Arkansas football: 10 reasons Hogs fans have to be thankful
Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and Arkansas has given fans plenty of reason to be thankful in 2020.
They are the most improved team in the SEC, having already won 3 more conference games than they did in the past 2 years combined. They’ve given some spectacular performances and competed in most games they’ve played.
As fans in Fayetteville and beyond gather around their tables Thursday, they’ll be able to sprinkle in some football-related thank yous among the more traditional ones. Here are 10 things Hog fans have to be thankful for this season:
1. Sam Pittman
Pittman and Arkansas appear to be a perfect match.
Bret Bielema’s former offensive line coach/recruiting coordinator returned as head coach and ended the Razorbacks’ 20-game conference losing streak by Week 2 and hasn’t stopped since. He has infused the program with hope and excitement and the future looks bright with him at the helm.
That could be for a long while, too.
If Pittman’s success continues there will likely be many suitors for him in coming years. But he has ties to the region and has already said that he sees himself finishing his career at Arkansas. He’s given Hogs fans a lot to be thankful for already, and this is only the beginning.
2. Barry Odom
As much credit as Pittman deserves for the success, Odom has played a large part, too.
Pittman picked him up as his defensive coordinator after Odom was let go as the head coach at Missouri. His defensive prowess and experience as a leader have clearly had a positive effect on Arkansas.
The Hogs have seen a massive improvement on defense, going from 124th overall last year to 77th. They also lead the SEC with 1.6 turnovers forced per game. Thank Odom for that.
3. Feleipe Franks saves the offense
I wrote after the Florida game that Razorback fans should be thankful for Feleipe Franks and it still applies.
Franks has given Arkansas steady (and occasionally outstanding) quarterback play for the first time in what feels like an eternity. The Florida transfer is on pace for his best season, at least statistically. He has thrown for 2,017 yards and 17 touchdowns to only 4 interceptions.
Receivers are reaping the benefits, too. De’Vion Warren was having the best season of his career before a season-ending injury. Mike Woods and Treylon Burks have also already surpassed their career bests.
Speaking of Burks …
4. Treylon Burks
Burks has emerged as one of the better receivers in the SEC as a sophomore.
He is the 4th-leading receiver in the conference despite missing essentially 2 games (he was injured early against Mississippi State). He has also consistently been among the highest-graded receivers in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
He has gone for 100-plus yards 3 times this season and 90-plus yards 5 times. He has the potential to develop into an NFL receiver if he keeps progressing.
5. Going bowling again
The NCAA deemed every team bowl eligible in 2020 regardless of record.
With that being the case, it seems likely the Razorbacks will find themselves with an 11th game to play this year.
Of course, nothing is set in stone, but Arkansas has gained national attention as one of the most improved teams in college football. That will play a factor. Plus, blown calls in the Auburn and LSU games likely prevented the Razorbacks from having 5 wins at this point.
I’m expecting Arkansas to make its first bowl game since 2016 this season.
6. No more Morris
Of course it helps when you hit a home run like the Razorbacks did with Pittman, but they are just lucky to have anyone but Chad Morris on the sidelines.
Morris compiled a 4-18 record as the Razorbacks’ coach, winning no SEC games. The team lacked direction and could barely stay competitive in most games. Morris did well enough at SMU as head coach and was an outstanding coordinator at Clemson but proved unready for the jump to lead a big-time program.
7. Emerging defensive players
Hudson Clark broke out as a walk-on with 3 interceptions against Ole Miss. Jalen Catalon is one of the SEC’s top tacklers and rising stars as a redshirt freshman. Jonathan Marshall has been one of the better players on the defensive line, already with a career-high 6.5 tackles for loss.
This unit clearly is only going to get better in the coming years under Odom.
8. Owning the state of Mississippi
The Razorbacks defeated Mississippi State and Ole Miss this season to claim unofficial ownership of the state.
Beating MSU was special, as Arkansas snapped its 20-game conference losing streak that day. They stopped a passing attack that threw for more than 600 yards in the week before against LSU.
The game against the Rebels was equally impressive, as it was the first win for the Razorbacks at home this year.
9. Recruiting is improving
Arkansas had the 30th-best recruiting class in the nation for 2020 and the 11th-best in the SEC, according to 247sports.
Those numbers sit at No. 21 and No. 8 this year as the Razorbacks continue to show improvement on the field. Ketron Jackson is the Hogs’ top commit at the moment. The 4-star receiver is 6-2, 186 pounds and from Royse City, Texas.
10. A bright future
Every reason on this list points to the Hogs continuing to rise in the coming years.
Pittman seems like a great coach in this for the long haul, and it’s hard to imagine Arkansas not competing as long as he’s around. Give him a couple more seasons to recruit and develop his type of players, and they may be back in business.
For now, fans can dream of what the future might look like and be thankful that those thoughts might not be that far-fetched.