This year the revamped Razorbacks will be tested early against a surprisingly dangerous Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajun team. Here are a few things you should know about the Hogs' Week 1 match-up:
1. Not a cupcake anymore, a jalapeno cornbread muffin at worst.
Louisiana-Lafayette is 0-4 against the Razorbacks all-time and 1-59 against the SEC. However, this team is much better than the Ragin' Cajun teams that Arkansas has faced in the past. They were 9-4 last year (including a New Orleans Bowl win over ECU) and nearly knocked off a Top 10 Florida team in the Swamp. Florida scraped by at home on a last-second (almost literally) blocked punt which was returned for a touchdown. Had the Cajuns followed the UL-Monroe script from their upset of Arkansas earlier in the season, instead of playing conservatively toward the end of the game, the result may have been different. Oklahoma State was a different matter altogether, dominating Louisiana-Lafayette 65-24 and putting up over 700 yards of offense. The Cajuns' overall talent level is strong and they had 7 players listed by Phil Steele in his 1st and 2nd team All-Sun Belt offense. This will be a good early test for an Arkansas team looking to prove that last season was an extreme exception.
2. The Hudspeth Proxy.
Cajuns' coach Mark Hudspeth is a very highly respected coach in the Sun Belt and received a lot of attention for major head coaching openings last season, including being mentioned (at least in the media) as a possibility in the Arkansas coaching search. Hog fans have to be pretty pleased with the eventual choice of Bielema and his impressive track record, but Hudspeth has certainly impressed in his own right. To go from previously having only 4 winning seasons in 15 years (see above re: respect) to conference favorite and David to the SEC's goliaths isn't a minor accomplishment. Hudspeth also has gone 84-29 in nine seasons as a college head coach. Expect to hear his name come up again soon when the coaching carousel fires back up in coming years.
3. Offensive firepower, with more balance than you might think.
Although the Cajuns were a high scoring team in 2012, averaging over 35 points a game, they're certainly not airing it out every game. They put up very balanced numbers in terms of production, approaching Bret Bielema's stated targets of over 200 yards rushing and passing per game (with 193.5 and 261.8, respectively). Louisiana did put up what most would consider a Biemela-esque ratio in play calling, however, with an average of 55% rushing attempts vs 45% passing attempts and attempting more than 60% runs in 5 games. While Arkansas is losing a ton of talent in the backfield, the Cajuns return all of their top four rushers last year, primarily RB Alonzo Harris (881 net yds) and QB Terrance Broadway (769 net yds) who form a potent combo in the backfield. Arkansas struggled against dual-threat QBs (among many other things) in 2012 including losses to ULM and Texas A&M. The Hogs will need a dominant day from the defensive line, and have to hope that Chris Ash and Randy Shannon have made quick progress in sorting out the developing linebacker situation. A match-up to watch will be Arkansas' very talented defensive ends going against 2 new starting OT's for the Cajuns, one a starter at OG last year and the other an experienced reserve.
Prediction: I'M SO EXCITED, I'M SO EXCITED, I'M SO... SCARED. Very hard to know what to predict out of the box for the Hogs but I expect Arkansas to pull out a close game in the end, and if not... expect a worse meltdown than Week 2 last year. However, Vegas currently has the Hogs favored by 10.5 points and folks like money. Arkansas wins 28-21.