SEC Subplots: How long will Arkansas wait for Bret Bielema to turn the program around?
SDS kicks off a series looking in-depth at teams and their biggest subplots heading into 2014. Next up: Arkansas Razorbacks.
SEC Subplots 2014:
- Alabama Crimson Tide
- Arkansas Razorbacks
- Auburn Tigers
- Florida Gators
- Georgia Bulldogs
- Kentucky Wildcats
- LSU Tigers
- Mississippi State Bulldogs
- Ole Miss Rebels
- Missouri Tigers
- South Carolina Gamecocks
- Tennessee Volunteers
- Texas A&M Aggies
- Vanderbilt Commodores
1. How long will it take to turn around the program?
Bret Bielema isn’t on a short leash, and he has a proven track record of development and championships. But how long will Arkansas give him to get the Hogs’ program back to winning 10 games and competing for championships? Can that even be accomplished with the rise of Texas A&M, Ole Miss and Auburn? We haven’t even started talking about perennial powers LSU and Alabama yet either. The biggest question isn’t whether he will turn the program around. The biggest question to me is how long the Hogs will let him try and turn it around.
2. Brutal road
Oh, and speaking of the schedule, unless something drastic happens, rough waters are ahead, again. The Hogs play a college football high seven preseason top 25 teams, and there’s two wins you can circle on the schedule: Nicholls State and UAB. That’s it. Arkansas also leads the country in opponents’ winning percentage: 65.61 percent.
3. Loaded backfield
Arkansas’ backfield is loaded, and when I say loaded, I mean more than capable of becoming an electrifying backfield. We know about the SEC’s Freshman of the Year Alex Collins, and the returning junior Jonathan Wallace. But Korliss Marshall could perhaps be the conference’s best kept secret. Marshall stole the spotlight in the Hogs’ spring game, and he showed out in the Hogs’ last preseason schedule. So, while Collins and Williams are big-time players, remember the name Korliss Marshall, because he could become an emerging superstar. Yeah, I said it.
The biggest concern lies in Brandon Allen and the passing game. Assuming Allen makes progress and improves as a passer (he’s finally healthy), the biggest question may be finding receivers who can creates separation and make plays at the third level.
4. Different faces
There’s no Chris Smith, Robert Thomas or Bryan Jones, but don’t expect the defensive line to take that much of a hit. Deatrich Wise should be a big-time player at defensive end, and emerging star Darius Philon should have a big season. Obviously, Trey Flowers is the biggest impact player on the front seven, and he could put up the most numbers of any defensive end.
Speaking of the front seven, linebacker Brooks Ellis could be one of the best kept secrets on defense. The sophomore is the catalyst for a group that must take a giant step forward, especially stopping the run.
SDS Takeaway: Arkansas is a winning program and the fans are so passionate, but I just have a hard time seeing Bielema getting this thing turned around in the next two years. Playing in the country’s toughest division is daunting, and with programs like Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Auburn and even Mississippi State on the upswing, where does that leave Arkansas? The Hogs’ style of play isn’t conducive for scoring points and creating difficult mismatches. Essentially, Bielema is trying to out-Alabama Alabama and out-LSU LSU.