Arkansas football: 5 biggest reasons the Razorbacks are SEC's biggest surprise
Grant Morgan’s pick-6 on Saturday confirmed it. Old Arkansas is gone.
Gone are the days of teams looking at their schedule and assuming an automatic win with they see the Razorbacks. Sam Pittman has them sitting at 2-2 (an admitted blown call from 3-1) in his inaugural season and is an early favorite to win SEC Coach of the Year. He has to be in the national conversation, too, if Arkansas keeps it up.
The schedule does get tougher. No. 7 Texas A&M awaits after a bye week this week, and No. 2 Alabama and No. 10 Florida are farther down the road. However, Arkansas still has a great chance to get to 4 or 5 wins this season. That would be a major accomplishment considering it had lost 20 straight SEC games coming into the season.
It’s inarguable that the Razorbacks have been the conference’s biggest surprise this season, but what are the ways it has accomplished that? Here are 5 reasons the Hogs are this year’s most shocking team:
1. The defense
Barry Odom is due for a raise or another foray into being a head coach if he keeps the defense performing as it has so far.
The former Missouri head coach has Arkansas ranked 5th in the SEC allowing just 25.5 points per game. The Razorbacks also lead the conference in turnovers forced (3.3 per game). Considering Arkansas was the league’s worst defense last season, this improvement was unexpected.
The players who are stepping up are remarkable, too. Walk-on redshirt freshman Hudson Clark had 3 interceptions in the victory against Ole Miss. Morgan leads the conference in tackles with 52. Arkansas has had an answer for most of the offenses it has seen so far.
Pittman and Odom seem to have found a great union between coach and coordinator. The defense has been at the forefront of both wins so far.
2. Treylon Burks
Burks went without a touchdown in 2019 but has one in both of the full games that he’s played this season.
His one-handed grab in the corner of the end zone against Ole Miss this past week was a highlight-worthy clutch catch. Burks also leads the Razorbacks in receptions (19) and yards (249).
His play isn’t really surprising. He was the team’s leading receiver as a freshman despite going scoreless. Progress was to be expected as a sophomore. But we are beginning to see how good Burks can look with a capable quarterback throwing him the ball.
Last season was a disaster in that department, but the Hogs have looked a lot better with Feleipe Franks. and Burks is reaping the benefits
3. Multiple SEC wins
Let’s be honest, even if you thought Arkansas had a chance to win a game this year, you probably put the ceiling at 1.
That the Razorbacks are sitting at 2 victories with the season not even half over is nothing short of remarkable. (And, again, they should have beaten Auburn, too.) Arkansas hadn’t won an SEC game since 2017 before its victory against Mississippi State. Saturday snapped a home conference losing streak that dated to 2016.
The Razorbacks are already better than they were the past 2 seasons with more room to grow. Missouri, LSU and Tennessee all seem like games within reach. If the Razorbacks win those and steal an upset in 1 of their other 3 games, we’re looking at a winning season.
Regardless of how the rest of the year shapes up though, Arkansas is already ahead of where virtually all of us thought it would be in the win column.
4. Franks’ impact
Feleipe Franks has been close to a top 5 quarterback in the SEC this season.
Through 4 games, his 8 passing touchdowns are already more than any Razorbacks QB threw last year, when 5 quarterbacks recorded a start. He has thrown for 974 yards and has a quarterback rating of 143.9.
It’s been a bounce-back year for Franks, who transferred to Arkansas from Florida this offseason. He suffered an ankle injury during his junior year with the Gators and stood little chance of starting after Kyle Trask’s big breakout.
He found a home in Arkansas that needed him as much as he needed it.
With the NCAA announcing a blanket waiver to grant an extra year of eligibility to all fall athletes, this doesn’t have to be Franks’ last season as a Razorback either.
5. Sam Pittman
As great as the rest of the things on this list have been for Arkansas, Pittman is the man behind it all.
He restored a culture to Razorback football that didn’t exist when Chad Morris was the coach. He absolutely nailed his coordinator hires. Watch the team and it’s not difficult to see: He got his players to believe they can win. Watch him in his interviews and you can see his leadership and passion shine through.
This season is one thing, but Arkansas has to feel good about its future as long as Pittman is at the helm.