More Stories:


#63 Arkansas Razorbacks





HEAD COACH: Bret Bielema, 3-9 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Jim Chaney | DEF. COORDINATOR: Robb Smith

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 63 Arkansas.

Previewing Arkansas' Offense:

Brandon Allen’s lackluster passing numbers in his first year as the starter shouldn’t have come as a surprise. His ascension to the No. 1 spot on the depth chart coincided with the loss of high-end talent at the receiver position and the introduction of a run-first philosophy by new coach Bret Bielema. Allen completed 49.6 percent of his passes, and his accuracy fell to 47.7 percent in SEC games, worst among conference starters. Allen, who played with an ailing throwing shoulder most of the season, should produce better results this fall. Both his backups are untested — redshirt freshman Austin Allen (his brother) and true freshman Rafe Peavey.

Alex Collins led the nation’s freshmen with 1,026 rushing yards, joining Darren McFadden as the only Arkansas freshmen to hit the 1,000-yard mark. Collins did it while sharing time with Jonathan Williams, who compiled 900 rushing yards and averaged 6.0 yards per carry. Both return, with help from speedster Korliss Marshall and big fullback Kody Walker. A better passing attack should help the run game.

Tight end Hunter Henry leads a pass-catching crew that includes senior Demetrius Wilson — who is back from a knee injury — Keon Hatcher, D’Arthur Cowan and tight end Jeremy Sprinkle.

The Hogs are trying to stockpile talent on the offensive line, which will feature senior right tackle Brey Cook and standout sophomores in left tackle Dan Skipper and right guard Denver Kirkland. 

Previewing Arkansas' Defense:

Robb Smith, previously with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rutgers, will be Arkansas’ fourth defensive coordinator in the past four seasons. Smith inherited a unit that brings back four starters after ranking 76th nationally in total defense. The lone holdover assistant is linebackers coach Randy Shannon. Smith seems more willing to attack with blitzes than the previous defensive staff, which might help the Hogs improve on their paltry takeaway count of 14.

The pass rush should be solid with veteran end Trey Flowers taking on a leading role. Sophomore ends Deatrich Wise, Brandon Lewis and JaMichael Winston played well in the spring, and tackle Darius Philon could be ready for a breakout year alongside 343-pound run-stuffer DeMarcus Hodge.

The Hogs have struggled at the linebacker position in recent years. The expectation by the staff is that seniors Braylon Mitchell and Martrell Spaight and sophomore Brooks Ellis will play faster, be better run-stoppers and more authoritative tacklers.

Arkansas has a bounty of options at cornerback, where Tevin Mitchel is trying to rebound from a rough season, with help from Carroll Washington, Will Hines and others. The numbers at safety are still thin, but veterans Alan Turner and Rohan Gaines should pick it up a notch, and redshirt freshman De’Andre Coley could be the kind of hard-hitting ball-hawk the Razorbacks have lacked.

Previewing Arkansas' Specialists:

Australian Sam Irwin-Hill’s introduction to major-college football was action-packed. The ambidextrous punter ranked 13th in the nation with a 44.3-yard average, and he triggered several fourth-down gambles, running and throwing, with mixed results. The Razorbacks gave a scholarship to Texas legend Cole Hedlund, hoping he can follow Zach Hocker as the next four-year kicker in the program.

Final Analysis

Arkansas should be improved on both sides of the ball, but that doesn’t mean another winless SEC season is out of the question for the Razorbacks, who are still trying to stabilize and upgrade their roster after the disruption of the Bobby Petrino affair. Qualifying for a bowl berth would be a significant step in Year 2 under Bielema, as Arkansas chugs forward with a difficult rebuild.


#70 Kentucky Wildcats





HEAD COACH: Mark Stoops, 2-10 (1 year) | OFF. COORDINATOR: Neal Brown | DEF. COORDINATOR: D.J. Eliot

The 2014 college football season starts on Aug. 27 and continues into mid-January with the first edition of the four-team playoff. Athlon Sports is counting down until kickoff with projections and previews for all 128 FBS teams. Here is our team preview for No. 70 Kentucky.

Previewing Kentucky’s Offense for 2014:

The “Air Raid” didn’t exactly take flight in Year 1 under coordinator Neal Brown. Kentucky ranked 98th in passing offense in 2013 after Brown’s Texas Tech offenses ranked top-10 nationally in each of his three years in Lubbock. Blame a bad roster for some of those struggles — he inherited sparse talent and precious little depth — but Brown is not without regrets.

“What happens when you’re maybe not as talented as some of the teams you’re playing is you try to out-scheme some people and maybe deviate from the system you have in place,” Brown says. “I think we did that. We tried to maybe cover up some areas that were weaknesses for us, where if I had it to do over again I would just really concentrate on fundamentals and stuck with the system and not swayed off it as much.”

He’ll get back to that system — and his usual fast pace — this fall. Improved quarterback play will help. A pair of former four-star recruits, sophomore Patrick Towles and freshman Drew Barker, and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips staged a tight spring competition, with Towles holding a slight edge.

This year’s quarterback will benefit from a stacked backfield — four former four-star recruits, led by sophomore Jojo Kemp and junior Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard — and a veteran offensive line. Four starters return up front, including standout tackles Darrian Miller and Jordan Swindle. At receiver, playmakers Javess Blue and Ryan Timmons are back along with the rest of UK’s top five wideouts from 2013.

Previewing Kentucky’s Defense for 2014:

The defense should take a significant step forward in Year 2. Mark Stoops’ defenses at Arizona and Florida State did, and the Cats return eight starters plus add several talented newcomers. Few SEC teams will have a more formidable pair of defensive ends than 6'6", 264-pound Za’Darius Smith and 6'4", 267-pound Bud Dupree, who combined for 13 sacks last season.

Kentucky’s biggest loss is at middle linebacker, where Avery Williamson had 100-plus tackles each of the last two seasons and was a locker room leader. Junior Josh Forrest, a long, athletic former receiver and defensive back, will battle junior college transfer Ryan Flannigan for that job.

The most important area of improvement is the secondary. UK’s defensive backs intercepted just one pass last season and ranked 117th in passes defended. But they’ll get a boost at safety from junior college transfer A.J. Stamps and at corner from J.D. Harmon, who led the team in interceptions in 2012 but was academically ineligible last fall. Four freshman defensive backs — three of them four-star recruits — will also significantly upgrade the talent.

Previewing Kentucky’s Specialists for 2014: 

The Cats have a new special teams coordinator in Craig Naivar, a high-energy guy who blasts 1980s hair metal before meetings. They also have junior punter Landon Foster back in freshman form. He had 22 punts of 50-plus yards that year but just seven such bombs in 2013 thanks to a nagging quadriceps injury. He’s healthy now and averaged 45.6 yards on eight punts in the spring game. The new field-goal kicker is redshirt freshman Austin MacGinnis, a former top-three recruit nationally at his position.

Final Analysis

Stoops has done the impossible — keep fans and recruits excited after a 2–10 debut season. He signed a top-25 class and had 35,000 people show up for this year’s spring game, second-most in program history. Now he just needs to win. Although he posted exactly the same record that got Joker Phillips fired a year earlier, the Cats were more competitive in 2013, losing five games by two touchdowns or less and three by single digits. The big payoff is probably still a year away, but a four- or five-win season this fall would probably keep everyone happy.