Everywhere you look it feels like media outlets have churned out season previews that include the Razorbacks. Most of them are guesswork sprinkled with some analysis and are used by fans to pass the time. Athlon, Hootens, ESPN, CBS, USA Today, all put out similar breakdowns of returning players, incoming freshmen, schedule analysis, and attempt to give a prediction of win/loss record. In my opinion the best source can be found here on SB Nation at Football Study Hall. Bill Connelly breaks down the Arkansas Razorbacks and uses his advanced stats to show where they were last year and where they can end up this season.
Admittedly some of the advanced metrics and definitions are lost on me but here is a guide to help.
The F/+ is pretty much the mother of all stats and includes the following: "All drives are filtered to eliminate first-half clock-kills and end-of-game garbage drives and scores. A scoring rate analysis of the remaining possessions then determines the baseline possession efficiency expectations against which each team is measured. A team is rewarded for playing well against good teams, win or lose, and is punished more severely for playing poorly against bad teams than it is rewarded for playing well against bad teams."
His credibility is shown in how close most of the scores were to his model where all but the Southern Miss, Texas A&M, Alabama, and S. Carolina games were within eight points of the actual outcome. (No one thought those last two would get that ugly!) Here are a few takeways.
Defense: A Long Way Up from 94th:
The 2013 defense, unable to create many turnovers, could not stop the run, and had scheme issues in the secondary, was actually worse than most thought. Will this all be reversed in 2014? Just a moderate increase to a top 50 F/+ defense would result in a couple of more wins in 2014.
"Arkansas reached 19th in Def. F/+ in 2010 and remained in the top 50 in 2011 (45th), but the Hogs stumbled again to 72nd in 2012, then 94th last year. A decent September performance kept them out of the triple digits in the rankings, but this was a bad defense." The Big 2014 Arkansas Football Guide: Bill C.
Connelly is far more optimistic than most about the defensive backs, where he thinks they have a lot of depth. From what we witnessed last season it's hard to see that they will be able to defend the pass much better. I am more of the opinion that Robb Smith and Defensive Line Coach Rory Segrest will immediately improve the run defense with pressure and stunts. This will probably lead to more big plays downfield in one-on-one coverage where it seems to me the secondary will struggle. If he is correct and they are much improved , we will find out quickly against Auburn.
Wait until 2015:
He puts the Hogs at four wins with the chance to pull an upset to get to five. In his model five of the Razorbacks opponents will be in the top 15. Surprisingly Texas A&M is at number 11 which seems much higher than most have been predicting. Many fans are looking to that game as an opportunity to pick up an SEC win against a team that is on a down year.
A return to 2009 level of production on offense and a top 30 F/+ would improve the 2014 team drastically. This would be on par with Ole Miss, Miss St, and Georgia from last season. In order to get to that point they will need to limit turnovers and be more productive throwing the ball downfield.
A healthy Brandon Allen can accomplish that, but he will need to take fewer chances and throw the ball away on occasion.
Higher percentage short yardage throws and receivers that can get open downfield will bump that up several points. A completion percentage in the high 50's low 60's would give this team a much better chance to win.
That would be in the range of Nick Marshall, Joel Stave of Wisconsin, and Dak Prescott of Miss St. Nothing unrealistic there, just a solid 60% would get the job done.
Check back next week for a scouting report and x and o analysis of the Auburn Defense.