The Hogs cut ties with Bret Bielema after the team suffered its first losing season since 2013. This program just can’t seem to get things right. Houston Nutt tried, Bobby Petrino had things rolling until the motorcycle crash, then there was the John L. Smith one-year debacle and now Bielema. Let’s face it, no one will ever be Frank Broyles for this program, not even Lou Holtz could, but the Hogs have hope in new Head Coach Chad Morris. Arkansas returns six starters on offense and will be breaking in a new signal-caller. Morris plans on using both Cole Kelly and Ty Storey in the season-opener against Eastern Illinois. It seems like yesterday that the Hogs had a bevy of running backs, who were capable of starting for several other teams across the country. No Arkansas running back broke the 1,000-yard mark in 2017 and the Hogs lost their leading rusher. The top-two backs returning only combined for 885 rush yards and 11 touchdowns. The defense returns seven starters but will definitely need some improvement.
Team strengths: The offensive line. On offense everything will need to start up front for Arkansas and the unit returns four starters along the offensive line, led by senior left guard Hjalte Froholdt. Colt Jackson, Johnny Gibson, Brian Wallace and Fronholdt combined for 72 career starts and their experience will be needed as the Hogs are breaking in new quarterbacks and trying to establish a new identity in the running game.
Team weaknesses: The defense. Arkansas does return seven starters on defense but that unit finished dead last in the SEC in points allowed per game. Morris nabbed long-time SEC defensive coordinator Jon Chavis to take over the defense, hoping some of his experience will rub off on the players. Either way, the Hogs have a major rebuilding job to do on defense.
Players to watch: Running back Devwah Whaley, wide receiver Jonathan Nance and linebacker De’Jon Harris. Whaley is the teams’ leading returning rusher with 559 yards and eight total touchdowns. He’ll be the primary back for Morris and his numbers and production should increase this fall. Nance led the team in reception last season, hauling in 37 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns. He’ll be the go-to receiver for the new quarterbacks. Harris was the heart and soul of the defense and led the team in tackles last season with 115 stops, including 8.5 from behind the line of scrimmage and 3.5 sacks.
The schedule: Favorable. The non-conference schedule is a joke. Arkansas gets Alabama, Vanderbilt and LSU at home, but have to travel to Auburn, Mississippi State and Missouri. The Hogs avoid Georgia, South Carolina and Florida from the East.
My take: This will be a rebuilding year for Arkansas. Even with the favorable schedule, I don’t see the Hogs being bowl eligible at the end of the season, but they can still be competitive and get several young players experience on both sides of the ball.