7 reasons Arkansas fans can feel optimistic heading into 2017
Although the 2016 season didn’t go as well as many Arkansas fans probably had hoped, they can take a deep breath and look ahead to 2017, which will be head coach Bret Bielema’s fifth year in Fayetteville.
As we close the book on the 2016 slate after Thursday’s 35-24 loss to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl, here are seven things Hogs fans can be optimistic about in 2017:
Austin Allen’s development: One of the few bright spots for the Razorbacks this season was Allen, who shined during much of his debut season under center. After replacing his older brother, Brandon, as the Hogs’ starting signal-caller, Allen finished the season with 3,152 yards and 23 touchdown passes. There is no question Allen should be even better next year.
Rawleigh Williams III: Like Allen, Williams burst onto the scene and became an essential part of the Arkansas offense. Even though few would’ve predicted such a strong season, the sophomore finished with 1,326 yards and 12 touchdowns on 233 carries. Despite handling the brunt of the Razorbacks’ carries this year, Williams could be even better in 2017.
Improved offensive line play: It’s no secret the Hogs struggled up front throughout the season. They allowed Allen to be sacked 29 times in the regular season, which was more than any other quarterback in the SEC. During the offseason, however, the line should be able to bulk up and improve.
Year 3 of the Dan Enos Era: If Razorbacks fans liked what Allen, Williams and the rest of the offense did in 2016, wait until next season. Enos managed to turn Allen into one of the conference’s best quarterbacks last offseason; imagine what the offensive coordinator will be able to put together with a full year of game film to study.
The freshman class: While Arkansas will rely on upperclassmen to carry the load next season, the Hogs will bring in some impressive newcomers. Highlighting the recruiting class are two talented pass-catchers, wide receiver Brandon Martin and tight end Jeremy Patton. Martin, a 6-foot-4 playmaker from Mississippi Gulf Coast, is ranked as the No. 2 JUCO wide receiver on 247Sports.com’s composite ratings. Patton, 6-foot-6 and 230-pounds out of Arizona Western College, is the top-ranked tight end in the JUCO ranks.
A winnable home schedule: The Hogs went 5-2 in home games this season, with the losses coming against SEC West rivals Alabama and LSU. The Razorbacks will face those two challenging opponents on the road in 2017, but they have a fairly easy home schedule with Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri all heading to Fayetteville.
Put up or shut up time for Bielema: Whether you love him or hate him, the Bret Bielema Experience is going to go one of two ways next season. Either he proves he can get it done and win in the SEC, or he finds himself on the hot seat early.