It’s hard to believe that Arkansas will struggle to win enough games in 2021 to reach bowl eligibility. Most people around the state have created a buzz about the Razorback football team this fall and I am one of those.
No, I don’t think Arkansas is going to set the college football world on fire and make it to the college football playoffs. Also, I don’t even expect to win enough games to make it to a New Years Six bowl game. What I do expect is Arkansas to win between six and eight game similar to what Bobby Petrino and Bret Bielema did in theur second seasons at the helm. This team has the opportunity to raise the ceiling at Arkansas from SEC doormat and back to middle of the pack. They can be special!
The biggest reason I’m high on this team is due to the two coaches that lead their respective units. Barry Odom and Kendal Briles have proven to be solid coordinators at the Power-Five level at multiple schools and that should be at least one reason to think Arkansas is in a good place under both of them.
Everywhere Odom has been he has improved his defenses each season he was there. In 2012, he left his alma mater at Missouri to become the defensive coordinator at Memphis who was a struggling program among the Group of Five conferences. The Tigers’ defense was so bad that the season prior to the arrival of Odom they ranked 117th in total defense. To compare in 2019 Arkansas was ranked 124th in total defense before Odom’s arrival. 2019 was statistically the worst defense the Razorbacks ever fielded.
During Odom’s first season as defensive coordinator at Memphis he improved them to 81st in 2012, 61st in 2013 and 28th in 2014. His final Memphis defense helped power the Tigers to a 10-3 record and monumental upset victory at home over Ole Miss. Statistically, Memphis ranked fifth nationally in scoring defense (17.1 avg.) and 22nd in total defense (343.3 avg.). Odom’s job performance in 2014 elevated him as a highly sought after defensive coordinator and returned to his alma mater for the same position during the offseason.
His return to Missouri helped the Tigers defensively but had a tough season as a program. They finished 5-7 overall and missed the postseason. However, the defense was the best in Missouri history with a top-10 unit. The Tigers’ defense ranked ninth in the nation in total defense, allowing just 302.0 yards per game. Odom’s defense was also ranked seventh nationally in scoring defense (16.2 avg.), seventh in pass defense (169.2 avg.) and second in tackles for loss (8.8 avg.).
Obviously, Arkansas won’t have a jump from the mid-80’s to top 25 but there’s expectation that they rise anywhere between the 60’s and mid 50’s. Odom has plenty to work with this season with an all-American candidate at safety in Jalen Catalon, returning all-American linebacker Grant Morgan, improved depth at defensive line including a trio of graduate transfers and a set of cornerbacks from Ashdown in Montarric Brown and LaDarrius Bishop that were both highly sought after.
Arkansas desperately needs the defense to step it up a notch. They’ll be good enough, in my opinion, to be middle of the pack in the SEC. The combination of coaching, talent and hunger is there for things to happen.
The offense led by Briles looks to have a solid year returning 10 starters (5 OL, RB, 2 WR and 2 TE). The Razorbacks improved in total yards (392 ypg-64th), points per game (25 ppg-84th), passing (240 passing ypg-52nd) and rushing offense (151 rush ypg-78th).
Briles is one of the rising stars coaching offensive football and it has shown at several of his stops before Arkansas. His performance at Florida State was similar to his first year at Arkansas. Briles helped the ‘Noles to improvements in all areas of the offense.
How improved were they from 2019? Well, the Hog offense averaged 340 yards of offense which ranked 111th. They averaged 21.4 points per game which was good enough for 110th. Passing the ball was about as inept as a power five team could do. Their 192 yards per game ranked 103rd in the country. Thankfully, Vanderbilt and Kentucky were worse. Arkansas had a 1,000 yard rusher with Rakeem Boyd but didn’t have much more of an attack. The running game averaged 147 yards ranking 85th in the country.
Like Odom defensively, Briles helped Arkansas on offense and with with Trelon Smith seeing a career best yeae and graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks doing the same. Although the Razorbacks are experiencing turnover at quarterback, KJ Jefferson showed enough against Missouri last season that he was capable at the SEC level. Treylon Burks also returns as the SEC’s leading receiver and is poised to have an all-conference season in 2021.
If the Razorbacks can push themselves into the top 40 in total offense and score a around 30 points per game there’s no reason to expect less than 6-6 and a bowl game in year two for Pittman and company. The fact that Arkansas has two of the top coordinators in the conference with a history of improving annually should give Hog fans hope while also putting the conference on notice that the Razorbacks are rising from the dead.
Arkansas has continually added depth to their team since the 2019 class and Sam Pittman says he is very happy about where they are as a team. Here is my projected offensive and defensive depth charts for 2021.
There is genuine depth on both sides of the football this year. If my depth chart is representative of how Arkansas takes the field on September 4th they will have a total of 20 players who are former four-stars in recruiting on the two deep. A far cry from where they were just a couple of seasons ago.
This is certainly something both Briles and Odom can work with. This is absolutely something Pittman can win with. Razorback Gameday is only 12 days away and there’s reason to be optimistic about your boys of fall.
Do you agree? Disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
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