It’s a new beginning at Arkansas with first-year head coach Sam Pittman bringing in a fresh start to the slumping program.

And what a start it’s been. Pittman and the Razorbacks finished the 2020 recruiting season with a flurry of impressive signings. The Hogs went from off the radar to a No. 30 ranking in the blink of an eye. Pittman reeled in a plethora of talent late to bring the Hogs’ 2020 class to respectability.

Now he’ll get his first opportunity to move the program as a whole in that same direction. But to do so, he will need big seasons from critical positions. The Razorbacks only lost 1 senior starter on offense from last year but must replace 5 on defense.

Here are the 5 most important returning players for Arkansas heading into the 2020 season.

1. RB Rakeem Boyd

The running game is in good hands with Boyd. He could have left early for the NFL Draft but didn’t. The 1,000-yard rusher will play a critical role in the Razorbacks’ ground attack, which could be even better than last year with 4 returning offensive linemen to open lanes for him.

In 2 seasons at Arkansas, Boyd has rolled up 1,871 yards on the ground and scored 10 touchdowns. Averaging 6 yards per carry over the first 2 seasons, Boyd is poised to battle the SEC’s best for the rushing title in 2020.

In addition, Boyd is a threat as a receiver. He has hauled in 42 passes for 325 yards. He will carry the offense again in 2020.

2. WR trio

All 3 are critical, but they very much work in tandem.

As a group, this young trio could become one of the best in the conference if transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks plays up to his potential. Treylon Burks, Trey Knox and Mike Woods combined for 90 pass receptions and 1,283 yards (7 TDs) a season ago, and that was with a revolving door of quarterbacks. Getting on the same page with one guy (Franks) could lead to some high-flying numbers in 2020.

Both Burks, the team’s leading receiver last year, and Knox were just freshmen while Woods was only a sophomore. The sky is the limit for this group if it can get into rhythm with Franks.

3. LB Bumper Pool

This hard-hitter is ready to build on a breakthrough season. As a sophomore, Pool led the team with 56 assists and was 2nd in total tackles with 94. He also tied for 2nd with 6.5 tackles for loss. He led the team with 5 passes broken up.

With the departure of last year’s senior leader De’Jon Harris at linebacker, it will be Pool’s job to step in and fill those shoes.

4. DE Dorian Gerald

He hasn’t played since the first game of the 2019 season, but Gerald appears to be healthy again and ready to return to his spot on the defensive line. A strained artery in his neck brought last season to a halt.

If healthy, Gerald will be called on to play opposite Mataio Soli, who had a successful freshman season at defensive end in 2019. Gerald played in 8 games in 2018, recording 21 tackles, including 2.5 for loss. He worked his way into the starting lineup this past season before the unusual injury.

A top-rated player in the nation at his position coming out of high school and No. 5 overall recruit out of South Carolina, Gerald appears ready to reach his potential and that could pay huge dividends for the Arkansas defense.

5. S Joseph Foucha

With the early departure of safety Kamren Curl to the NFL Draft, the role of Foucha as a leader will be critical in 2020. It will be his job to lead a secondary that ranked 11th in the SEC against the pass, yielding an average of 229.2 yards per game in 2019. In addition, the Hogs’ 6 pass interceptions last season ranked last in the SEC.

But Foucha flashed signs of abundant talent last year, his first as a starter. In his sophomore season he finished 3rd on the team with 87 tackles. He also tied for 2nd with 4 passes broken up.

It is Foucha’s time to shine in 2020 and lead the secondary to respectability as the program at all levels looks to do the same.