We’re in May. At this point in the year, basketball has come and gone. Baseball and softball season have taken center stage, with the OmaHogs being ranked #1 in the country for almost three months straight, and the Razorback Softball Team (Have we come up with a nickname for them yet? If not, we need to.) clinching the regular-season SEC Championship. But it is no surprise that in the SEC, football runs the show. Tonight, I start a series of articles where I make my way-too-early predictions for the 2021 Razorback football season. So strap in, because the Football Hogs are ready to keep the momentum going for the University of Arkansas Athletic Department.
Previewing The Razorback Football Offense
At this point in the year, it is difficult to truly grasp where any particular team is. Spring football leaves a lot of unknowns, such as players leaving via the transfer portal, or depth charts not being solidified. Thankfully, the Hogs have got a lot more stability than they did a year ago.
Coming out of his first spring football, Head Coach Sam Pittman has already stated that at this point, the starting quarterback job is KJ Jefferson’s to lose. If you remember, the Hogs lost their spring practices last season to the COVID-19 pandemic, which put the Razorbacks staff behind the 8-ball early in the year.
In 2021, though, we got to see not just one spring football game. We saw two other scrimmages in Razorback Stadium. If you watched the first scrimmage, and then the spring football game at the end of the spring season, you can tell that KJ Jefferson is the leader of this team. On top of that, you have first-round talent Treylon Burks in the receiver room, and a young backfield of Trelon Smith, Rocket Sanders, and Dominique Johnson who are ready to shoulder the load of a 12-game season.
In the trenches, the offensive line is starting to look more and more like a Sam Pittman offensive line. At this point, there is not a single starter on the offensive line that is under 300 pounds. If you remember the last time that Coach Pittman was in Fayetteville as the offensive line coach, the Razorbacks had the largest offensive line in all of football.
Previewing the Razorback Football Defense
The transfer portal giveth and the transfer portal taketh away. After the sudden departure of wide receiver Mike Woods, Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom dipped his own hand into the transfer portal to add depth on the defensive side of the ball.
A particular area of need was along the defensive line. After Jonathan Marshall and Xavier Kelly left for the NFL, a defensive line that was already shallow to begin with became that much less deep. This prompted Coach Odom to grab three different defensive linemen: Tre Williams and Markell Utsey from Mizzou, and John Ridgeway out of Illinois State.
The defense overall has become much deeper, and guys like Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool will be leading the linebacker corps. The one thing that the Razorback defense has going for them is the returners. Guys like Dorian Gerald, Grant Morgan, and Jalen Catalon are going to be called upon early and often to hold the line and keep the opposing offenses out of the endzone.
So with all that being said, it’s time to go game by game and see where the Hogs finish the 2021 season.
September 4: Rice Owls (Fayetteville, AR)
In seasons past, games like this seemed like toss-ups. After all, the first taste of the Chad Morris era that we got was upset losses to Colorado State and North Texas (We’ll keep the Chad talk to a minimum here because that's over and done with.). Don’t expect that this season. After a COVID season that left Razorback Stadium practically empty, the crowd should be on fire, and so will the team.
On the other side of the field, the Rice Owls will be coming into Fayetteville after a 2-3 COVID season, which was good for 10th in the Conference USA. The year before that, they finished 3-9.
Rice brings experience into the 2021 season with wide receiver Brad Rozner and quarterback Wiley Green, but it simply will not be enough to keep this one close after the first quarter. Hogs win in a blowout, which should be a good thing for the program after the heart-attack games that fans were subjected to in 2020.
September 11: Texas Longhorns (Fayetteville, AR)
Here is where the rubber meets the road for Sam Pittman and the Hogs. A revival of an old Southwestern Conference rivalry, this game against Texas will answer a lot of questions that cloud the future of the Razorback football program. Particularly, look out for the defense here. We all know the stigma that surrounds the Big 12 and their defenses, but there is also a lot to be said about the offenses in that conference.
There is a lot of question marks surrounding the offense in Austin, but rest assured that first-year head coach Steve Sarkisian will have the Longhorns like a Little Caesar's Pizza at 4:30 AM: Hot and ready to go. The power of their team is sure to be in the running game. Sophomore running back Bijan Robinson will be the main focal point of the offense while they try to figure out what to do at quarterback. Again, a lot can change between spring and fall, so we’ll continue to monitor how the Horns look.
With the aforementioned depth on the defensive line that has been snagged from the transfer portal, don’t be surprised to see the Razorbacks move into more 4-man fronts, and because of this, I think the Hogs will be able to keep the running game to a minimum.
It won’t be easy, and it will likely come down to the final five or six minutes, but I expect the Hogs to win this game.
September 18: Georgia Southern Eagles (Fayetteville, AR)
While I don’t think the Hogs will struggle against the cupcake teams this season, I do want to tamper expectations for this game. Georgia Southern is deceptively good, and while I don’t think the Razorback faithful will need to worry too much about this game, don’t expect a 40-50 point blowout.
Last season, the Eagles finished at 8-5 in a Sun Belt Conference that was really competitive. In fact, since head coach Chad Lunsford took over, they have gone from 2-10 to 10-3, 7-6, and 8-5. Their offense is a bit of an off-shoot of the triple-option offense, and we all know that the service academy teams who run that can pull off the upset every once in a while.
The Eagles are a solid team in a Group of 5 conference that turned heads last season, and they will for sure be a threat to the Hogs. transfer QB James Graham has got Power 5 experience, coming in from Georgia Tech, but in the end, the Hogs are going to pull this one out. It won’t be a blowout, but it also won’t be close.
September 25: Texas A&M Aggies (AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX)
For the last nine years, the Texas A&M Aggies have had the Hogs number. The games have not typically been blowouts, but the Razorbacks have just not been able to get over the hump. Last season, A&M had their absolute best team that they have had since entering the SEC, and they finished the season at 9-1. With Kellen Mond leaving for the NFL, and the majority of their veteran offensive line also gone to the draft, it’s the Hogs turn.
I fully expect this to be a shootout. While the Aggies have not officially named a starter at QB, the options that they have are both solid and will produce numbers in College Station. But the attrition on the line is not going to be easy to overcome, and with a defense that has been upgraded from last season to now, I think the Hogs will come into Dallas with a chip on their shoulder, and ready to end the streak of the last nine seasons.
At this point in the year, if the Hogs are 4-0, you have to believe that this could be a special season. For Coach Pittman to come into the mess he did, with the previous regime winning zero conference games in 2018 and 2019, is there any other reason to believe that he can’t take this team to the promised land?
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