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Arkansas Postseason Panel Discussion: How Should We Feel About 2015? Robb Smith? What About Next Year?

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Let's wrap up the regular season now that we've had a couple of weeks to let it settle.

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

1. How do you feel about this season? Happy with it? Disappointed? Satisfied? What if? Met expectations? Saw progress? Enough progress?

Trent: A mixture of happy, satisfied, and "what if"? I had the opportunity to witness in person Arkansas' win in Neyland Stadium, as well as the crazy finish of the Auburn game.  Add in the madness of the Ole Miss game and the feeling that comes with dominating LSU, and it's is going to be hard not to look back on 2015 fondly.  Still, if you can accomplish all of that, it's asinine to lose to Toledo and Texas Tech at home.  Unless Bert can actually make one of the next few years "the year", then this season will always be a little bittersweet.

Adam P: If you look at expectations before the season started, no matter the circumstances, I've got to say I'm disappointed. But after taking an objective look at the season, under all the circumstances, I'm pretty happy with how this team turned out. However, September is inexcusable. Bret and the coaches need to figure out how to be more prepared out of the gate.

Mitchell: How about all of the above? Overall, I'm satisfied. After an awful start, they dug in and finished out better than I had expected. If they get to 8 that's hardly a failure. Just wish we had some do-overs.

Eric: Mixed feelings. At the beginning of the season I said 7-5, but this definitely is not the way I thought they would get there. Once the offense went full guns a blazin' I was very impressed with what Enos did with them considering the amount of injuries they dealt with early. The defense was a disappointment, some players everyone expected to improve stagnated for the most part.

Adam F: Disappointed with the start, but pleased with the ending. Even while rebuilding, you can't lose to Toledo, but beating Ole Miss and LSU assuaged my fears about the future.

Josh: Well 2015 certainly failed in meeting my expectations of a top tier bowl and shot at the SEC West. Maybe that was unrealistic, but such is life as a Razorback fan. As a whole the season was a success with momentum going into the off season.

Mark: November was a save. Mostly, it's been a reset with us trending up at the end of the season with promise for the next. But just one reset, please.

Jamie: It feels like a missed opportunity.  I can’t play the "what if’s" with the A&M and Miss State games because the opposite view could be taken with Auburn and Ole Miss, but it makes my head hurt when I think about what this season might’ve looked like without the disasters against Toledo and Tech.

Robert: The one word that people will keep coming back to in this season is "Toledo?"  While we spend a lot of time justifying how good Toledo actually is, it was a game we shouldn't have lost despite all of the injuries we faced.  But I digress, I think Hog fans were cautiously optimistic about this season, and rightfully so.  Many people will say it feels strange to have 5 SEC wins and only have a 7-5 season, but if I had to choose where I got my wins, I would lose every Non-Conference Game and win all the Conference games over going 4-4 in conference and 4-0 out of conference.  So, with 5-3 being the SEC record this season, I have to say I'm happy with the progress.  There were a lot of constant narratives we've seen with this team that were effectively eliminated by this season.  Now the big monkey will be starting the season fast, and we'll hear and talk a lot about that in the next 8 months.

Doc: It's hard for me to avoid the what-ifs, particularly because most people seem to be so lethargic about the Liberty Bowl. Knowing a 3-loss team that Arkansas beat is going to the Sugar Bowl is a tough pill to swallow. It would be better if they'd put Arkansas in the Music City against Louisville, but no such luck. I am thrilled by the 5-3 conference record, however. That's something to build on.

2. How do you feel about Robb Smith?

Mitchell: Still love him. There was a ton of youth on this defense (only 2 seniors), and he lost some key guys last year. A step back was expected. This season was a pretty BIG step back, mind you, but I'm holding back judgement till after next year.

Adam P: I'm about where I was with him last year. I think he knows what he's doing, but there is a lack of depth on the defense, without a doubt. I'll save my judgement on him until after next season. I'm still in the "wait and see" mode with Robb Smith.

Josh: He has some evaluation to do after the bowl game. After those first few performances against Texas Tech and Toledo, there seemed to be some improvement against A&M. Solid play by the secondary and linebackers against Bama raised more hope that Smith had figured things out, but it was the same old story against the better passing teams in Ole Miss and Mississippi State. We will see if he can adapt his scheme or if the players can better fit it next year.

Adam F: He'll be fine. We've seen what he can do with SEC-caliber talent, so recruiting and development to get back to 2014 levels is key. If things ultimately don't work out, it will be because he couldn't develop a pass rush. That's pretty essential to this scheme.

Trent: Robb Smith has been here two years, and has had one really great November, and one kind of meh November.  I believe what happened this season is something that Smith can prevent from happening in future seasons as he gathers experience around the league as well as develops and hopefully upgrades the talent he has to work with.  Some of the shine has come off, but I still think he has what it takes to succeed at Arkansas.

Mark: I still feel good about him and think he deserves a little more time to bring in more talent and build some depth.

Jamie: I’m not sure we can make a definitive call on him yet.  I think we gave him WAY too much credit (and $$$) after what he did late last season with 4 NFL draft picks on that defense.  His squad has been mostly abysmal this season with the only shine being at LSU and LSU fans will tell you that had more to do with awful play calling by LSU than schemes drawn up by Smith.  I tend to agree, the possessions going into and coming out of the half torched the team just as bad as Miss State and Auburn did.  Next year will be where he proves out one way or the other for me.

Robert: With the defense playing badly, we aren't getting as much insight into what Robb is doing on that side of the ball.  Last year there was a lot of talk about the Bermuda Triangle of Spaight, Flowers, and Philon and how the Arkansas' defense was calling out the plays before the ball was snapped in the LSU and Ole Miss games. Does Smith still have a preferred Triangle of guys?  Are his guys in the film room still learning the plays the other defenses are going to run?  I don't know.  Arkansas fans have a dream of being able to just reload like Alabama, but we aren't able to do that yet, and until we do, Robb Smith will get something of a pass.  Ranking 2nd in the league in defense, there was always going to be a let down.  Robb get 2016 to prove that 2015 was the aberration.

Eric: I'm getting concerned about his ability to develop secondary players. This is mostly the same group from last year and they are still missing open field tackles and getting picked apart by good quarterbacks. The front seven definitely took a step back but that's expected when losing Flowers, Speight and Philon. They improved throughout the year which is a positive.

Doc: One of the key questions I had going into the season was whether Smith was the genius he seemed to be last year, and it turns out he's disappointingly mortal. Everyone should have figured the defense would take a step back but they were downright awful against Texas Tech, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State. Whether or not he can develop the talent coming back on the team next season will be absolutely pivotal.

3. We're a long way from next season, obviously. We don't know who all is coming back and which recruits will be signed. Having acknowledged that, what do you think will be expectations for 2016?

Adam F: Mine are fairly high. The defense returns 9 starters and all 11 backups, so it should be pretty feisty. The receivers should be among the best in the SEC. Picking a good quarterback and getting some good mileage out of what will likely be a committee of running backs will be important.

Trent: Next year looks to be pretty brutal.  Keep improving.  Win 8 games and it's a successful year.  Win 7 and it still may be.Next year looks to be pretty brutal.  Keep improving.  Win 8 games and it's a successful year.  Win 7 and it still may be.

Mark: Hard to forecast. Depends on who stays and goes, and how certain injuries play out. But optimism, I think, is warranted. Playing in the SEC West is both a blessing and a curse.

Adam P: Man, there are so many weapons potentially going to the draft. Ugh, this is just a shot in the dark. Maybe 6-6? So many questions...so little answers.

Mitchell: It's easier to look at the schedule and predict off that, rather than play the "what-if" game a hundred times. Right now, there are only 4 sure things on that schedule. I think a good year is going to look like 6-6 or 7-5. However, if everything good that could happen, does happen (RBs return, RBs are signed, QB is ready and good, etc), this group could aim for 9 wins. Expect the defense to be a lot better regardless.

Josh: Shouldn't we all just take the pessimistic outlook after being disappointed so early this year? Just go in thinking we should expect a 7 win season and be pleasantly surprised if they go over. That's not likely to happen with most fans and there will be high expectations once again in 2016.

Jamie: A lot is going to depend on who comes back for a senior year and who comes in via recruiting.  The schedule shapes up nicely for us with Bama, Ole Miss, LSU and Florida at home.  I think expectations should be lined up with what they were before the 2015 season with hopefully better execution.  7-9 wins looks achievable looking at the schedule.

Robert: There are still a lot of questions. The defense has nowhere to go but up, and the offense has nowhere to go but down.  It is highly unlikely to expect one of our backup QBs to match what Brandon Allen has done this season.  The team could actually improve greatly and still end up at 6-6 or something worse, due to how up and down the SEC can be. The expectation for the 2016 Hogs will be a bowl game.  If they fail to do that, it will be too big of a step back.

Eric: Whoever comes in at quarterback will have plenty of weapons to work with and most of the defense is coming back. So if everyone develops I would expect a small but noticeable improvement. The SEC west should also be wide open next season so there is no point in going ahead and claiming we're going to Atlanta or if we're going to struggle.

Doc: I expect the defense to be better. That's what should happen when virtually everybody comes back. There are too many question marks on offense at this point to predict records. We know the receivers should be fine, but we don't know about the running backs or the offensive line. Who will Arkansas sign? Who goes pro? I'm not terribly worried about quarterback. I like to think the competition will be tough enough that whoever wins out will have proven to be able to be solid at the position. He won't be "2nd half of 5th-year Brandon Allen" but he'll be fine.