SEC Previews: Arkansas Razorbacks

I’m starting off my SEC West team previews with a bold prediction: Arkansas is going to win some conference games. The Razorbacks, laughingstock of the SEC for several seasons now, return a 1,000 yard rusher and a few other strong pieces. While I’m not sure they can climb out of the basement of the SEC West, I like Arkansas to pick up a few wins in SEC play this season.

Top Returners: Rakeem Boyd, Bumper Pool

While the ‘Hogs break in a relatively new quarterback in Jack Lindsey (13-30 in 2019) in 2020, they’ll lean heavily on the presence of Rakeem Boyd, the workhorse of the Arkansas backfield last season. Boyd racked up 1,133 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground, and he chipped in an additional 160 yards on 19 receptions. For a team that didn’t have a 500-yard receiver and is starting a new QB, Boyd will be the focal point of the offense. 

Meanwhile, defensively, the Razorbacks have Bumper Pool who, besides having a great name, excelled for the Arkansas defense last season, racking up 94 tackles – the top returning mark on the team – with 6.5 of those for loss, to go with five passes defended. The rising junior inside linebacker is a premier run-stopper, and if he can add a few sacks to his name, he’ll be an excellent asset as the Razorbacks look to steal some victories this season. 

Biggest Concerns: The Secondary

It was a concern last year, and it’s not getting much better. Arkansas recorded only 6 interceptions as a team, which was especially problematic when their own quarterbacks tossed 15 picks. Kamren Curl was the only player with two interceptions, and he left the Razorbacks after being selected in the seventh round of the draft. Facing an increasingly pass-heavy SEC, the Arkansas secondary will need to get up to snuff quickly and figure out how to make some big plays, or else the Razorbacks will be going nowhere fast in 2020. 

X-Factors: Joseph Foucha, Jack Lindsay

Foucha is Arkansas’s best hope at getting a game-changing player in their secondary. As a sophomore, the safety from New Orleans recorded one pick, to go with 87 tackles, four passes defended, and one fumble recovery. Outside of Bumper Pool, he’s probably the best returning player for the Razorbacks’ defense, and he will need to increase his production to help the defense get off the field, giving Rakeem Boyd and Arkansas’s inexperienced offense more drives to put up points. 

Heading to the offensive side of the ball, the X-factor is clear. While Arkansas knows they can get good production from Rakeem Boyd, if he stays healthy, they have little to know idea what Lindsay will do. His completion percentage in 2019 (43.3%) is not inspiring, but he also threw three touchdowns and no interceptions while putting up the best passer rating of four Arkansas signal-callers with 30+ pass attempts. He was also the only QB of that quartet to throw zero picks. Boyd can do a lot of the grunt work for the Arkansas offense, but if Lindsay thrives out of play action packages and puts up decently efficient numbers, the Razorbacks have some offensive potential. If not? Opponents will load the box against Boyd, and the 3-and-outs will pile up in Fayetteville. 

SEC Record Prediction: 2-6

Like I said, it’s not going to be terrible by Arkansas standards, but I definitely don’t have to like it. The Razorbacks are 1-23 in their past three SEC seasons, so picking a 2-6 record may even be bold, but I’m at least a little higher on them than in past seasons. Arkansas’s clear strength lies in Boyd and their running game, and they’ll have to lean heavily on it to pull out any victories. My early prediction is they snare a win at hapless Missouri and also play their Super Bowl in a Halloween home contest against Tennessee, coming off a bye week. Give me a pair of Arkansas wins there.

Daily Headlines: Arkansas AD makes some bold comments

Evidently, as they’ve been for the past month and a half, the trending sports headlines have been few and far between, but we’d love to keep up the sense of normalcy while we wait for the return of our favorite pastimes. Here are a few of the headlines from Monday, May 4. 

Arkansas AD announces plans for season

Arkansas athletic director Hunter Yurachek made an announcement that got the attention of a lot of football fans on Monday. He informed the school board that he planned to start practice in mid-July to prepare to play the Razorbacks’ season-opener on September 5, as originally scheduled. Yurachek did later clarify that no decision had been made, but still, it’s a glimmer of hope for desperate football fans hoping that the season will return in full force in the fall. 

NCAA releases updated, 9-step plan for the return of college sports
The NCAA released a document this past Friday about their plan for the return of college sports. While much of their plan is conditional on the contain of the virus and the availability of widespread testing, it’s good to see the NCAA taking some administrative steps to prepare for the end of the shutdown. 

“For The Culture” debuts

While many of the women’s basketball headlines revolved around the record-breaking Sabrina Ionescu and the Oregon Ducks, many forget that South Carolina was ranked #1 on the season. Oregon was hardly the runaway favorites, as the Gamecocks may very well have been the best team in the country. On Monday, the SEC special “For the Culture” debuted -a documentary feature on the Gamecocks. It’s a great event to remember a great team in a sport that often doesn’t get enough coverage. 

Temple vs. UMass series announced

Despite having one home-and-home set already on the slate, the Temple Owls and UMass Minutemen scheduled another two-game series in 2025 and 2027. The two teams have already played twice before, with the Owls leading the series with two close victories. They are scheduled to play this upcoming season and 2024, so hopefully another solid Group of 5 contestant is en route.

SEC Status Report: It’s Wide Open Down South

The SEC might be the most interesting basketball conference this year and, come tournament time, they could have a bevy of representatives. There’s easily five or six teams I think could take the title, and a handful of teams who could be extremely effective spoilers. I believe Kentucky remains a title favorite, with Florida replacing Auburn in that category as well. Auburn, LSU, and Arkansas highlight the ‘best of the rest’ in the SEC. There’s lots to be decided here, so let’s take a look at biggest risers and fallers.

Biggest Risers: Florida, Alabama, Mississippi State

  • The Gators are playing really well right now, despite their recent 2-point loss at LSU. They are 4-2 in SEC play, sitting third in the conference. They’re 7-1 at home, and I could definitely see the Gators upsetting #1 Baylor this weekend in Gainesville. With a favorable schedule after the Baylor game, Florida has put themselves in good position for a high seed and potential SEC title run.
  • Alabama opened some eyes by staying right with both Florida and Kentucky in road games, and they’ve now won three straight. They broke Auburn’s winning streak in dominant fashion, beating their rivals by 19 points. Games against Arkansas and LSU loom on the docket for the Crimson Tide, who will look to make some more noise in the SEC.
  • The Bulldogs had a bad loss to Alabama and followed it up with a heartbreaking defeat at LSU. That tough sequence could have send Mississippi State into a spiral, but they’ve responded with a pair of dominant victories (72-45 over Missouri and 91-59 over Georgia) and then a resume-boosting win over Arkansas just last night. This team is climbing back into the picture and while I wouldn’t pick them to win the SEC, I could definitely see them getting into the later rounds of the conference tournament.

Biggest Fallers: Auburn, Missouri

  • Auburn is still a very good team, but I dropped them out of the title favorite category after a 2-loss week. It wasn’t just that Auburn finally lost, but they got manhandled twice on the road by unranked teams. I’m pretty high on both Florida and Alabama, but you simply don’t do that as a top-5 team. A four-game stretch in February against Kentucky, Arkansas, LSU, and Alabama could make or break the Tigers.
  • I listed Missouri as a dark-horse title pick after they beat up on Florida 91-75, but the Tigers have not impressed since. They lost by 27 to Mississippi State, by 14 to Alabama, and at home to a dismal Texas A&M squad. I wouldn’t be surprised at this point if Missouri doesn’t even make the SEC quarterfinals, let alone the NCAA tournament.

Quick Hits

  • I believe the SEC has a lot of quality teams, and I could definitely see them sending 8 teams dancing when all is said and done. Give me LSU, Kentucky, Florida, Auburn, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi State, and Tennessee in the tournament.
  • I’m putting Georgia and Missouri on the bubble in the SEC. Both teams have shown potential, but they’ve suffered some ugly losses – I don’t think they’re in right now, but a solid end to the season could change that.
  • For all the talent at the top of the division, there’s a handful of pretty bad SEC teams. Here, I’m listing four that I don’t believe have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Teams that are declared dead are: South Carolina, Ole Miss, Texas A&M, Vanderbilt.