To put it kindly, Arkansas’ 2018 season was a disaster. The Hogs had their first 10-loss season in program history, failed to win an SEC game and Tuesday night missed out on landing Clemson transfer Kelly Bryant.
There is hope, though, with a strong 2019 recruiting class expected to arrive in Fayetteville soon. Those incoming players should receive a lot of playing time right away as the Razorbacks work toward looking like a completely different squad then the poor product they put on the field in the first season under Chad Morris.
The 2019 season is nine months away. But the countdown can’t start soon enough for the Arkansas faithful hoping to erase the memories of 2018. So, with that in mind, let’s make five way-too-early predictions for next season.
1. Arkansas doesn’t put the hammer down … yet
Morris is supposed to have brought a high-powered offense to Arkansas. Putting the “hammer down” in the “left lane” was his promise during his introductory press conference and seemingly every other time he met with the media until the Hogs played an actual game under him. But once this team faced competition outside of practice, it became very clear Arkansas wouldn’t be finding the entrance ramp, much less the left lane, any time soon.
Don’t expect that to change quickly in 2019. The offense will likely be improved. It’s hard to imagine otherwise. If the Hogs had landed Bryant, maybe things would have improved greatly for at least one season. But with Bryant heading to Missouri, this program is still at least one more year away from having the high-scoring offense Morris is known for running.
2. A freshman leads Arkansas in receptions
A big part of the ineptitude on offense in 2018 was having no standout wide receivers. Morris’ offense desperately needs a big-play target to thrive. There simply wasn’t any on the roster this season, which is not a reflection of Morris or his staff. In fact, this coaching staff is clearly very aware of the need for receivers as they’ve gone out and landed commitments for three 4-star prospects at the position. Those incoming players are going to have the opportunity to see a lot of immediate playing time, which is why I think one of them will lead the Hogs in receiving yards next season.
3. Hogs go undefeated in nonconference play
Arkansas’ struggles against nonconference opponents in 2018 were a real concern. Even during a coaching transition, losses to Colorado State and North Texas are unacceptable. However, I don’t think the Razorbacks repeat those failures in 2019. The Hogs have a very weak nonconference slate with FCS Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky all coming to Fayetteville. Those teams were a combined 11-36 in 2018. I think Arkansas beats them all. And if they don’t, Morris should find himself on the hot seat sooner than most would have expected.
4. Arkansas wins an SEC game
The Hogs went 0-8 in conference play. But because the season ended with two blowout losses, it’s easy to forget there were some very close calls. Arkansas played Texas A&M and LSU to a 7-point game. The Razorbacks also probably would have beaten Ole Miss had it not been for a couple of key injuries that led to a second-half collapse.
Essentially, there’s evidence to suggest this group isn’t as bad as the final two games of 2018 would suggest. Factor that in with the incoming recruiting class and I think the Razorbacks pick up at least one conference win next season. There are two games I have circled as possible victories: Sept. 7 at Ole Miss and Oct. 12 at Kentucky.
5. Final record: 5-7
Surely Arkansas won’t be as bad as it was in 2018, right? That seems almost impossible. I’m certainly on the side of expecting some improvement in Year 2 under Morris, but I’m not about to go crazy. I think the 2019 Razorbacks go undefeated in non-conference play, win one SEC game, and finish the campaign 5-7. Considering how many young players are about to receive a ton of playing time, I think that’d be a major step in the right direction.