Could Arkansas win the SEC East?
In a vacuum of the 2014 season, could the Arkansas Razorbacks win the SEC East?
The Razorbacks put the SEC West’s 26-0 record against non-SEC West opponents on the line Saturday when the Georgia Bulldogs travel to Little Rock.
The Hogs stand at 3-3, but are a vastly improved team in year two under Bret Bielema. A potent running game and an NFL-sized offensive line have been the driving force to Arkansas’ success thus far. However, the defense and quarterback Brandon Allen have played better. Bielema’s team has had fourth-quarter leads in four of its last five conference games, but have yet to close one out.
The Eastern Division favorite comes calling this weekend, and likely without its star running back again this week. Nick Chubb has a huge game against Missouri last weekend, but does the emotional, come-together aspect of Todd Gurley’s suspension wear off against the Hogs?
Where would the Hogs rank on the other side of the SEC in 2014? Let’s try to break it down.
Toss-up for first
Georgia and Arkansas are two very evenly-matched teams and would be the “one-A” and “one-B” in the East. Both the Bulldogs and the Razorbacks have quarterbacks who manage the game and get the football in the hands of their playmakers.
Arkansas boasts the better running back duo. In the win over Texas Tech a month ago, Alex Collins rushed for 212 yards and two scores on 27 carries. His counterpart Jonathan Williams ran for 145 yards and four touchdowns on 22 carries. As much depth and talent as Georgia has in its backfield, no one can match that kind of production. Yes, it was against a bad Red Raider defense, but both Collins and Williams are both NFL tailbacks.
Both teams lack explosiveness on the outside. Neither Brandon Allen or Hutson Mason have a big-play target to throw to, and that handcuffs both signal callers at times.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Hogs and the ‘Dawgs are both improved over a year ago. Defensive coordinators Robb Smith and Jeremy Pruitt have talent along the defensive front and youth in the backend.
The edge in the front seven would have to be given to Georgia. The Bulldogs have a wealth of talent on the defensive line and at linebacker, led by Leonard Floyd, Jordan Jenkins and Leonard Carter. The Bulldogs’ front seven is fast and athletic and has more depth than Arkansas.
On the backend of the defense, both secondaries still have question marks but are vastly improved from a year ago when both teams ranked near the bottom in pass defense efficiency in the SEC. Arkansas has more experience in the defensive secondary than Georgia. Tevin Mitchel, Carroll Washington, Alan Turner, D.J. Dean and Rohan Gaines have all played well for the Hogs. Smith has increasingly turned to some of his young guys in the secondary — including Dean and Henre Toliver — both of whom have recorded pass break-ups and interceptions.
If Arkansas were in the East this season, the winner of Saturday’s game would likely win the division.
With the exception of perhaps Kentucky, Arkansas is more talented than the rest of the teams in the East.
Florida’s offense would not be able to produce with the way the Hogs defense has played recently. South Carolina could not stop Collins, Williams and that Arkansas running game. Tennessee, Missouri and Vanderbilt all have issues on both sides of the ball of which the Razorbacks could take advantage.
The record doesn’t show it, but Arkansas is a talented team. With the SEC East being down this season, Arkansas would be in prime position to stake claim to that division and make it to Atlanta.
The ceiling for the Hogs with their schedule this season is likely six, best-case seven, wins and a bowl game. With its current home in the SEC West, Arkansas is still a year away under Bielema.