FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas and Louisiana Tech meet at 3 p.m (CT) Saturday inside Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium, officially kicking off the 2016 season for both teams.
The Razorbacks are breaking in a new quarterback, new running backs and three new offensive linemen. Louisiana Tech, meanwhile, is among the least-experienced teams in college football.
Both teams return impressive wide receivers. In fact, one could argue that receivers represent the best, deepest position group for both the Razorbacks and Bulldogs.
Here’s a quick look at both teams at each position.
Arkansas: Junior Austin Allen won the starting job in the spring and has looked good throughout fall camp. But he’s only appeared in eight career games with 19 pass attempts. It remains to be seen how Allen will measure up to his big brother, who started games in the last four seasons for the Hogs and left as one of the most prolific passers in school history.
Louisiana Tech: Senior Ryan Higgins is the team’s top quarterback and starter, although he won’t start Saturday because of a DWI arrest earlier this month. Redshirt freshman J’Mar Smith will start behind center for the Bulldogs, although Higgins almost certainly will play.
Arkansas: Arkansas is replacing the production of Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, both 1,000-yard backs who are now in the NFL. The Hogs will use some combination of sophomore Rawleigh Williams III, true freshman Devwah Whaley and sixth-year senior Kody Walker, all of whom bring different things to the table — but none of whom have ever been a feature back.
Louisiana Tech: Kenneth Dixon was the best running back in Louisiana Tech history and now is a Baltimore Raven. He will be replaced this season by juniors Jarred Craft and Boston Scott, who rushed for a combined 505 yards last season.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks boast a deep, experienced wide receiver group headlined by seniors Drew Morgan, Keon Hatcher and Dominique Reed, as well as junior Jared Cornelius. At tight end, the Hogs return senior Jeremy Sprinkle, who caught 6 touchdowns last season as the No. 2 option at his position behind All-American Hunter Henry.
Louisiana Tech: Arkansas considers Bulldogs wideouts Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson to be “SEC-caliber.” They combined to catch 135 passes for 2,056 yards and 14 touchdowns a year ago. Behind those two, though, there isn’t much experience back.
Arkansas: The Hogs shuffled through several different first-team offensive lines throughout the spring and fall camp but settled on a unit last week. Only Dan Skipper and Frank Ragnow are returning starters, and they’re both playing different positions on the line than they played in 2015.
Louisiana Tech: All five of Louisiana Tech’s projected starters along the offensive linemen have started games during their college careers. Still, La. Tech allowed 20 sacks last season and averaged a mediocre 159.6 rushing yards per game.
Arkansas: Deatrich Wise Jr. could be a first-round NFL Draft selection next spring. Jeremiah Ledbetter and Taiwan Johnson are seasoned, veteran leaders. True freshmen McTelvin Agim and Austin Capps forced their way into the two-deep this fall, but not out of necessity.
Louisiana Tech: The Bulldogs lost defensive tackle Vernon Butler, who was a first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. Sophomore defensive end Jaylon Ferguson was a Freshman All-American last year.
Arkansas: Senior Brooks Ellis and sophomore Dre Greenlaw were forced to play nearly every snap last season. Both Ellis and Greenlaw bring great things to the defense, but Hog coaches are hopeful that guys like Dwayne Eugene and De’jon Harris can provide some relief this year.
Louisiana Tech: A pair of Big 12 graduate transfers are slated to start with Jordan Harris (Iowa State) and Dalton Santos (Texas) both sitting atop the depth chart.
Arkansas: Cornerbacks Jared Collins and Henre’ Toliver are experienced veterans. Safeties Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez each struggled at times last season, so their improvement in 2016 will be vital to the Razorbacks’ overall success. Nickelback Kevin Richardson II started five games last season and will surely see lots of action Saturday against Louisiana Tech’s spread attack.
Louisiana Tech: Senior safety Xavier Woods was a first-team all-conference selection last year, but he’s the unit’s only returning starter.
Arkansas: Kicker Cole Hedlund and punter Toby Baker both return, although Hedlund will absolutely have to be better than he was a year ago. Kick returner Reed and punt returner Cornelius were both solid in 2015 and are back.
Louisiana Tech: Kicker Jonathan Barnes returns after hitting 22 of 26 field goal attempts last year. Punter Gerald Shouse averaged 40.9 yards per punt in 2015. Henderson and Taylor handle kickoff and punt returning duties, respectively.
As has been stated many times, Louisiana Tech is no slouch when it comes to mid-major opponents. The Bulldogs have a pair of standout receivers who could give Arkansas’ secondary fits. Tech has won four games against Power Five opponents since 2011 — and has come really close to winning several more such contests.
Still, there is little reason to believe Arkansas is in any serious danger in this game. The Hogs have a significant talent edge and should be playing their reserves by the fourth quarter.