Arkansas is on the rise under coach Bret Bielema, going from zero to two to five SEC wins in three years.

The West appears to be a three-horse race between Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss, so the Razorbacks are still lacking in the respect category. Either they become real contenders or fail to make a legit breakthrough.

On offense, Brandon Allen is out of eligibility under center and gives way to his younger brother, Austin Allen. Leading rusher Alex Collins departed a year early to enter the draft. Devwah Whaley is a potential star, though. Defensively, Deatrich Wise Jr. returns to anchor the pass rush.

While the schedule is challenging to say the least, the Hogs do get to host the Crimson Tide, Tigers and Rebels in Fayetteville this season. If they defend their home turf, they can make noise in the division.

We all love Bielema for being as honest as he is during press conferences. But this game is about winning.


SDS 2015 projection: 8-4 (4-4)
Actual record: 7-5* (5-3)

* doesn’t include postseason

Predicting every game in 2016:

Sept. 3 vs. Louisiana Tech (W): A manageable opponent at home in Week 1 is the kind of confidence booster Allen needs making his first career start.

Sept. 10 at TCU (L): Assuming he wins the starting job in Ft. Worth, former Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill can’t wait to show SEC coaches what they’re missing.

Sept. 17 vs. Texas State (W): Following a tough road trip to the Horned Frogs, the Hogs return to the comfy confines of Fayetteville and beat up on a cupcake.

Sept. 24 vs. Texas A&M* (L): While the Aggies aren’t necessarily loaded on the two-deep, their superstars shine brightly and are too much for Bielema and Co.

Oct. 1 vs. Alcorn State (W): Time for another cupcake to help the Razorbacks lick their wounds at home after a brutal assignment on the road.

Oct. 8 vs. Alabama (L): The Crimson Tide are first up on a five-game stretch for the Hogs that will define their season, but ‘Bama is still the class of the West.

Oct. 15 vs. Ole Miss (L): With Arkansas certain to be a bit beaten up seven days after the Tide come to town, Chad Kelly likely has a field day throwing the football.

Oct. 22 at Auburn (L): The Tigers want to get back to running the rock with pace in 2016, and that pace is all the more dizzying at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Nov. 5 vs. Florida (W): The Gators were good at the start of last season but bad at the end, so the Hogs are banking on the latter version for 2016.

Nov. 12 vs. LSU (L): The Tigers host Alabama seven days before this matchup, and assuming they’re coming off a loss, Arkansas will see the Bayou Bengals at their angriest.

Nov. 19 at Mississippi State (W): The Razorbacks have more talent than the Bulldogs in this battle to stay out of the West cellar.

Nov. 25 at Missouri (W): First-year Mizzou coach Barry Odom has some work to do, both on the field and in the community, while the Hogs don’t have nearly the same distractions.

* in Arlington, Texas

2016 projection: 6-6 (3-5)
SEC Race: 6th in the West

The Skinny: Credit Bielema for improving his team drastically during his tenure in Fayetteville, but 2016 feels like a step-back season. Quarterback play is largely to blame. Last year, he had the most experienced starter in the league. This year, however, the Hogs are hitting the reset button.

John Crist is the senior writer for Saturday Down South, a member of the FWAA and a voter for the Heisman Trophy. Send him an e-mail, like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.