1) What's the question you're most looking forward to getting answered in the first game?
Kevin (KevinHog) - How much more able is Brandon Allen at leading this team from what we saw nearly a year ago. In other words, where is Brandon Allen at right now? Yeah, even much more experienced quarterbacks have out-of-the-gate stumbles, so I'll account for that, but after four quarters with the Cajuns we still should walk away knowing more about Allen and how far he has come along.
Zack Veddern - I want to see what the offensive line looks like. The unit as a whole had no answers for anyone last year. Teams like ULM were able to destroy Tyler Wilson and the run game was subpar even with guys like Dennis and Knile. I want to see them come out, establish dominance early on, and really unleash Jonathan Williams and company. I'd also like them not let Brandon Allen get killed against a lower level team.
Drew (dxf04) - Simple. I'm looking to see real progress on the defense: solid tackling, QB pressure, and DBs that will actually turn around and look for the ball. These are all things that were sorely lacking last year.
Scottie (gsbordelon) - I'm looking for a couple of things. One, I want to see if the Arkansas offensive line can dominate a smaller ULL defense like it should. Secondly, the secondary is going to be tested by a dual threat QB, so I also want to see how much the DBs have improved from last year.
Trent (BVC) - I am most curious about the offensive identity of the team. Bret Bielema is known as a ground-and-pound type of coach, but offensive coordinator Jim Chaney did mentor Drew Brees, and offensive line coach Sam Pittman put together a line last season at Tennessee that was arguably the best in the country at protecting the passer. It stands to reason that the offensive game plan will be run heavy, but Chaney loves to throw it, and I am very interested to see how he wants to move the ball through the air.
Graham Reaves - What is the offense going to look like? In the past, Chaney's offenses have been known for their passing games, and that may have been a product of who his quarterback was more than anything else (Tyler Bray at Tennessee & Drew Brees at Purdue). Neither approaches have struggled to put up points at their previous schools so it'll be fun to see if they are able to use facets of both offenses that can morph given what the situation calls for.
Adam (from Hog Trough Fancast) - Physicality. This coaching staff prides themselves on hard-nose, old-school football. One of the biggest problems with our past teams has been the lack of physicality on the field. Do we put our helmets to their chest and drive them to the ground or do we do the arm-tackle dance, once again?
Randy Reece - Arkansas's new head coach put together a different kind of coaching staff. Bret Bielema hired an impressive set of assistant coaches. Randy Shannon had been head coach of The U. Jim Chaney tutored Drew Brees. This staff looked perhaps too shiny - George McDonald had taken the receivers coaching post but was hired away by Syracuse to be its offensive coordinator. Sam Pittman got a big raise to stay as Bielema's offensive line coach, after Nick Saban made a run at him.
At Wisconsin, Bielema had stepped into a well-defined program with 15 years of consistency under Barry Alvarez, for whom he had been defensive coordinator. This is the first time Bielema has built a staff from scratch. AD Jeff Long gave Bielema plenty of budget, enabling the new head Hog to assemble the highest-paid staff in school history.
The big question: What are the benefits of putting together this many big-name assistants? Will quality show through in game one? Do their abilities complement one another? Fans who disdained the way everyone from Ken Hatfield to Bobby Petrino hired cronies as key staff members - now you got your wish. This high-dollar staff's ability to work together and "coach up" this uneven assemblage of talent should become obvious fairly early.
2.) Are you concerned with Arkansas' ability to slow down U-LaLa's offense?
Drew - Slow down? No. Shut down? Yes. They're going to score some points, I'm sure. We just need to score more.
Scottie - I am a little bit, but not a whole lot. I think Arkansas will be jittery on defense to start, but once the game progresses I think the Hogs defensive line takes control of ULL. They'll score a TD or two, but I'm not too concerned.
Randy - Anyone who has watched Arkansas defensive backs escort opposing receivers downfield on their way to big gains can't help but be concerned about the Ragin Cajuns' passing attack. The Hogs also have a history of being unable to contain even half-decent run/pass quarterbacks. UL has a good one in junior Terrance Broadway. Kevin Sumlin had recruited Broadway, a Rivals 4-star prospect, from Baton Rouge before leaving to take over Texas A&M. The Razorbacks' strength on defense, pass rush, matters less against a good running QB. The apparent weakness, cornerbacks, could be hard to hide.
Kevin - Yes, very much so. I believe ULL's quarterback won't play nice and just sit in the pocket until we can get to him. I see them possibly hurting us badly for yards, that way. And our secondary? Still a big question mark.
Zack - Based on the bad memories I have of Arkansas' defense versus a mobile quarterback, I should be. But with all the talk surrounding the Hog's defensive front, I'm giving them the benefit of the doubt going in. Smith and Flowers will get a lot of attention right off the bat from the fan base, and if they and the defense can contain this guy, I think it could be a big day for the Hogs. As it should be.
Graham - They have a mobile quarterback, right? Then anyone who has watched the Hogs the past should be at least a little concerned. Looking at this year's team with two All-SEC types of defensive ends, it's important Flowers and Smith do not get to far up the field, forcing Broadway up or out of the pocket and into huge holes that would then be created for running. I think more of what could cause problems in stopping Broadway is the linebackers, which have often been a cause for concern.
Trent - After the debacle that was 2012, I don't see how anyone couldn't be concerned. The Hogs simply have to get to the quarterback. Getting there a step late, which we saw entirely too much of last season, is how you get yourself into trouble against a team that should be outmatched.
Adam - Our secondary has definite causes for concern. This will be a good test for some of the future QBs the Hogs will face in the SEC in the upcoming weeks. If we have trouble with ULL, it's gonna make for a long year, I think.
3.) How much of a concern are these wide receiver issues?
Adam - A lot of people are extremely worried about this, but I'm not that worried. Thankfully, we have some great running backs on this team which should make up for a lack of depth in the wide-receiver department. This isn't Bobby Petrino's offense. We don't depend on only the pass. We'll wish we had a Cobi Hamilton, at times, but don't worry. We'll be fine.
Trent - A huge concern for depth, obviously. Herndon is a solid possession receiver, but I was counting on McKay and Cowan to be the big play guys. No idea who replaces them.
Kevin - I am not as concerned now, early in the season, but depth is going to be a concern as the season goes on. We can't afford injuries here, but we are probably going to have some.
Zack - As long as everyone stays healthy, it shouldn't be too big of an issue. That could be a very big "if" though. The two seniors in Herndon and Horton are good to go, they've been around through Mallett and Wilson. Their experience will help the younger guys, who - outside of the freshman - all saw some action last year. I wouldn't be surprised to see Keon Hatcher step up, he's a bigger, more solid specimen at 6-2, 215 than the other guys, and his opportunity is knocking.
Drew - Definitely concerning, if only from the perspective of depth. Drew Morgan and Melvinson Hartfield are going to get more reps than they would have otherwise, which might be a good thing. Also may result in more reliance on the TEs, which could be a good or bad thing.
Scottie - It's a serious issue. I thought we would have issues at WR before all of the injuries, and Mekale McKay decided to transfer. I can't be confident in a unit that is mostly unproven to this point even with the top guys (Horton, Herndon) being seniors.
Randy - The two wide receivers who went down with injuries, De'Arthur Cowan and Demetrius Wilson, were the two with the best combination of height and speed. Their absence probably diminishes Arkansas's ability to threaten better opponents downfield, which could enable good defenses to jump the short passing game with impunity. In game one, Arkansas's senior starters should be able to handle the motley crew UL has in its secondary, but freshmen will be in the early rotation. Counting on green pass-catchers seems unavoidable.
Graham - There is a need for an aerial attack, and no a passing game is complete without people to catch the football. I think losing Mekale McKay was a bigger deal than we want to admit. He seemed to be a star waiting for his chance. All great teams have at least one threat on the outside, so if all else fails, more Melvinson Hartfield please... just so we can hear that name.
Doc - His is the best name on the team. Wideout is a concern, but the injuries at linebacker have somehow flown under the radar. Losing AJ Turner for the year and Otha Peters for at least half the year is a huge loss. And linebacker was probably the weakest group on the team last year.
4.) Not asking for a final score, but how confident are you going into the first game? Is it a blowout, pull away late for a comfortable win, a nail-biter, or [let's not go there and just say "worse"]?
Trent - The Razorbacks will be the physically superior team, and I think that the Hogs will lean on that more than in the Petrino era. I think it's a blowout. Bret Bielema likes blowouts. He understands how hungry his fan base is for something to celebrate. Barring something fluky like a rash of first-half turnovers, I think the Hogs cruise home.
Adam - I'll be betting the line on the Hogs while I'm in Las Vegas this weekend, so I'm going for a win. I believe the first half might be too close for comfort. However, I think the Hogs will pull through in the second, wearing down the Ragin' Cajuns D-Line. This will give Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins a chance to showcase their talents.
Graham - After 2012, I dare say any win is comfortable, but I do think the energy there will be much more like an SEC game than a non-conference game and that support will help. The Hogs will find a way to win and cover the 10.5-point line.
Kevin - I am afraid to say that I see a possible nail-biter. Yeah, we have more talent than these guys, but I am afraid we might be so jacked up to right all of last year's wrongs that we play tight. I don't think we'll underestimate them, however. Hopefully the coaches can keep our guys loose and get them playing up to our abilities.
Scottie - I think Arkansas wins comfortably. Arkansas is too big up front.
Randy - No matter how well Arkansas plays to begin this game, the Cajuns should be hard to put away. Their spread attack will prolong the game, likely becoming more effective as the Arkansas starters tire. It's a certainty that the Hogs have a significant talent dropoff when it goes to the bench. I keep thinking about Bielema's SEC media days comments regarding "real football." Arkansas might look great through 10-11 possessions when a "real football" game would be over, but have tired starters and 15-20 minutes yet to play. Feels like a close one.
Zack - I'd like to think we blow these guys out, but I won't be surprised by anything. I'm thinking there's a change in everything about our program, the players seem to really have bought in to what the new staff is preaching, and I think they want to go out and really put on a show. I don't think CBB and company will allow anything less. But, at the end of the day, I just hope Bielema's "1-0" thing actually applies.
Drew - My gut says "comfortable win." I'd be ecstatic with a blowout, though.
Doc - I'm so scared.
5.) Brandon Allen was listed at or near the bottom of most "SEC QB Rankings" lists during the offseason. Do you have faith he'll move up on that list by December?
Zack - December? If Allen hasn't moved up that list by October there's a problem. Auburns returning QB is now a safety and one of UGA's old corners is now the QB at Auburn, and he's in the same league as Mizzou, he can't stay at the bottom for long. Plus, his best friends are going to be that O-line, J-Williams and Alex Collins. I think he can go as far as they take him.
Scottie - He can definitely move up on the list. I like his chances because he has the raw talent, then take the coaching he's receiving into account. He'll be a middle of the pack QB in the SEC, which is saying something considering all the talent at that position this season.
Kevin - Yes, I have faith that Brandon is going to improve during the season and will be a better quarterback at the end of the season than the beginning. I say that because I am more confident in this coaching staff than what we had last year. I believe mistakes might actually get corrected this year and not just linger on game after game.
Drew - I'm don't think he'll be ranked near the bottom at the end of the season, but he may only make it up to the middle of the pack this year. Regardless of the rankings, if he can get some protection in the pocket and doesn't make bad decisions with the ball, he'll be just fine.
Trent - I don't expect him to move far up the list, for sure, but I think he can definitely be seen as an adequate field general at the end of the season. He has all the tools. I certainly don't see him ending the year as one of the top quarterbacks in the SEC, but finishing middle-of-the-pack probably means the Razorbacks have a pretty good season.
Randy - Brandon Allen could put together a good season and not rise much on the pecking order of SEC quarterbacks. The sports media likely will compare Allen with his Arkansas predecessors, but also he'll be measured against former Jim Chaney students such as Brees (almost 12,000 passing yards at Purdue) and Tyler Bray (3,600 passing yards, 34 TDs in 2012). A 2,500-yard season (about 200 per game) with good accuracy and restraint might not get much attention for Allen. But it would be a good complement with a run-first offense.
Graham - If you look around the league, being an honest fan, and based on his appearances a year ago, he belongs in the bottom third. However, I feel like he will grow with his experience this season. The situations he was put in weren't ideal for growth, but the schedule actually helps him out because he will arguably have his easiest four games of the season out of the gate, a great time for him to learn. If he is able to orchestrate just one win during the four-game gauntlet, that will go a long way in terms of his SEC QB ranking.
Adam - Brandon Allen is coming in with a clean slate in my book. Last year never happened. We have to let those memories go. Brandon Allen does not need to be a Tyler Wilson superstar. He just needs to be consistent. With our coaching staff, we no longer have to depend on one player putting the entire team on their back. This will probably be a tough year for Brandon Allen, without a doubt. I'm just hoping he shows the needed signs to prove to himself and all of the fans that he can become the quarterback we'll need in the upcoming years.
6.) What's the game you've got circled, not as the most important game, but the one you're most looking forward to?
Graham - As a Samford University alum, that is No. 1 for me. To watch some of the guys I know experience SEC football firsthand will be fun until kickoff. No. 2 is LSU. By then we may still be fighting for bowl eligibility and the team will be what it is, meaning it will have done all of the evolving and growing it will do. What will that end product look like? Is it good enough to beat an LSU team some consider weaker than usual? And it's the last Thanksgiving-Golden Boot weekend, a shame really.
Scottie - Texas A&M. I'm a 20-year-old college kid, so of course I'm looking forward to watching Johnny Manziel play. When was the last time a player won the Heisman then came back and played in Fayetteville the next year? Plus, if Arkansas goes into the A&M game 4-0, Razorback Stadium will be LIVE. Can't wait for that one.
Zack - Florida in the Swamp. I'll be there, and I was there last time we were there. I'll be out for revenge from the last outing and I hope the hogs will be too. Also could be a nice upset opportunity for us. Regardless the outcome, as long as Penn Wagers and his crew don't show up, it'll be a good time.
Drew - Auburn. While I'm no fan of Gus, I'm not looking forward to this game for purposes of "revenge" or anything like that. I just think this is an almost guaranteed SEC win, which could possibly be in short supply this year.
Adam - Texas A&M, without a doubt, just like Scottie, but for different reasons. That game will tell us everything we need to know with where we stand in the SEC West. If we get blown out like last year, a bowl is going to be hard to achieve. However, if we're able to at least make it competitive, we might surprise a lot of teams.
Kevin - I could say Samford because I am going to be there, haha. But I am going to say, LSU. It will now be our last post-Turkey day showdown with them, and I think by that time, the Hogs will be an improved team from what we saw earlier in the season (again, faith in coaches) if the injury bug hasn't seriously gone to bed with us. Would love to see our Hogs play spoiler at the end of the season for LSU just one last time.
Randy - Game five, the SEC opener at home against Texas A&M. The Aggies scored the last 51 points of last year's contest, one of the worst whippings in Razorback history. Johnny Manziel is back after accounting for more than 550 yards in that 58-10 wipeout. Fourteen Aggies who started in that game are gone, as well as 12 Razorback starters. These two teams will be substantially changed, which could give Arkansas more of a chance to win than most would give them today.
Trent - The Mississippi State game may have the most riding on it, as many seem to think the Hogs could likely be sitting at 5 wins when the Bulldogs visit War Memorial Stadium. If that is indeed the case, the Hogs will have to win that one or they'll be forced to defeat LSU in Baton Rouge to punch their bowl ticket.
But since we are still in preseason, the one I'm most looking forward to is of course the opener next week.
7.) Finally, the over/under line on Arkansas wins this year is 5.5. You taking the over or under?
Kevin - OVER! hah. By .5, I say.
Drew - I'm optimistically going with over. I think the team will be better this year than last, but the schedule is brutal.
Randy - On the assumption that UL and Rutgers are beatable, I'll go over and believe that forecasting a couple of SEC home wins wouldn't be crazy.
Adam - I've got to go under on this one. All of us on the fancast had different records, but I was the only one to go with under, with a record of 5-7. This is mainly just tapering off the syrupy Kool-Aid too many people in this state love to drink at the beginning and then blaming everyone else that they drank it in the end. I would love to go to a bowl this year, but the main thing I'm looking for is progress, and not by in number of wins. Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither was Bret Bielema's man-gut. It takes time, people.
Scottie - Over. Hogs win 6 games.
Trent - I'll take the over. Win the four non-conference games, and win any two of Auburn, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State.
Zack - Over, I'm thinking at least 6. With an upset sprinkled in there. And a win at Ole Miss.
Graham - Can I push? I like a win at Rutgers because the Scarlet Knights lost seven players to the NFL a year ago, which means Arkansas starts out 4-0, and that's essential for six wins. My brain says under; my heart says over. Bielema would want me to play with my heart. Over it is.
Doc - I'm doing a big over/under predictions for the whole SEC on Thursday, so check back to the site tomorrow to get my answer.