This is an excerpt of a column I wrote for Sporting Life Arkansas. You can read it in its entirety here.
About the only conclusion I’ve been able to draw from all of spring practice and recruiting season is that I believe Arkansas Razorback football will be better this season, but how much better is a giant mystery.
The Razorbacks should be improved or at least be the same at virtually every position on the field other than center and possibly kicker. The team will have more weapons on offense. Running back, receiver and tight end all feature new names expected to make immediate impacts. Defensively, a new scheme and a year of development for most of the players is expected to pay dividends.
Possibly the biggest achievement of Arkansas’ spring was the successful transition of both AJ Derby and Damon Mitchell to tight end and receiver, respectively. Specifically, Mitchell was expected by many to transfer after he was moved because he apparently was only interested in playing quarterback. But last week it was announced that he’d decided to stay in Fayetteville and play receiver. That’s a big recruiting victory for Bret Bielema. Mitchell’s a great natural athlete who has only played receiver for a couple of weeks. Fans should be excited to see what he can do with several months and a full fall camp learning the position.
But Brandon Allen, oh, poor Brandon Allen. Few fans were able to see that he really was the best quarterback on the team in the scrimmages leading to the spring game, but that first half of the Red-White Game went about as badly as it possibly could have, short of major injury. Yes, he was much better in the second half, and it was a scrimmage without the full playbook and the defense was used to everything after 15 practices and so on. But that was brutal.
While many will remember the nine-game losing streak to end the 2013 season, what fans should cling to is the fact that Arkansas was in position to win the games against Rutgers, Mississippi State, and LSU, and were competitive against Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Auburn. The Hogs wouldn’t have to have been too much better to turn some of those losses into wins.
Arkansas will be better. But anybody who’s ever watched football knows how any momentum can instantly be halted in one bad play. Getting better is as much about eliminating mistakes as it is developing new skills and learning from experience. Arkansas will very likely have chances to win late in games again this season. If they can make one fewer mistake, or make one more tackle, or find one more offensive weapon, they may very well be able to win some of those games this fall.
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