The Arkansas Razorbacks struggled to out-muscle, out-run or out-scheme opponents each of the last two seasons. Their failure to do so led to back-to-back 2–10 seasons and Chad Morris’ ouster with two games left in 2019.
Enter Sam Pittman, an ace recruiter and offensive line savant who inherits a program that has lost 19 consecutive conference games and is playing an elusive game of catch-up. Adding to Arkansas’ degree of difficulty: The Razorbacks got in no spring practice time before the coronavirus suspension hit on March 12.
The Razorbacks have a school-record seven home games, which should help the win total, but their non-conference slate features a road date at Notre Dame, the first meeting between the programs.
Previewing Arkansas' Offense for 2020
Coordinator Kendal Briles inherits one of the nation’s top tailbacks in Rakeem Boyd, an offensive line with a pile of experience and an up-and-coming receiving corps. However, the Razorbacks were one of the least productive offenses in the FBS.
Feleipe Franks, the starter at Florida for 25 games from 2017-19, signed on as a grad transfer, and the 6'6", 235-pounder would seemingly be the man to beat for the starting job. KJ Jefferson got Hogs fans excited with his first series, a rapid-fire touchdown drive against Mississippi State. Jefferson, coming off shoulder surgery, needs to improve his accuracy. Senior Jack Lindsey and sophomore John Stephen Jones each got one start in 2019, and the team signed highly rated dual threat Malik Hornsby.
Boyd’s decision to return after piling up 1,133 rushing yards was a huge shot in the arm during the winter. He ranked fourth in the SEC and 27th nationally with 94.4 rushing yards per game.
Four offensive linemen with considerable starting experience — center Ty Clary, guard Ricky Stromberg and tackles Myron Cunningham and Dalton Wagner — are back, but their level of play must get markedly better. The unit, bolstered by the return from knee surgery of Noah Gatlin, an improved Shane Clenin and a three-man class of 300-pounders, stands to make a large leap with Pittman and position coach Brad Davis imparting their expertise.
Mike Woods is the leader of a receiving corps that could make a big jump. Trey Knox and Treylon Burks showed promise as true freshmen. Deon Stewart is back from injury, giving more depth to a rotation that will also feature DeVion Warren, Koilan Jackson, Tyson Morris and promising 6'3" signee Darin Turner.
The Razorbacks are light at tight end, where Hudson Henry is expected to make significant improvement and signees Blayne Toll and Collin Sutherland join a mix that includes veteran Blake Kern.
Previewing Arkansas' Defense for 2020
New coordinator Barry Odom has his work cut out to improve a unit that ranked 110th in total defense and 122nd against the rush and lost key cogs on all three levels.
The return of defensive end Dorian Gerald, lost in Week One with an artery issue in his neck, is a good start for a front that needs more beef and brings back one starter in end Mataio Soli, who played most of the season with a club on his broken hand. Jonathan Marshall, the program’s strongest player last year, is expected to be a stalwart at tackle, where Isaiah Nichols, Taurean Carter, Enoch Jackson, Marcus Miller, Nick Fulwider and others should be in the rotation. Clemson transfer Xavier Kelly should get an opportunity for substantial playing time on the front, and junior college transfer Julius Coates should offer immediate help as well.
Veteran linebackers Bumper Pool (back) and Hayden Henry (shoulder) underwent offseason surgery and could be slowed when practice resumes. Seniors Grant Morgan and Deon Edwards, sophomore Andrew Parker and redshirt freshman Zach Zimos added needed weight. Transfer Levi Draper (Oklahoma) should join the rotation.
Losing rising senior Kamren Curl to the draft hurt a safety corps that has been light in quality numbers. Joe Foucha is a returning starter at strong safety. Myles Mason, Micahh Smith and Simeon Blair should show improvement with top signee Myles Slusher, an early enrollee, potentially bucking for playing time.
The cornerback crew has plenty of experience with returning starters Montaric Brown, Jarques McClellion and Greg Brooks Jr. bolstered by LaDarrius Bishop, Devin Bush and Malik Chavis.
Related: SEC Football Predictions for 2020
Previewing Arkansas' Specialists for 2020
The return game is in quality hands with veteran De’Vion Warren on kickoffs and sophomore Treylon Burks, who came on strong last year, on punts. The loss of Connor Limpert, the school record holder in field-goal accuracy, has set up a competition led by transfer AJ Reed (Duke), returnee Matthew Phillips and walk-ons Rhett Thurman and Vito Calvaruso. Punters Sam Loy and Reid Bauer are back, but the Hogs need more distance.
The teams above the Razorbacks in the SEC West aren’t going anywhere, so Pittman is embarking on a tough climb. An improvement in offensive line play and better third-down performances on both sides of the ball will be a good start for the new regime. Getting all the oars pulling in the same direction and stacking up a quality recruiting class will be top priorities for Pittman.