The 2020 college football season ended on Monday night with the Alabama Crimson Tide winning yet another title. Closer to home, the 2020 Arkansas Razorbacks were a memorable group, one that finally gave its fans some hope for the future. Now that the season is complete, we at Arkansas Fight wanted to look back at some of the major storylines and takeaways from the year.
Was 2020 a successful season for the Arkansas Razorbacks?
Luke: Unequivocally, yes! I won money betting the over on Arkansas getting more than one win, and they did it with room to spare. It’s easy, even over the course of a short season, to have recency bias and feel like the way the season ended was disappointing. But, taken on the whole, we’re much further along on the path to success than we were a year ago.
Ben: I’ll answer with a question. Is Chad Morris still the head coach at the University of Arkansas? No? Ok...then you have your answer! Seriously though, Arkansas has a head coach that cares, staff that is experienced, and players that want to give effort for an entire game.
Ryan: For sure. Sam Pittman probably changed the vibe of the program the day he got hired. The only question is whether that vibe translates to wins. In 2020, however, they went 3-7 this year, which is probably 6-6 in a normal year. Personally, I, along with many other people, had them going 0-10 to start the season, so the Hogs definitely beat the odds.
Jacob: I think any time you go from being 0-for in 20 straight SEC games to winning three under a first year coach is reason for optimism. Personally, I had them at one with a win against Mississippi State. The Hogs finally exceeded my expectations.
Adam: I think it certainly was. Questions about Sam Pittman’s ability to run a program were answered, and while there’s still work to be done, this was a solid foundational year.
What moment from 2020 will stand out to you when you look back at the season?
Luke: I’ll never forget how I felt when Arkansas’s defense put it on Ole Miss the week after the Rebs gave Alabama all it could handle. In hindsight all of those turnovers couldn’t be sustainable over the course of a season, but for that afternoon, everyone was talking kindly about the Hogs, and it felt good. Also, I was dating an Ole Miss grad at the time and really needed the Hogs to come through for me, personally. They obliged.
Ben: For me, it was seeing how much this opportunity means to Sam Pittman. He is such a likable man. I’ll never forget seeing Pittman weep at his introductory press conference. The players have rallied around him and winning that first game at Mississippi State was priceless.
Ryan: I’m glad Luke decided to ditch the Ole Miss grad after the Hogs reestablished themselves as the superior program. But other than that, my favorite moment was simply the beginning of the Georgia game to start off the year. The atmosphere was louder than I thought it would be, and it was displayed early on that there was much more buy-in from the team under Sam Pittman’s command, a complete 180 from Chad’s tenure on the Hill. The fact that we were beating the Bulldogs at halftime showed that we have way more talent than what Chad showcased on the field. (At least, enough to beat San Jose State, North Texas, and Western Kentucky).
Jacob: My favorite moment was when the time was ticking down during the fourth quarter of the Mississippi State game. The excitement it gave me plus going Facebook Live to capture mine and my family’s reaction was awesome. I sang “Sail On” by Lionel Ritchie and changed up the lyrics. “Sail on, PIRATE! An SEC win never felt so good!”
Adam: It’s close between Mississippi State and Ole Miss, but I’ll go with the MSU win. To lose Burks and Boyd on the same drive and power through for a win like that, complete with two red zone stops, was a lot of fun.
Who was the Razorbacks’ MVP?
Luke: It’s no coincidence that the defense floundered in the stretch from missing Jalen Catalon at the end of the LSU game to the loss of Grant Morgan in the Missouri game and afterward. So I have to say those guys were co-MVPs. They were the difference in close losses that would’ve taken Arkansas to a 5-5 record.
Ben: Treylon Burks. The man is one of the greatest receivers in Arkansas history. When he was unable to play due to injury, Arkansas really missed him. I am so excited we get one more season of him in the Razorback Red.
Ryan: This may be an unpopular answer, but Feleipe Franks. He won’t be looked on as an Arkansas legend or anything like that, but he came into a program that’s been a dumpster fire for 3 years and gave it life. Without him, it’s possible that we would be in the same spot we’ve been in. Unfortunately, he will most likely never get the respect he truly deserves.
Jacob: Obviously, the MVP had to be Jalen Catalon right?! I’m going with Grant Morgan. He was very valuable in his fifth season on The Hill. He recorded so many tackles and at one point led the nation in total tackles before being injured versus Missouri. He had such an impact that when he went out in the second half due to an injury it was apparent the Hogs missed maybe their most vital piece to their defense. Mr. Impact will be back for 2021, and I cannot wait for the encore.
Adam: I have to agree with Ryan and say Feleipe Franks. Arkansas has been so consistently bad at quarterback for basically two and a half years, so Franks really set the future up to be bright. The Hogs got a leader who played well and showed everyone how to win.
How does this year affect your thoughts on the future of the program?
Luke: I certainly feel better than I did at the end of the [previous head coach whose name I don’t want to see in print] era. At least there’s pride here now, from the coaches to the players to the fans. I still don’t know what the ceiling is for Sam Pittman’s group, and the SEC hasn’t stopped being the best conference in the country, so who knows who the Hogs will end up leapfrogging in terms of success.
Ben: I am encouraged. We still have a long way to go, depth-wise. O-Line and D-Line need drastic talent improvements. Where I am the most encouraged is from a culture standpoint. It has been 5 years since this program could say they even had a culture. The end of the Bielema era was a disaster. Culture with Chad Morris? HA. When your locker room is split into two, there is no culture or identity. Sam Pittman brought identity!
Ryan: As the most pessimistic Arkansas fan out there, there’s still questions. However, we are definitely in a better spot than we were. Depth in the secondary is my biggest concern. You most likely have Catalon for only one more year, and Joe Foucha and Montaric Brown expire their eligibility in 2021. It’s up to Sam Carter to develop these players such as Jermaine Hamilton-Jordan and Chase Lowery, but I’m nervous that he’ll go with Barry Odom if he leaves for another job.
Jacob: I am quite optimistic going into 2021. I have seen this story before, (I’m looking at you, 2015). The defense returns its best players and so does the offense excluding Feleipe Franks. With the improvement this team made from 2019-2020 WITHOUT an offseason makes me wonder what the coaching staff could do with a NORMAL one.
Adam: Being able to retain both coordinators (knock on wood since silly season isn’t quite over yet) was a big deal. Had Odom jumped for Texas I would not be as optimistic, since keeping good coaches will be essential to Pittman’s success, just as it was essential to Bret Bielema’s downfall.
Quick 2021 prediction (assuming 2021 brings normal back with it)?
Luke: 7-6, with a victory over Texas and a bowl included!
Ryan: 7-6 with a win over the Horns.
Jacob: 8-4. I believe I made a way-too-early schedule analysis on this site a few weeks ago. It’s time to DEMOLISH Texas. Win the other three non-conference games, beat Texas A&M, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU. Also, I want to #BeatTheSnot out of Auburn at home even if Gus and Chad aren’t there anymore. I’ve hated them since day one. Go Hogs!
Adam: I’m leaning towards 6-6 or maybe 7-5. Auburn and Texas have new coaches and Ole Miss, Mississippi State, and Missouri have second-year coaches, so it’s hard to tell how good they will be. I think failing to reach 6-6 would be a disappointment, obviously.