Arkansas football: 10 bold predictions for the 2020 season
Arkansas enters the 2020 season with relatively little expectations.
After going a combined 4-20 in the past 2 seasons, the Razorbacks are rightfully viewed as the worst team in the SEC. However, fans looking at the roster for next season have reason to be cautiously optimistic. There is a lot of talent – especially young talent – with potential to surprise this year.
Arkansas isn’t going to win the SEC. It might not even make a bowl game. But the Razorbacks don’t look like the worst team in the conference, either. There is some star power in Fayetteville. And the beginning of the season is the most acceptable time to fantasize about best-case scenarios.
So, without further ado, here are 10 bold predictions for Arkansas in 2020. Perhaps a few will even come true.
1. Arkansas will win an SEC game this season
This might not seem that bold of a prediction, but conference victories haven’t been a guarantee for the Razorbacks the past 2 seasons. Arkansas has lost 19 consecutive SEC games since Oct. 28, 2017, when they beat Ole Miss on Connor Limpert’s 34-yard field goal with 4 seconds left. It is the longest such streak in school history.
The Razorbacks have the talent to break out of that slump this season. First-year coach Sam Pittman appears to be a great fit for the community in Fayetteville and convinced star running back Rakeem Boyd to come back for his senior year. He also added Florida grad transfer Feleipe Franks at quarterback and returns plenty of young talent from 2019. Games against Mississippi State and Missouri in particular look winnable for Arkansas.
2. Rakeem Boyd rushes for 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns
Boyd enters 2020 in the top tier of SEC running backs. Pittman is a former offensive line coach and the Razorbacks return 4 of their 5 starting linemen from last year, so the run blocking should improve. He rushed for 1,133 yards last season and will without doubt be the feature back again. His production will depend on how much Franks – another dynamic talent – is implemented in the offense, but he should surpass his 2019 total if the Hogs play a full 12-game schedule. Pittman’s style seems like it will lean plenty on the running game as well, as the coach has stated a desire to play power football.
3. Hudson Henry has a breakout season
Hudson Henry seems set up for success at Arkansas. Henry redshirted last season after seeing minimal playing time, but came in as the No. 4 tight end in the class of 2019 according to 247Sports. With the graduation of Cheyenne O’Grady, Arkansas is looking for a new starting tight end and Henry seems the most likely option.
4. Myles Slusher ends the season as a starting safety
Slusher’s commitment to the Razorbacks was one of the first big recruiting wins for Pittman. He was committed to Oregon but flipped to the Razorbacks to stay closer to his home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. He won a state championship with Broken Arrow during his junior season and was rated as the No. 12 safety in the class of 2020 and No. 2 player in Oklahoma. Arkansas lost Kamren Curl to the NFL, so it has an opening at safety. As a true freshman, Slusher might not begin the season as starter, but look for him to find his way into the lineup.
5. Bumper Pool leads the SEC in tackles
Arkansas linebacker De’Jon Harris finished the regular season as the SEC’s leader in tackles with 101 last season. Pool was not far behind him with 94. Harris graduated, and Pool looks to be the best option to pick up some of his workload. Given a full season, it seems reasonable to expect him to reach 101 tackles – if not more – which could be enough to lead the conference.
6. Treylon Burks emerges as a star receiver
Burks showed flashes of great potential as a freshman in 2019 despite extremely inconsistent quarterback play. He was the Razorbacks’ leading receiver with 475 yards and also handled punt return duties. He should have a less turbulent quarterback situation this season as Franks brings ability and experience to the offense. Burks, an Arkansas native, should continue to improve in his sophomore year. His speed and playmaking ability make him dangerous after the catch, too. He averaged 16.4 yards per catch last season. That’s about the same as Alabama speedster Jaylen Waddle and 2.5 yards more than LSU’s Justin Jefferson.
7. Arkansas’ offense finishes in the top half of the SEC
This is likely the boldest prediction yet, but I think Arkansas’ offense will enter the year a bit underrated. No one would blame you for writing off the Razorbacks after the past 2 years, but the offense has playmakers. Franks’ addition is really what puts them over the edge. He should fit well with offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and benefit from a receiving corps that returns all of its starters. Then there’s Boyd, who, as mentioned, is as good as any running back in the conference.
Arkansas certainly has a long way to go. It finished ahead of only Vanderbilt last year in total offense among SEC teams. A lot of its struggles can be attributed to its woeful quarterback nightmare, though. With that hopefully improved this season and young players making natural progression, this unit should be much, much better.
8. Pittman recruits a class that is top half in the SEC
Just as important as what happens on the field this season is how the Razorbacks fare on the recruiting trail. Pittman came to Arkansas with a reputation as a tremendous recruiter, routinely helping Georgia attain top 5 classes nationally.
This year’s class will be Pittman’s first and an important foundation on which he builds his program. According to 247Sports, the Razorbacks’ 2021 class is 8th in the SEC. Can the Hogs move up 1 more spot? The last time the Hogs finished better than 8th was 2008, when they signed the No. 6 class in the SEC.
9. Feleipe Franks throws for 2,500 yards
Franks brings talent and starting experience to the table. The grad transfer is perhaps the most important player on the roster. Many expect him to have a big season under Briles and be part of the reason this offense makes a big leap forward. His arm talent is undeniable. (The Red Sox drafted him as a pitcher.) He’s coming off a season-ending injury, though, and there still are questions about his decision-making. Gators fans kept waiting for him to put it all together. Hogs fans are hoping he can do just that this season.
10. Sam Pittman earns the trust of Arkansas fans
Pittman has his work cut out for him improving this program. When he was hired this offseason, many were shocked the Razorbacks opted for a candidate without any head coaching experience. Pittman has thus far slowly shown to be a solid hire, though. He has convinced key players to stay and already displayed his recruiting prowess. He has spoken of the program with the reverence only someone who grew up in the area (as Pittman did) can.
The final step is getting the team to make progress on the field this season. Something tells me Pittman will get that done and earn a bit of trust from a fan base that is understandably reluctant to give it.