Arkansas, Tennessee bringing back youth in 2015
Two years ago, the Arkansas Razorbacks and Tennessee Volunteers had brand new coaches.
Arkansas hired Bret Bielema, who led Wisconsin to three consecutive Rose Bowl appearances and a 68-24 (37-19 Big Ten) record on Dec. 4, 2012. Tennessee went with former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, the 2011 Big East Coach of the Year who led the Bearcats to back-to-back conference championships, three days later.
Both programs saw progress in 2014, going 6-6 and securing bowl eligibility. However, Bielema and Jones both won with rosters lacking experience.
During this past season, Tennessee started 11 freshmen from Jones’ top-5 2014 recruiting class. 32 of the 71 players that appeared in the Vols’ season opener were freshmen. The previous record for freshman debuts in Week 1 was 12 in 2010.
Tennessee’s best players were running back Jalen Hurd and defensive end Derek Barnett, both true freshman. Hurd led the Vols with 777 yards and three touchdowns on 174 rushing attempts. Hurd added 217 receiving yards and two touchdowns on 33 catches. Barnett became the first true freshman in school history to start at defensive end in a season opener.
The former Brentwood Academy standout set a new freshman record for sacks (10.0) and tackles for loss (20.5). Barnett finished one sack shy of Myles Garrett for the SEC freshman record, though his total may have been more impressive as they all came in SEC games.
Arkansas also relied on several underclassmen to produce in 2014. The Razorbacks defense included four sophomores and three freshmen starters in Week 14.
Both Tennessee and Arkansas will return the majority their starting lineups in 2015. The Vols lose five starters from 2014. The Razorbacks will see 10 departures.
However, Arkansas is at another disadvantage in the quality, not just quantity, of the players leaving the program. The Razorbacks will lose Trey Flowers and Martell Spaight, their two best defensive players.
Tennessee will be without leading tackler A.J. Johnson. However, the senior has missed his last two games serving a suspension, which should prepare for his absence in 2015.
Both programs are rising in the SEC ranks and should show improvement in 2015. The Vols and Razorbacks young rosters managed to gain experience in 2014, which should prepare them both for next season.