After five subpar seasons in Fayetteville under former head coach Bret Bielema, the Arkansas Razorbacks are welcoming an overhaul on offense under new head coach Chad Morris. Morris, the former head coach at SMU, has spent the offseason turning the Hogs from a pro-style set to a spread attack.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator John Chavis, who previously served in the same capacity at LSU and Texas A&M, is focused on reworking one of the SEC's worst units. Despite a 4-8 season in 2017, there is a lot to be optimistic about with the Hogs in 2018 with 13 starters back and a mid-season five-game home stand.
The big question, does Morris and Chavis have enough of their kind of players to run their schemes and find success in the SEC?
12. Sept. 1 vs. Eastern Illinois
College football fans may knock Power 5 programs for scheduling FCS teams, but the Panthers are a needed start to the 2018 schedule for the retooling Razorbacks. Eastern Illinois was a solid all-around team out of the Ohio Valley Conference a year ago finishing 6-5. This should serve as a warm-up game against live competition for the Hogs' new offense and defense.
11. Oct. 20 vs. Tulsa
The Golden Hurricane was a tough team to understand in 2017. Through a forgettable 2-10 season, Tulsa found a way to put it to Louisiana (66-42) and Houston (45-17). Morris and SMU eked out a 38-34 win over the Golden Hurricane at home.
Tulsa offers a nice break from the SEC grind, coming after a four-game gauntlet of Auburn, Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss. Bring on the Golden Hurricane!
10. Sept. 15 vs. North Texas
On paper, North Texas' appearance on an SEC's team schedule may not appear that scary, but this Mean Green team is no cupcake. The defending Conference USA West Division champions, North Texas went 9-5 in 2017. The Mean Green has a potent offense led by quarterback Mason Fine, wide receiver Jalen Guyton and tight end Kelvin Smith.
Morris is no stranger to facing North Texas, as SMU defeated the Mean Green 54-32 at home last September.
9. Sept. 8 at Colorado State
Former Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo enters his fourth season as Colorado State's head coach. The Rams were a hard out a year ago, fighting with in-state rival Colorado to a 17-3 ending and perhaps did better than expected against then-No. 1 Alabama in a 41-23 loss.
High altitude and home-field advantage may help CSU in this one, but the Rams, on paper, are outmatched. CSU returns just four starters on offense and five on defense. The Rams also come into this one after facing in-state rival Colorado the week prior.
8. Oct. 27 vs. Vanderbilt
One has to feel a little bit for Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. Right when it looks like he has the Commodores on the right track, something seems to go wrong. Vanderbilt disappointed in 2017 with a 5-7 finish after winning six games in 2016. The offense did a solid job, scoring an average of 25 points per game, but the defense was porous (31.3 ppg).
Vanderbilt has some talent back on offense, highlighted by quarterback Kyle Shumur, but just four players returning on a downtrodden defense.
7. Nov. 10 vs. LSU
The Tigers could be the surprise team in the SEC in 2018, one way or the other. LSU has a roster full of former five- and four-star prospects but returns just five starters on both sides of the ball and need to figure out the quarterback position.
Before coming to Fayetteville, the Tigers will be coming off of a five-game stretch in which they play Ole Miss, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi State and Alabama. This young Tigers squad could be on empty against an Arkansas team coming off of a bye.
6. Nov. 17 at Mississippi State
The Bulldogs are another tough team to figure out heading into the 2018 season. With nine starters back on offense and seven on defense, this should be a very good team. The big question, can Joe Moorhead, Penn State’s offensive coordinator in 2017, gel with his new roster fast enough to take advantage of the talent Dan Mullen left behind in Starkville?
Arkansas leaves the friendly confines of the Natural State for the first time in five games to face MSU. The Hogs will have just hosted LSU, while the Bulldogs come home after facing Alabama.
5. Oct. 13 vs. Ole Miss (in Little Rock, Ark.)
Arkansas won a 38-37 nail-biter against Ole Miss last season in Oxford. Logic would hold that the Hogs should do well against the Rebels again in 2018, but this Ole Miss team should be lethal on offense. The Rebels receiving corps may be the best in the nation led by A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge, and D.K. Metcalf. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu was a surprise breakout player in the SEC in 2017 after taking over for an injured Shea Patterson, who is now at Michigan.
The Rebels host ULM before making the four-hour trip northwest to Arkansas' home away from home, Little Rock. The Hogs' gas tank may be empty heading into this one after facing Auburn, Texas A&M, and Alabama.
4. Nov. 24 at Missouri
Missouri, like Ole Miss, will be very dangerous on offense in 2018. Drew Lock returns for his senior year after leading the SEC’s No. 1 offense last season. Lock let the pigskin fly during his junior season, passing for 3,944 yards and 44 touchdowns. He also helped lead a come-from-behind 48-45 victory against Arkansas in Donald W. Reynolds Stadium. Besides Lock, the Tigers return eight other starters on offense and six on defense.
How the Hogs play in this one will be a good indication of the progress made under Morris on offense and Chavis on defense. In a bad season, it is easy for players to phone it in for the regular season finale. If all is going well, players still have that fighting spirit.
3. Sept. 29 vs. Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas)
There was no collective group of people happier to see Kevin Sumlin leave Texas A&M for Arizona than Razorback Nation. The Aggies have won six in a row against the Hogs, so can they break the losing streak with former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher now at the helm? Texas A&M has seven starters back on offense and seven on defense, giving Fisher pieces to work with as he implements his new schemes.
In theory, two things favor the Hogs in this SEC West showdown: Arkansas gets yet another team after facing Alabama and John Chavis knows the talent on the Aggies' roster well.
2. Oct. 6 vs. Alabama
The Tide has rolled over the Hogs 11 striaght games. If home field counts for anything, at least the Razorbacks have that going for them. However, Arkansas does not get the luxury of receiving a worn-out Alabama team -- the week prior Bama hosts Sun Belt member Louisiana.
Make no mistake, Alabama will be talented across the board in 2018, but the team lacks experience on defense. This might help close the gap on the 41-9 defeat the Hogs suffered in Bryant-Denny Stadium last season.
1. Sept. 22 at Auburn
While the world picks Alabama to win the SEC and make another run through the College Football Playoff, Auburn is the returning SEC West champ. The Tigers showed their dominance in Fayetteville a year ago winning 52-20. The offense returns seven starters, including quarterback Jarrett Stidham, while one of the nation’s best defenses brings six back with talented players ready to step up.
Auburn could be slowed going into this one after games against Washington and LSU, but will not overlook the Hogs for Southern Miss the following week. This is Arkansas’ first big test of the season, and comes on the road, but it gives Morris a chance to show what he can do in the SEC.
Athlon Sports Cover 2 Podcast: Games. Games. And more Games!
-- 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)