What is “good enough?” It’s a tough question to answer, especially coming off the back of the worst season in Arkansas history. It’s also a tough question because that worst season ever feels like an aberration. There’s not much historical context that can be applied, but hoping too high also seems ludicrous. So that puts us in this weird flux between bottoming out as a program, and mounting an amazing turnaround.
There’s a lot up in the air, and a lot that spring practice can’t tell you. The quarterback room has been massively upgraded. The defense has retained a couple of standout players from an otherwise abysmal year. The offense has had another year in what has been reported as a difficult system to learn. The coaches say we’re going to be markedly better, and the players believe it, but we all know we’re playing in the most difficult division in the most difficult conference in college football. Something’s gotta give.
If you ask any Hog fan you meet what number of wins is good enough, you’ll probably hear a different answer every time. Early Vegas odds have placed our win total at 5.5, which is a perfectly Arkansas indictment of where we are. Are we on the precipice of a bowl? Will the post-season evade us again? Should you bet the over or under?
I’m going to take a look at our schedule, and make a case for the most common answers to those questions, and see what you think. Can Chad Morris put together a historic recovery? Will he put himself firmly on the hot seat? Let’s find out.
The Case for 4 Wins
Is 4 wins enough? Arkansas plays a relatively safe non-conference schedule this year, as Michigan pulled out of an agreement to play a home-and-home series with us that was supposed to begin this year. I’ve seen some folks (*cough* Paul Finebaum) say that our non-conference lineup is too soft. Quite frankly, I don’t care if that’s the case. We’re coming off of two wins. If we played 4 FCS teams, I’d be happy as long as it meant more wins. I think this should be the bare minimum expectation for the team. A coach entering a complete program overhaul can be given enough leeway to drop some non-conference games. I hated that we lost to Colorado State and North Texas last year, but it happened. This year, there’s no such excuse. We play Portland State, San Jose State, Western Kentucky, and get a rematch with Colorado State in Fayetteville. All of these will be home games, and all of them will have us heavily favored.
But after the non-conference schedule, Arkansas still has to play in the SEC West. We could and should have gotten better, but so will the rest of the conference. Perhaps we sweep our non-conference foes, but can’t pull it off against any of the SEC opponents? I think this is the worst case scenario, and will elaborate why in upcoming sections.
The Case for Five Wins
The SEC is a brutal conference— this much we know. In this scenario, we sweep our non-conference opponents, but have to pip one game from a familiar foe. One game doesn’t seem like much, but with the SEC, every win is earned. So who are the best candidates?
Ole Miss lost a lot of talent in the draft this year, and NCAA sanctions have made recruiting tough. We play them early, and have beaten them with ostensibly worse teams before. In fact, we very nearly beat them last year in a Herculean effort that fell just short. If we have truly improved, I think there’s a chance. The toughest part will be the fact that the game is in Oxford.
Kentucky similarly lost a lot of talent in the draft, losing the outstanding pass-rusher Josh Allen and stud running back Benny Snell Jr. It should be a down year, but perhaps the recent success will keep positive momentum going, but it at least seems like it could be a possible win on paper. Games aren’t played on paper, and this will be an away game though, so the challenge will be real.
The next best chance will more than likely come against Missouri. I believe that the crowd in Little Rock almost single-handedly pushed the team to an upset of Ole Miss last year, and I expect that the crowd will do more of the same this year. We can debate the stadium till the sun goes down, but if the crowd shows up like last year, that’s a hell of an advantage. The team has been talking some trash on twitter this year, which is kind of rich considering the fact that we’re at a historic low, so motivation will be high.
The Case for Six or More Wins
This may be an unpopular opinion, but I think there’s a shot every year to upset a rival. We seem to play A&M closely every year in Dallas, and we have a history of upsetting LSU, even when they’re much the better team on paper. I’m not expecting to jump up and beat either of these teams, but historical precedent at least sets us up to have a chance.
The better part of me has to believe that there are two conference wins on the table somewhere, and I don’t think it’s necessarily unrealistic. This is operating under a best case scenario, but so many things have gone wrong in recent years, that you have to think that the law of averages dictates that something has to go right soon.
I believe in Chad Morris, and truly believe that he was left with nothing, and had to change an entire culture. The man has ringing endorsements from many esteemed coaches, and I don’t think they’re just empty plaudits. He and his staff believe we’ll be better, the incoming recruiting class agrees, and so do the players who have decided to stay. There were always going to be hiccups along the way, but this year, in my mind, at least has a chance to be the beginning of a big turn-around.
What’s the bar for you? What will be enough, and what is a bridge too far? Is Morris on the hot seat now? Should he be? Let us know in the comments below.