After looking at defending national champion Alabama from a handicapping perspective, we’ll continue through the rest of the conference alphabetically. Today, it’s the Arkansas Razorbacks, with new coach Chad Morris.
Many in Fayetteville want to forget last season completely, and who can blame them? The Razorbacks were a mess defensively, Bret Bielema’s seat was scorching hot to start the season and Austin Allen failed to deliver even when healthy.
The Razorbacks ended the season 4-8 and also was 4-8 against the spread. No team in the SEC was favored fewer times than Arkansas’ four (Vanderbilt also was favored in four games) – and the Hogs failed to cover in any of those games.
Despite being tied or having a lead at the half in six games last season, the Razorbacks managed to win the second half only twice last season – in the opener against FCS member Florida A&M and in a come-from-behind win over Ole Miss. If we remove FCS opponents from our data sets, the Razorbacks were outscored 231-137 (-94 points) in the second half of games last season and finished 128th nationally (out of 130 FBS teams) in second-half scoring. And only Connecticut (20.4 points) and Oregon State (21.3 points) allowed more points per game in the second half.
Despite being a mess the past two seasons defensively, having to replace a solid veteran quarterback, breaking in a new coach and defensive coordinator and losing star center Frank Ragnow, all is not lost for the Hogs.
This season’s schedule sets up well for Morris and veteran defensive coordinator John Chavis. As strength-of-schedule rankings begin to roll out, Arkansas will find its 2018 schedule ranked somewhere between 35th and 50th in terms of “toughness.” The Razorbacks won’t face a non-conference Power Five opponent.
The season begins with FCS member Eastern Illinois, and the Hogs will open as 30-point favorites here. A week 2 road trip to Colorado State could prove tricky, but I have Arkansas as a small favorite here and expect the Razorbacks to open 2-0. Then comes North Texas; Arkansas will open as a double-digit favorite at home and the teams may combine for 80 points, but with any defensive improvement at all, Arkansas should be 3-0 heading into SEC play. Will there be defensive improvement? That’s the million-dollar question for Razorbacks fans.
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