Arkansas Razorbacks must start better in 2016
Winners of six of their last seven games, the Arkansas Razorbacks finished the 2015 season as one of the hottest teams in the FBS with a Liberty Bowl victory over Kansas State.
The only loss was a heartbreaking defeat to Mississippi State, 51-50. The Bulldogs blocked a field-goal attempt with 39 seconds remaining to seal the victory. If Arkansas won that game, the Razorbacks would have tied for second in the SEC West.
Of course, it took a miracle fourth-down play in overtime versus Ole Miss for Arkansas to post a 5-3 conference mark. Still, five wins playing in the SEC West and nearly a sixth, no matter how they come, is impressive.
But the flip side of the Razorbacks’ 2015 season is how slow the team began the year. Arkansas started 1-3, falling to Toledo, Texas Tech and Texas A&M.
With most of its starters coming back, Arkansas looks poised to carry its momentum into 2016. But the key for the Razorbacks is to avoid stumbling out of the gates.
Arkansas will have to do that with some new starters on offense. Starting QB Brandon Allen and starting linemen Sebastian Tretola and Mitch Smothers are gone. Running back Alex Collins and TE Hunter Henry both may leave early for the NFL Draft.
Therefore, Arkansas will need to count on sophomore Austin Allen, Brandon’s brother, or Southern Cal transfer Ricky Town, under center.
The Razorbacks return three of their five offensive linemen that made up the biggest line in FBS and both starting wide receivers, Drew Morgan and Dominque Reed.
Collins’ return would help an inexperienced quarterback with the solid tandem of Morgan and Reed, who combined for 114 catches, 1,582 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
Arkansas loses only two starters on defense.
Arkansas ranked 16th in rushing yards allowed at 119.6 yards per game. Against the pass, the Razorbacks yielded 284.5 yards per game, 121st in the FBS.
But with nearly everyone back and three additional four-star defensive commits for the 2016 recruiting class, Arkansas should only get better on defense.
Nevertheless, it is vital that Arkansas’ new starters and recruits make an immediate impact. If the Razorbacks plan to be a true darkhorse in the SEC West, they cannot afford to lose to unranked non-conference opponents.