Editor’s note: Our 14-day annual Crystal Ball series continues with Arkansas and the SEC West. Coming Wednesday: Auburn.


That’s how I’d describe the first year of the Chad Morris era. It wasn’t just that the Razorbacks failed to win an SEC game. It was that they were -181 in conference play and in their 3 FBS nonconference games — all of which were Group of 5 teams — they were -11.

You bet that’s “woof.”

Granted, that doesn’t necessarily mean that Morris can’t have success. Mark Stoops went 2-10 overall and 0-8 vs. the SEC in his first season at Kentucky. More recently, Stoops was the SEC Coach of the Year for a 10-win team.

What it does mean is that expectations are low. Really low. This is still a rebuild because of how much roster turnover Morris needed to have the speed he wants to operate at a high level. And while he recruited extremely well for the year he had on the field, I tend to think more tough times are ahead in the near future.

That division isn’t exactly kind to rebuilding programs. I doubt that changes this year.

2018 record: 2-10 (0-8)

Who’s the new face of Chad Morris’ offense?

My guess is that Nick Starkel is the guy for the majority of 2019. The Texas A&M transfer won’t have the benefit of spring camp, nor will he have the experience in Morris’ system like SMU transfer Ben Hicks. That could open the door for Hicks to be the opening day starter while Starkel, who has 2 years of eligibility left, gets familiar running Morris’ offense.

Here’s the thing. In terms of starts to a season, you can’t really ask for a much more favorable first month than what Arkansas has:

  • vs. FCS Portland State
  • at Ole Miss
  • vs. Colorado State
  • vs. San Jose State

Is there a chance that Hicks gets the nod early and performs well against defenses that bad? Absolutely. That could give Starkel some extra time to get up to speed if and when Hicks runs into problems against quality foes like Texas A&M and Kentucky.

The crazy thing is that all 3 guys who started games for Arkansas last year are gone. That includes former 4-star recruit Connor Noland, who elected to just play baseball instead of juggling both sports. There’s going to be a completely new identity. It seems like it’s only a matter of time before Starkel gets the chance to be Morris’ guy.

Can Rakeem Boyd be 2018 Ke’Shawn Vaughn?

Last year, Vaughn became the ultimate home-run hitter who could bail out a struggling offense. Can Boyd (cover photo) be that guy this year? If he’s healthy, I think that’s absolutely on the table.

He definitely has the breakaway speed, and we saw him have impressive performances against teams like Auburn, Alabama and Mississippi State. That usually projects well.

Call me crazy, but I’d be stunned if a healthy Boyd had fewer than 200 carries. Morris will try and rely on him as much as possible as the most proven weapon in that offense. The challenge is that Morris wants to speed defenses up, but that offense will be at its best when Boyd is wearing defenses down and keeping opposing offenses off the field.

Last year, Arkansas was 13th in the SEC and No. 99 in FBS in rushing. That was with Boyd getting 8 carries or fewer in half of those 2018 contests.

I don’t think either of those stats repeat themselves.

John Chavis’ unit needs the most improvement

You knew it was going to be a struggle with all the roster turnover the Hogs had coming into last season, but perhaps we weren’t aware of how big of a struggle it was going to be. Finishing No. 108 in scoring defense won’t cut it, and neither will allowing 44 points to North Texas at home.

Fortunately for Chavis, there are some key pieces back to improve the defense. The SEC’s leading tackler, De’Jon Harris, is back, as is prolific defensive lineman McTelvin Agim. With the loss of Armon Watts, Agim will shift to the inside. Perhaps that’ll help last year’s run defense, which ranked 11th in the SEC. The Hogs also bring back the talented Bumper Pool and safety Kamren Curl will help them avoid some of those home-run plays.

Chavis’ group desperately needs to find ways to take pressure off the developing offense. It lacks proven pass-rushers and the only 2 Arkansas players who recorded interceptions last year (Dre Greenlaw and Ryan Pulley) are gone. Yeah, that’s not ideal. Nor is allowing 8 of 11 FBS teams to hit 34 points.

That’s one of many major changes that we need to see from this defense in 2019.

Game-by-game predictions

Week 1: vs. FCS Portland State (W)

Arkansas can beat a 4-win team from the Big Sky by giving Boyd the rock 25 times and calling it a day. It shouldn’t and won’t take that much from the tailback to get the job done.

Week 2: at Ole Miss (W)

Part of this is based on just how inexperienced Ole Miss is on offense. Even though that’s the Rebels’ home opener, I could see Arkansas going into Oxford and casting a whole bunch of doubt on Matt Luke. While I think Ole Miss improves in stopping the run over the course of 2019, it’s hard to bank on that so early in the season. A late C.J. O’Grady touchdown gives Morris his first SEC win.

Week 3: vs. Colorado State (W)

Revenge game. Sad, but true. This time, Arkansas doesn’t blow a late lead. The defense takes it personal that it was embarrassed last year and it keeps Colorado State below the 20-point mark.

Week 4: vs. San Jose State (W)

It’s a 1-win team that finished dead last in FBS in rushing. If Arkansas can’t control the line of scrimmage and roll past that, Morris has bigger issues to worry about. Fortunately for him, I don’t think he’ll have any scares in this one.

Week 5: vs. Texas A&M (L) (in Dallas)

Here’s hoping we can get a Starkel-A&M reunion. You know, not that it would be heated. It would just be fun to see. Go figure that as bad as Arkansas has been, this was a 1-score game each of the past 2 years with Kellen Mond starting for the Aggies. But in Year 2 of the Jimbo Fisher era, I don’t see that roster being as vulnerable to what would be a big upset.

Week 6: Bye

Week 7: at Kentucky (L)

I’m believe Kentucky will be a solid football team. I realize others do not. Sure, going to Kroger Field isn’t as tough of a crossover draw as going to Georgia, but it’ll still be a challenge for Arkansas to slow down that Kentucky offense. Terry Wilson is in for a major step up in Year 2, and just because Benny Snell is gone doesn’t mean that Kentucky running game is fading away.

Week 8: vs. Auburn (L)

This is Week 2 of a brutal 4-week stretch for Arkansas. I worry about how the Hogs are going to hold up against what might be the best defensive line in the country. While they hung with the Tigers last year, I think this year at Jordan-Hare, we see a more physical Auburn team in the trenches. That proves to wear down Arkansas and make this year’s result more lopsided than last year’s.

Week 9: at Alabama (L)

Remember when Arkansas actually broke 30 points against that Alabama defense? Boyd had a 100-yard game and Alabama fans went home frustrated with a 34-point win. This year, though, that’ll be on Saban’s mind. And as much as Morris’ offense showed its potential, its defense showed all of its holes against Tua Tagovailoa. That group is back and capable of putting up a whole lot of points once again.

Week 10: vs. Mississippi State (L)

This is an interesting matchup of 2nd-year coaches who are dealing with quarterback battles. It’s hard to know what either team will look like. What’s harder to imagine is 52-6 flipping in one year.

Week 11: vs. Western Kentucky (W)

Yeah, I was also surprised that Tyson Helton got a head coaching gig after 1 lackluster year as Tennessee’s offensive coordinator. No, I won’t be surprised when Morris’ team shows some nice progress and puts together its best offensive day of the year.

Week 12: Bye

Week 13: at LSU (L)

You could give Arkansas a year to prepare for a game at LSU and I’m not sure it would make much of a difference. Not with the way these rosters stand. My concern for Arkansas besides the obvious talent disparity is the depth issue. For a late-season matchup, LSU is in much better position to withstand injuries than Arkansas is. But hey, maybe we see something like Trey Knox make a big-time catch against Derek Stingley and get the 2020 hype train rolling.

Week 14: vs. Mizzou (L)

Here’s the good news. I believe bowl eligibility will still be alive heading into the regular season finale as opposed to it being eliminated in early November. That’s progress. But I have a feeling that the Kelly Bryant Bowl will go in favor of the visiting team. By then, Bryant should be comfortable in Derek Dooley’s offense. The only wild card in that whole situation is whether Mizzou, which is appealing a postseason ban from the NCAA, will be eligible to go to a bowl game. If not, this could get much more interesting than last year’s snoozer.

2019 projection: 5-7 (1-7, 6th in SEC West)


A 3-win improvement would still be a good sign. Granted, the schedule is practically begging for it, but let’s not dismiss it completely after a year in which Arkansas was in shambles. And I realize 3 consecutive years without a bowl game would be a tough pill for a fan base to swallow.

But if I’m an Arkansas fan, here are the realistic goals I have for this season:

  • Find a legitimate starting quarterback
  • Top 70 offense
  • No nonconference losses
  • Cut conference scoring margin (-181) in half
  • Win at least one game you’re not supposed to

None of those is that far-fetched. I know Morris is setting the bar higher than that. For some, the bar is simply 6 wins. Getting that extra month of practice would be huge for this program. An extremely young roster is probably still evolving and in need of as many reps as possible.

Missing a bowl game again would be frustrating, but a 5-win season is by no means a death sentence for the Morris era.