The offseason is about speculation, but the time is now for definitive predictions. With fall camps open across the SEC, teams are starting to take shape.
Arkansas has built quickly under head coach Bret Bielema. The Razorbacks were decimated as a program after a year of John L. Smith, but Bielema has brought the roster back to respectability in the SEC West. Though Arkansas brings back 14 starters, the leaders on the roster are gone. Quarterback Brandon Allen (7,463 yards, 64 touchdowns) and RB Alex Collins (3,703 yards, 36 touchdowns) were mainstays on the roster.
The focus will immediately shift to establishing talent at quarterback, running back and offensive line in 2016. With the key changes on the roster, here is how we project every Arkansas game in 2016.
2015 record: 8-5, 5-3 SEC; Third place in SEC West
Louisiana Tech – Sept. 3 in Fayetteville, Ark.
Former Florida transfer QB Jeff Driskel revitalized his career playing for Skip Holtz at Louisiana Tech, but the Bulldogs have to find a replacement for the 4,000-yard passer. Even through inexperience, Arkansas should be able to bully Louisiana Tech up front without issue.
Prediction: Arkansas win (1-0, 0-0 SEC)
TCU – Sept. 10 in Fort Worth, Texas
This should be an interesting matchup, but TCU is just better than the Razorbacks at this point. Gary Patterson is well known for putting together elite defenses. After injuries decimated the Horned Frogs last season, it gave TCU the opportunity to build one of its deepest rosters in a few years. Arkansas will not have the balance to hang with TCU at this point of the season.
Prediction: Arkansas loss (1-1, 0-0 SEC)
Texas State – Sept. 17 in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Bobcats made a nice coaching hire, bringing in Everett Withers after a dominant stretch at James Madison. Unfortunately, there’s not much else good going on in San Marcos. Arkansas will roll.
Prediction: Arkansas win (2-1, 0-0 SEC)
Texas A&M – Sept. 24 in Arlington, Texas
The Aggies, for whatever reason, have handled Arkansas since switching over to the SEC. Texas A&M had a messy roster last season, but still managed to hang on in a close game. Though QB Trevor Knight might be a downgrade from Kyle Allen, having consistency at the position will be important. The defense, led by All-American defensive end Myles Garrett, could make even more strides. The Razorbacks make things interesting, but fail to beat Texas A&M once again.
Prediction: Arkansas loss (2-2, 0-1 SEC)
Alcorn State – Oct. 1 in Little Rock, Ark.
The Braves had a nice year, beating Grambling State to win the SWAC Championship last season. However, in its one game against a Power Five opponent, Alcorn State lost 69-6 against a mediocre Georgia Tech squad. This will be a nice tune-up game for Arkansas.
Prediction: Arkansas win (3-2, 0-1 SEC)
Alabama – Oct. 8 in Fayetteville, Ark.
Arkansas is able to intimidate many teams with its physicality and commitment to a game plan. Alabama is not one of those teams. Even after losing several NFL players, Alabama remains the most talented team in football. The Razorbacks don’t have the ability to impose their will in the run game, and Austin Allen is not yet at the point where he can be trusted to make game-changing throws.
Prediction: Arkansas loss (3-3, 0-2 SEC)
Ole Miss – Oct. 15 in Fayetteville, Ark.
Arkansas struggled to defend the pass last season, giving up a league-worst 275 passing yards per game. That does not bode well going against Chad Kelly, easily the best signal-caller in the SEC. Arkansas managed to pull off an upset 53-52 victory over the Rebels last season. Unfortunately, Brandon Allen isn’t around anymore to save them. Allen threw for 442 yards and six touchdowns in the win, maybe the finest moment of his career. But Arkansas also need to convert a 4th and 25 in overtime to keep the game going. The Razorbacks do not have the ability to score 53 effortlessly with this group.
Prediction: Arkansas loss (3-4, 0-3 SEC)
Auburn – Oct. 22 in Auburn, Ala.
Inconsistency will be abound at Auburn this season as Gus Malzahn coaches for his job. The Tigers still have little clarity at quarterback, as three players fight for the position. This game was a four-overtime thriller last season in Fayetteville. If Auburn can find a quarterback to stand apart and make plays, home field advantage should be the deciding factor in this one.
Prediction: Arkansas loss (3-5, 0-4 SEC)
Florida – Nov. 5 in Fayetteville, Ark.
This game should be one of the more intriguing matchups of the season. Florida brings back an elite defense, but is still unproven on offense under Jim McElwain. Arkansas has to replace plenty of top players on offense, but it has a strong identity. Two months into the season, the offensive line should also begin to find its rhythm. The Razorbacks will be able to make just a few more plays on offense to pull off the win.
Prediction: Arkansas win (4-5, 1-4 SEC)
LSU – Nov. 12 in Fayetteville, Ark.
The Razorbacks derailed LSU’s season in 2015, but that will not happen again. The Tigers return almost all of their leaders from last season. Arkansas will have some time to develop talent, but LSU will simply be too hungry after last season’s debacle. It will be interesting to see whether Arkansas’ strong run defense can keep Leonard Fournette under control.
Prediction: Arkansas loss (4-6, 1-5 SEC)
Mississippi State – Nov. 19 in Starkville, Miss.
This is the perfect storm for a Bret Bielema team. Mississippi State is coming of a brutal matchup against Alabama in Tuscaloosa the week before. The Razorbacks are perhaps the worst team to face off against after the Crimson Tide, considering their physical play on both sides of the ball. If the offensive line can provide the necessary push, Arkansas should leave with a convincing victory.
Prediction: Arkansas win (5-6, 2-5 SEC)
Missouri – Nov. 26 in Columbia, Mo.
It’s always a pleasure to see a team’s best units match up directly. When Arkansas’ offensive line lines up against Missouri’s defensive line, it will feature some of the best players in the conference. Mizzou DE Charles Harris posted a division-leading 18.5 tackles for loss, despite the Tigers struggles last season. This game will ultimately come down to which an offense can execute at a higher level.
Prediction: Arkansas win (6-6, 3-5 SEC)
Projected record: 6-6, 3-5 SEC; Sixth in the SEC West
Analysis: Arkansas should still be good this season, but it has to replace some of the best performers in recent memory. Quarterback Brandon Allen was one of the most underrated signal-callers in the SEC over the past few seasons, and replacing him will be a tall task. Additionally, three of five linemen are gone from an elite offensive unit. There is still talent all over the field, especially at defensive end. This might be a reloading year, but the future is still bright for the Razorbacks.
Other installments –
Texas A&M (8/14)
Ole Miss (8/15)