Welcome back to the Arkansas Fight Panel Discussions! Feels so good to be getting back in the season routine.
A little heads up: we've added some new contributors, and I think they've all participated in this week's discussion. As a result, things got a little lengthy with the six questions this week. So what we're going to do is split them up.
This is Part I. It's all about the storylines heading into the season and predictions for the final record, and Part II - which will drop on Thursday - will be all about the Auburn game.
I do want to thank everyone who responded and I'm thrilled to have all the new people joining us. Some of them have already started posting and some will be posting here soon. I would do introductions here but I'm not sure at the moment how much they all want to publicly reveal about themselves. I will say that there's a mix of people with reporting and journalism backgrounds, die-hard fans who've already been writing on other outlets, and a few who are big fans that I've seen around and wanted to give this a shot. So, welcome, to all of you! (If y'all want to introduce yourselves further in the comments or something you're welcome to do so.
Now that the pleasantries are done, let's get started.
1. As usual, all the national (and many of the local) previews for Arkansas focus on the same narrative. What's one thing people have been saying about the Hogs' upcoming season for the last few months that's been overblown?
Ryan: That the Hogs won't win a conference game this year. I'm one of the most realistic (but some call pessimistic) Hog fans, but I think A&M and Mizzou lost so much that they are winnable games for Arkansas. However, I think those are the only chances for conference wins.
Tyler: The belief that Arkansas can only run the football. Yes, our bread and butter is the downhill run game and Brandon Allen had a horrid 2013 season, but pundits tend to ignore the factors that caused it. BA's injury had a much bigger impact than people realize. When your starting QB practices once a week and your backup is a converted LB who's now a TE, problems will happen. So I think a healthy Brandon Allen and a second year in Jim Chaney's system will allow the Hogs to throw the football when they need to.
Scottie: What's been overblown, in my opinion, is other outlets saying Arkansas will be as bad as last year, or maybe even worse. It's just not going to happen. This team just has to be better.
Mark: Last year. Last year is overblown. Auburn proved 0-8 can translate to good things. Granted, the situations aren't the same and our schedule is brutal, to say the least. We've had sub .500 runs in the modern era 3 times and never stayed there for long. We don't stay down for more than a year or two. Not in our DNA, schedule be darned.
Adam F: I think Korliss Marshall's potential impact is somewhat overblown. That's not to say I don't think Marshall is a great player capable of adding quite a bit to the offense. Marshall is a great change-of-pace back good for 8 to 10 touches per game. He has a different running style from Collins or Williams. It's the comparisons to Darren McFadden that are over-the-top. He's a good player with a specific role. The offense won't get better by taking normal carries from Collins and Williams and giving them to Marshall.
Adam P: The thought that we will be AS BAD if not WORSE than last year. In the end, all that matters is how many times you ended a game with a higher score than your opponent. I get it. With the season's schedule being one of (if not) THE toughest in the country, I can understand the sentiment, somewhat. But we're all too quick to forget that we very well could have won 3 more games last year if lady luck was on our side. We will be better this year. We HAVE to be better this year.
Doc: I actually think the schedule itself has been overblown. It's a challenging one, for sure, but all the talk about "I just don't see where any wins could come from" is strange. Most of the schedule difficulty stats come from last season's records, which includes four of the programs on Arkansas' schedule winning 11 or more games. Will all those teams do that again? Doubtful. These are all different teams. And I'm not buying into the hype for the Mississippi schools either. The schedule's hard but it's not impossible.
Mitchell: One thing that is insanely overblown is the idea we will go 3-9 and winless in the SEC again. What a safe, no-effort prediction all these experts have.
Robert: I think the most overblown thing has been Bielema's opinion on the hurry up no huddle and the feud with Auburn. Last season, Arkansas held Auburn to the fewest total offense of any defense (granted Auburn worked with a short field after a few turnovers).
Jamie: Bielema's mouth. He's made it very clear that he's going to say what he feels at all times, but I think we saw last season that he also wanted to use it as a tool to keep the focus on himself and allow the players to develop and play and not have to deal as much with national media folks.
Devan: I don't think anything can really be overblown after that 3-9 season. It's all important and nothing can really be talked about enough, because it is all very important to this 2014 team.
2. By the same token, what's not gotten enough attention?
Adam P: Easy. The defense. We've been too enamored with the QB situation, A.J. Derby, and Korliss Marshall to even really think about the defense. The defense is going to be the biggest question mark of this season with all of the new coaches and lack of depth.
Robert: Probably the fact that Arkansas now has our 4th new defensive coordinator in 4 years. Willy Robinson, Paul Haynes, Chris Ash, and Robb Smith. You always hear how a rotating door at offensive coordinator affects qbs, but never what affect a new defensive coordinator every season will have on the defense.
Ryan: Stole my answer. Bless his heart, but Robb Smith has his work cut out for him.
Adam F: The secondary, especially the corners. Everyone except Eric Bennett is back, and Robb Smith will have a major impact. In diagramming plays from film last year, I saw what most Hog fans probably guessed: the Hog secondary blew an awful lot of coverages. Not the "not-quite-athletic-enough" blown coverages; the simple communication issue coverages. I suspect Chris Ash and Taver Johnson were forced out, just from watching film. Communication makes this secondary significantly better.
Doc: Yes, communication will be better because of Hoganese. No, really I believe that's been underrated. It's a cheezy name for it so people make fun of it, but the team did have communication issues last year and we've been led to believe Hoganese is fixing that. I think that will pay dividends. (Secondary answer: I think Brandon Allen's receivers will be much, much better)
Tyler: The Hogs' defense didn't suddenly get top caliber overnight, but a more aggressive approach changes things. Everyone automatically writes Arkansas' defense off because they were swiss cheese last year, but I think they'll be much improved. The strength is clearly the DL, and the new implementation of press coverage will give the line more time to rush the passer and disrupt the backfield. I also think a more aggressive style will force more turnovers which is something the Hogs couldn't do to save their lives last season.
Mitchell: Darius Philon. He was impressive last year, and I only imagine he's going to take a big, size 14 step forward. (I don't know if he wears size 14, but you get what I'm saying)
Devan: Special teams. The kick return game should be fine with Korliss Marshall. But Zach Hocker was a fantastic kicker for Arkansas. Probably one of the most dependable Arkansas has had in a long time. It'll be interesting to see if John Henson keeps that going.
Scottie: Jonathan Williams. He's the most complete running back we have, yet he's not named to the All-SEC teams like Alex Collins. I think a lot of outlets are boosting AC3, and with good reason, but they're largely forgetting what a talent Williams is.
Josh: Oddly enough I think Hunter Henry has flown under the radar this offseason. Like his QB last season he was banged up and slowed down from the midpoint last year to the end. Having some outside threats in the passing game and a healthy QB will have him back as a point of attention for this team.
Jamie: Player development. We saw those crazy pictures of Kiero Small and Travis Swanson and their Spring Practice transformations last season on Coach Herbert's strength and conditioning plan. Who can be CBB's first JJ Watt type at Arkansas? Could it be AJ Derby? Will we see that guy this year?
Mark: Bielema's proven process. I think in part some didn't appreciate how thin things were last year and didn't fully appreciate that Bielema had to start a true rebuilding process. We and perhaps some in the media were spiked by Petrino's quick fix system.
3. Since it's still preseason and we don't have any new player developments to discuss yet, let's make some quick predictions. What's Arkansas' record at the end of the year?
Devan: I have them winning 6 games this fall. Perhaps a bit of a stretch but this team should've beaten Rutgers, Mississippi State, and LSU last year. They were better than the 3-9 record that they had. I think they go 4-0 in the non-conference then beat LSU and Ole Miss at home.
Scottie: Arkansas goes 5-7 this season with SEC wins over Texas A&M and LSU. And I know it's not really even possible if Arkansas wins six games, but I'm all for the Hogs going to the Popeye's Bahamas Bowl. Decent football, all the Popeye's you could ever eat, and Atlantis? Can't beat that deal. Sign me up.
Ryan: The Hogs will go 4-8 (1-7) in 2014. They win versus Nichols, NIU, UAB and either A&M or Mizzou. I'm leaning towards the A&M game because JerryWorld has begun to have the magic that War Memorial use to have in the late 90's through the mid 2000's. Best case scenario is 5-7 (2-6), and I would be ecstatic with that.
Adam P: I was stuck on 5-7 for the better part of the off-season, but after looking at the schedule I moved my predictions to 6-6. The Kool-Aid homer is definitely there, but it's not super thick and syrupy. I believe we will win all four non-conference games and beat Texas A&M and Mississippi State. However, as I stated in this week's Hog Trough Fancast, I reserve the right to change this at anytime throughout the season once I actually see this team with my own eyes.
Mark: In keeping with my status as eternal optimist, I'm gonna say 6-6 with one or two games we look back on and say we should've won (tech, auburn). Wins over a&m, ole miss and lsu. No blowout defeats.
Mitchell: 5-7. Arkansas starts the season 4-1 after losing to Auburn by 4 points, but rolling through September makes Arkansas look like a formidable opponent in the SEC again. However, Alabama sets a tone of loss that the Razorbacks can't seem to shake off except a weak win over UAB. Close games against MSU, LSU, and Ole Miss, keep fans optimistic, but losing our first rivalry game against Mizzou will give the season it's flavor: Getting better, but still a long way to go.
Adam F: There are too many factors in play, but I would think 4 to 7 wins. I do expect 3-0 against the non-conference weaklings and at least one conference win, but beyond that I'm not sure. Here's my key stat, though: Arkansas was -9 in turnover margin in 2013; for every 3 turnovers that figure improves in 2014, Arkansas wins a game. So breaking even means 6-6 at least.
Robert: I think they go 6-6. I'm going to call for wins against Texas Tech, Texas A&M, and Mizzou. Arkansas will not allow any team to score the dreaded 52 points this season and Brandon Allen will limit his turnovers to 4 on the year. The three headed rushing attack for the Hogs will all go over 100 yards in the bowl game giving Arkansas three 1,000 yard rushers.
Jamie: 5 Wins for the Hogs. Nichols, TxTech, NIU, A&M and UAB. That said, If we're at 5 going into Mizzou I don't know how those kids don't give it every bit of the blood, sweat and tears they have left to try and pull out the 6th to get to a bowl game, but I'll call it an optimistic five for my preseason prediction.
Josh: Winning 6 games has to be the measuring stick to go by, and I think they can. It will take an upset of Missouri, LSU or Georgia to get there, which wont be easy. The Texas Tech game will not be an automatic W either and as we witnessed last season, an out of conference loss on the road before the grueling SEC schedule can destroy any momentum.
Tyler: I'm in the minority in that I think the Hogs make a bowl game. I believe a healthy QB, a second year in the system, a dynamic running game, solid offensive and defensive lines, a more aggressive defensive scheme, and an obvious hunger to win will allow the Hogs to go 7-5 and make a decent bowl. Yes, I said it, 7-5. Could I be way off? Absolutely. But I think the Hogs upset Auburn Saturday, overpower all four nonconference opponents, beat A&M at JerryWorld, and take out Ole Miss. I trust Bielema and his process. I think we're on the up and up.
Doc: I'm going to say 6-6 because I need to believe it's possible for my own well-being. But I think it all comes down to how they play in September. If Arkansas is 3-2 after A&M, I think they'll get to 6-6. If they're 2-3, I think another 3-win season is on the table with five wins as the ceiling. I really feel like September is that crucial. They can at least split November if there's any momentum going into it. But I think they can do it.