Bulldogs open season in Fayetteville against new-look Razorbacks
The Arkansas Razorbacks already had their work cut out for themselves as new head coach Sam Pittman and his all-new staff were scheduled to face off with Notre Dame, Mississippi State, and Texas A&M in the first month of the season. Now, with the revamped schedule, starting off with the No. 4 Georgia Bulldogs is no picnic either. This will be an all-new Arkansas team, and that's a good thing. They should be better this season but this is as tough of an opening opponent as anyone in the country has to face.
The Bulldogs have some new faces as well, including behind center, throughout the offense and in the coaching staff. But the disparity of talent in these two programs makes this one a no-brainer for the Vegas oddsmakers
Georgia at Arkansas
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 26 at 4 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Georgia -26
When Georgia Has the Ball
The mystery QB. Not to state the obvious but the biggest question will be answered when we see who takes the first snap from center with expected starter, Wake Forest transfer Jamie Newman, opting out. Head coach Kirby Smart has been cagey about naming a starter, but it's likely that USC transfer JT Daniels will be the guy. He and redshirt freshman D'Wan Mathis have battled all fall. Daniels is a pocket passer with a cannon arm and lots of FBS experience as a Freshman All-American at USC. Mathis is the dual-threat type of QB, and has a more versatile skill set. Don't be surprised if both end up getting some snaps vs. Arkansas.
Todd Monken in the white-hot spotlight. Even with talents like Jake Fromm, D'Andre Swift, and Lawrence Cager, the Georgia offense was stagnant at times last season. Smart brought in Monken as the new offensive coordinator, so the pressure falls on him to shake the cobwebs and light up the scoreboard. Look for wide receiver George Pickens and running back Zamir White to become bigger stars now that it's their turn to shine on the big stage.
Can Georgia be stopped? This is probably the biggest question in this game. Last year Arkansas ranked dead last in the SEC in scoring defense (36.8 ppg) and total defense (451 ypg). There is a new defensive coordinator in former Missouri head coach Barry Odom and he'll have his work cut out after seeing his defensive line, linebackers and secondary wind up 14th, 14th, and 13th in Athlon Sports' SEC unit rankings. This could get ugly.
When Arkansas Has the Ball
Is Feleipe the answer? The Razorbacks went through five different starting quarterbacks a year ago and never found much success, going 2-10 for the second straight season. But enter former Florida Gator Feleipe Franks. The strong-armed, 6-foot-6 slinger with good feet is the type of player that could turn Arkansas' fortunes around. Now, considering his first game with his new mates comes against Georgia, one of the top defensive teams in the country last year who has eight starters back? Well, that's just bad luck of the draw. Still, expect the Hogs to be more fluid this season and be more competitive with big Feleipe in the pocket.
The skill position players need to step up. Though the Hogs were a bit of a mess offensively last season, they'll be better this year with all the good hands team coming back. Raheem Boyd rushed for 1,133 yards and wide receivers Mike Woods, Treylon Burks, and Trey Knox each had at least 28 catches last season. Look for new offensive coordinator Kendal Briles (Yes, the son of Art) to open things up and get creative. If the Razorbacks are going to have success vs. the Bulldogs, thinking out of the box is going to be the best path to success.
See if No. 1 stays No. 1. Last year the Junkyard Dogs ranked first nationally in scoring defense, yielding just 12.6 points per game. With eight starters returning, they could be the stingiest unit again. Keep an eye on expected starting safety Lewis Cine, who is the lone non-returnee in the secondary. He was the No. 3-ranked safety in the country coming out of high school. He'll be a key part of stopping Franks and his deep throws.
If there is a sure thing on the SEC schedule for this opening weekend, it's a win for Georgia here. Normally, Reynolds Razorback Stadium would be rocking, but with social distancing and all, it will be a sterile environment. So go with the Bulldogs. And go with them with a sizable amount of gusto.
Sam Pittman might be the one to turn the Arkansas program around, but give him a few recruiting cycles to do that. Right now, 'dem Hogs ain't what they used to be, and it will show in this game on Saturday.
Prediction: Georgia 41, Arkansas 14
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.