A new era in Fayetteville is officially underway seeing the Arkansas Razorbacks transform from a smash-mouth, pro-style offense to an up-tempo, spread attack under new head coach Chad Morris. Morris brings an up swell of optimism with him, not only in his offensive scheme but with the addition of one of college football’s best defensive coordinators, John Chavis.
The duo has its work cut out installing a new approach on both sides of the ball and getting the squad ready for a Sept. 1 opening date against FCS opponent Eastern Illinois. There is wiggle room in gauging success in 2018 after a 4-8 (1-7 in the SEC) mark last season.
The good news is that the proverbial shelves in Arkansas were not left empty when former head coach Bret Bielema was dismissed in December. The Razorbacks have a lot of talent back from an offense that averaged 29 points per game last season, leading to an optimistic outlook for 2018. In theory, the defense has more ground to make up, ranking as the worst unit in the SEC (36.2 ppg) in 2017 under former coordinator Paul Rhoads.
Last season, the Hogs lost to Texas A&M, Mississippi State and Missouri by a combined 17 points, so more victories were within reach. This year’s schedule sets up nicely for more success, headlined by seven home games including a five-game stretch that starts in October with Alabama and wraps up with LSU. If all goes to plan, the Hogs could hit the magical six-win plateau for a bowl berth before the calendar turns to November.
Arkansas Razorbacks 2018 Schedule
Bye: Week 10
Week 1 – Sept. 1 vs. Eastern Illinois (Fayetteville, Ark.)
The Panthers from the FCS ranks are an ideal team for Chad Morris and company to start off against in 2018. The Ohio Valley Conference members were 6-5 last season but did not play a Power 5 team. EIU will be geared up for the challenge giving the Hogs an early push to get into rhythm before trampling the overmatched program.
Week 2 – Sept. 8 at Colorado State (Fort Collins, Colo.)
SEC fans should remember Mike Bobo. Bobo was the quarterbacks coach for Georgia from 2001-06 before becoming the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator in ‘07. Bobo has been the Rams head coach since 2015 consistently producing 7-6 teams.
Bobo will welcome the chance to take down a SEC program, but not until meeting Hawaii in the season opener and after tough in-state rivalry game against the Colorado Buffaloes. CSU beat Oregon State 58-27 last season but lost 41-23 in Tuscaloosa.
Week 3 – Sept. 15 vs. North Texas (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Morris faces a familiar foe when the Mean Green come to town in Week 3. In 2017, Morris defeated North Texas head coach Seth Littrell 54-32 in Dallas while at SMU
North Texas was a scrappy team last season, winning Conference USA’s West Division (7-1) and going 9-5 overall, finishing things off with back-to-back losses to Florida Atlantic (41-17) in the conference championship game and to Troy (50-30) in the New Orleans Bowl. The Mean Green would like nothing more than to come to Fayetteville and put a damper on Morris’ debut season with the Razorbacks.
Week 4 – Sept. 22 at Auburn (Auburn, Ala.)
Colorado State could be a challenge for the Razorbacks if the offense does not gel early, but a road trip to Jordan-Hare certainly qualifies as Morris’ first big test as Arkansas head coach. Since 2013, Auburn has been in firm control of the SEC West rivalry game winning four of the five matchups. The Tigers have not been kind to the Hogs over the last two, lighting up the scoreboard for 108 total points while holding Arkansas to 23.
The Razorbacks could catch a slight break against the Tigers this year. Auburn plays host to LSU the week prior.
Week 5 – Sept. 29 vs. Texas A&M (AT&T Stadium - Arlington, Texas)
This is another losing streak in the SEC Arkansas fans are ready to see come to an end. Although the games have been tight year after year, A&M currently enjoys a six-game winning streak against the Hogs. The Aggies will have a different look on offense after hiring former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher. A&M ran an up-tempo, spread attack under former head coach Kevin Sumlin, a style of offense the Hogs have traditionally struggled to stop, but the Aggies are expected to run a pro-style look under Fisher.
Arkansas also could catch Texas A&M at a good time, as two of the Aggies’ first four games are against College Football Playoff contenders Clemson and Alabama. The Aggies will have just played the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa the week prior.
Week 6 – Oct. 6 vs. Alabama (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Alabama has owned Arkansas with head coach Nick Saban on the sidelines. For 11 consecutive games (2007-17), Arkansas fans have left the stadium wondering if next year will be the year. Will that be 2018? The Razorbacks will have the advantage of playing at home and Chavis has engineered defenses that have stopped the Crimson Tide’s roll when he was at LSU. There’s also the slight unknown with Alabama facing Morris’ offense for the first time.
Week 7 – Oct. 13 vs. Ole Miss (War Memorial Stadium - Little Rock, Ark.)
Ole Miss was a surprise team in 2017 ending the year with a 6-6 record, while going 3-5 in SEC play. Through the ups and downs, first-year head coach Matt Luke kept the Rebels offense humming to the tune of 33 points per game. The bulk of the entire offense is back, including gun-slinging quarterback Jordan Ta’umu. This unit could be the best in the SEC barring injury.
The Hogs’ four-game winning streak against Ole Miss will be tested, but the matchup of two offenses geared to take shots downfield should provide excitement for the fans.
Week 8 – Oct. 20 vs. Tulsa (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Here’s another familiar foe for Morris. SMU escaped with a 38-34 home victory against the Golden Hurricane in 2017. From 1933-93, the Arkansas facing Tulsa was a yearly event. Since ’93, the teams have met just three times. If Arkansas fans hang their collective heads over Alabama, Tulsa fans do the same against the Razorbacks. Arkansas has won 18 consecutive games against its regional counterpart dating back to 1977.
Week 9 – Oct. 27 vs. Vanderbilt (Fayetteville, Ark.)
Arkansas typically is unlucky when rolling on a new SEC East opponent, always seemingly catching Kentucky, South Carolina or Vanderbilt in the midst of an upturn. The Commodores were 5-7 in 2017 with fans waiting for head coach Derek Mason to turn the proverbial corner after enjoying a successful run under former head coach James Franklin.
Vanderbilt could limp its way to Fayetteville to face the Hogs. After should-win opening games against Middle Tennessee and Nevada, the Commodores are at Notre Dame, home for South Carolina and FCS opponent Tennessee State, then face Georgia in Athens, home for Florida and on the road for Kentucky. This sets up as a must-win game for Arkansas to go bowling in 2018.
Week 11 – Nov. 10 vs. LSU (Fayetteville, Ark.)
After a bye, the Razorbacks wrap up their five-game homestand against LSU. This could be a stolen win for Arkansas. LSU has a difficult seven-game stretch before facing Arkansas with showdowns against Auburn, Louisiana Tech, Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. When Arkansas has played LSU after the Tigers meet up with Bama, Arkansas has typically done well.
The last four games in the series have been split with LSU winners of the last two matchups.
Week 12 – Nov. 17 at Mississippi State (Starkville, Miss.)
Heading into the 2018 season, the Bulldogs are an unknown on offense under new head coach Joe Moorhead. Over the past two seasons, Moorhead engineered a high-octane offense at Penn State, and inherits a lot of talent on offense with four starters back on the line and a potential Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback in Nick Fitzgerald.
The SEC scheduling gods shine on Arkansas again in this matchup, as this is the third instance in which the Razorbacks face a team just after playing Alabama. MSU has owned the series of late, winning five of the last six including last season’s 28-21 road victory.
Week 13 – Nov. 24 at Missouri (Columbia, Mo.)
The regular season concludes with back-to-back revenge games. Missouri snuck into Fayetteville last season and left with a 48-45 win against an overmatched Arkansas secondary. The Tigers are led by quarterback Drew Lock, who threw an SEC single-season record 44 touchdown passes in 2017. This could be another high-scoring game delighting fans. This late in the season, it is gut check time for both teams.
— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience and is a member of the FWAA. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and has his own recruiting site, www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @RyanWrightRNG.
(Top photo courtesy of www.arkansasrazorbacks.com)