2015
Arkansas, along with its East division counterparts Tennessee, are making waves as the offseason rolls around as potential dark horse contenders in the SEC next season.
Arkansas won three of its final four games of the 2014 campaign, including a convincing Texas Bowl win over old Southwest Conference rival Texas.
Second-year head coach Bret Bielema has a lot of momentum as the Razorbacks begin to look to 2015, both inside the program and on the recruiting trail.
With minimal losses and a strong recruiting class arriving this summer, we discuss five reasons the Hogs should be a top 25 team in 2015.
1. Elite defense
Arkansas’s legit on defense. There’s no debate. The Hogs were a top-10 unit in multiple categories in 2014 including total defense, rushing defense and scoring defense. There are some key losses including Trey Flowers, Martrell Spaight and Braylon Mitchell. While Robb Smith’s defense may take a minor step back in 2015, should defensive tackle Darius Philon return, Arkansas is positioned to again be a top 10 unit. Safety Rohan Gaines returns and gives the Razorbacks a playmaker in the secondary, in addition to cornerbacks Henre Toliver and D.J. Dean who should improve having received a lot of snaps this season. With a full offseason under Smith, the Hogs are primed to again field an elite defense next season.
2. Dominant run game
Jim Chaney received welcome news last month when junior tailback Jonathan Williams announced he’d return to Fayetteville in 2015. Williams and his battery mate Alex Collins are the first Arkansas running back tandem to rush for more than 1,000 yards since Darren McFadden and Felix Jones. Collins, just a sophomore, returns as well giving Arkansas a cornerstone on the offensive side of the football. Arkansas ranked fourth in the SEC in rushing this season, but with both backs returning as well as most of a NFL-sized offensive line, the Razorbacks could be even better on the ground in 2015
3. Charismatic head coach
Bielema’s an oft-discussed, sometimes controversial figure. But the former Wisconsin head coach has injected a confidence in the Arkansas program not even seen under Bobby Petrino during 10 and 11-win seasons. Bielema has put together a fantastic staff with an emphasis on chemistry and continuity. He’s proving himself a skilled developer of talent, taking good players and making them great. Bielema built the Badgers into a Big Ten power winning three consecutive conference championships, and he’s got the makings of a future SEC power in Fayetteville.
4. Close losses
It’s a fact used in a variety of arguments, but it’s a fact, nonetheless. Arkansas lost four games by a combined 22 points. Three games by a touchdown and one game by one point. That’s how close the Razorbacks were to an 11-win team in 2014. Now, in each of those games, Arkansas did things to beat itself and there’s a learning curve that comes with finishing games. But Arkansas held second-half leads against Texas A&M, Alabama, Mississippi State and Missouri. If Bielema’s team can learn to finish games it has leads in next season, Arkansas will be good.
5. Eye test
The Hogs were a fringe top-25 team late in the season, and as the 2015 campaign approaches, you’d be hard pressed to find 25 better teams than Arkansas. The offense is on the verge of being explosive and the defense is elite. If you watch tape on the Razorbacks from the second half of the season, the improvement is visible and most of the roster returns.