Arkansas Football Predictions

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Bret Bielema has the Arkansas Razorbacks headed in the right direction. After going just 2-14 in SEC play in his first two seasons, they went 5-3 within the conference last year and wound up with an 8-5 record after thumping Kansas State 45-23 in the bowl game.

The three SEC losses came by a combined 21 points, so they were competitive in every game they played last year. They did manage to beat Auburn in four overtimes and got a miracle 4th-and-25 conversion that helped them beat Ole Miss, but nonetheless things are looking up in Fayetteville.

Bielema returns 14 starters and 56 lettermen this season while losing only 19 letter winners. He continues to find players who fit his system, which is hogs up front on both sides of the football. That allows them to be a dominant team running the football and stopping the run, which is the key to winning in the rugged SEC.

Last Season
SEC West
Record
ATS Record
Over/Under
Points For
Points Against
T-3rd
8-5 (5-3 SEC)
8-5
6-7
35.9
27.4
2016 Arkansas Razorbacks Schedule
Date Opponent
Spread (Est.)
Win Chance
9/3 Louisiana Tech
9/10 @ TCU
9/17 Texas State
9/24 Texas A&M (Arlington)
10/1 Alcorn State
10/8 Alabama
10/15 Ole Miss
10/22 @ Auburn
11/5 Florida
11/12 LSU
11/19 @ Mississippi State
11/26 @ Missouri
Estimated Wins: TBD
Offense

The biggest concern for the 2016 Razorbacks is replacing QB Brandon Allen. He had a 50-13 TD/INT ratio over the past two seasons and was selected in the sixth round of the NFL Draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Brother Austin Allen won the job in the spring and will have to fend off a talented trio of Rafe Peavey, Ty Storey and Ricky Town.

Alex Collins, who rushed for 1,577 yards, is also gone. That leaves sophomore Rawleigh Williams (254 yards, 1 TD, 4.5/carry last year) in line for starting dutiies. He’ll likely share carries with the talented Devwah Whaley, who was one of the top RB recruits in the country coming out of high school.

The good news is that Allen will have the luxury of throwing the ball to a veteran group of receivers. Each of the top five wide receivers from last year return, led by Drew Morgan (63 receptions, 843 yards, 10 TD) and Dominique Reed (28, 535, 6 TD). Unfortunately, the Razorbacks lose John Mackey Award winner Hunter Henry (51, 739, 3 TD) at tight end. Henry was drafted in the 2nd round by the San Diego Chargers.

Only two starters and 47 career starts return along the offensive line. Leading the way will be junior C Frank Ragnow and senior RT Dan Skipper, who earned second-team All-SEC honors last year. The Razorbacks are expected to fill the other three positions with a freshman and two sophomore starters, so they’ll be fairly young up front.

Defense

The strength of the Razorbacks will be their defense in 2016. That’s because they return a whopping nine starters and 11 of their top 12 tacklers from a year ago. Last year’s defense gave up 27.4 points and 392 yards per game, but those numbers should improve.

The Razorbacks have limited opponents to an average of 115 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry over the past two seasons. They should be strong again up front with four players with starting experience returning. They are DE Deatrich Wise (31 tackles, 8 sacks), DE JaMichael Winston (21 tackles), DT Jeremiah Ledbetter (52 tackles, 7.5 for loss) and NG Taiwan Johnson (28 tackles, 5 for loss). Also in the mix for playing time are Tevin Beanum (30 tackles, 7 for loss) and talented freshman McTelvin Agim.

The starting linebackers return intact in 2016. WLB Dre Greenlaw (95 tackles) earned All-SEC Freshman honors with a superb season. Senior MLB Brooks Ellis (102 tackles, 8 for loss, 1 INT) is the leader of the defense. Junior WLB Khalia Hackett figures to challenge Kevin Richardson (44 tackles, 1 INT) for starting duties.

Improvement needs to come in the secondary, where the Razorbacks gave up 275 passing yards per game and 64.2 percent completions to opposing quarterbacks. That shouldn’t be a problem with nine of the top 10 back from last year. That includes three starters in CB Henre’ Toliver (55 tackles, 8 pass break-ups), CB Jared Collins (44 tackles, 9 pass break-ups) and FS Josh Liddell (52 tackles, 2 INT).

Odds (Courtesy of 5Dimes)
Regular Season Win Total
SEC West Odds
SEC Championship Odds
4-Team Playoff Odds
National Championship Odds
7
+1375
+2500
N/A
+12000
Season Predictions

I like what Bielema has done in Fayetteville in giving the hogs and identity. They are a power running team that can now beat you with the pass if you stack the box. Their defense is one of the more underrated units in the country, and this will be the best D that Bielema has had yet.

The key will be replacing QB Allen, RB Collins and TE Henry on offense. Those were their three most important players last year on this side of the ball. I can certainly see the offense taking a step back as a result, but the defense should more than make up for it.

The Razorbacks could surprise because they only have three true SEC road games considering they play Texas A&M on a neutral field. They get four of their toughest opponents in Alabama, LSU, Ole Miss and Florida at home.

Unfortunately, I look at that as most of their winnable games being on the road, which is going to be tough if they don’t pull off some upsets at home. I have the Razorbacks as underdogs in four of their eight SEC games, so I’ll call for a 4-4 finish within the conference.

2016 Projections
SEC West
SEC Record
Overall Record
Win Total Prediction
5th
4-4
7-5
Push 7
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