There was no shortage of news out of Fayetteville in the offseason on both sides of the ball. Rawleigh Williams III, the SEC's 3rd leading rusher in 2016, retired from football after suffering a neck injury during spring practice. Devwah Whaley, who was targeted by Alabama and Georgia out of high school, will take over as the primary back. Whaley showed his ability in 2016 as a freshman running for over 600 yards and 5.5 yards per carry serving as the backup to Williams. He does fit the mold of your prototypical Arkansas workhorse back, but he must show improvement in pass protection.
Arkansas also experienced a major change on the other side of the ball as Defensive Coordinator Robb Smith left for Minnesota. Arkansas filled the opening by promoting Paul Rhodes from Secondary Coach, despite the struggles of that unit in 2016. Rhodes will implement a scheme change as the Razorbacks base defense will move from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Teams generally make this switch to improve their run defense which makes sense here considering Arkansas allowed an FBS worst 39 rushing touchdowns.
Arkansas also brought in John Scott Jr. as the new Defensive Line Coach. Scott Jr. was fired as the New York Jets D Line Coach after his unit had the worst Adjusted Sack Rate in the NFL in 2016 (running a 4-3). We will see if Rhodes and Scott can construct a front 7 from a group of recruits who have never played in a 3-4 defense. A lot can go wrong with new defensive coaches trying to implement a new defensive scheme, but the good news is it can't get much worse than last year.
Expected Win Totals
CW Projected Total Wins: 6.8
CW Projected SEC Wins: 3.3
Posted Total Wins: O 7 +120
Home Field Advantage: 2.0
Opening Power Rating: 53.5
|Aug 31||Florida A&M||Arkansas||-51|
|Sep 23||Arkansas||Texas A&M||-1.5|
|Sep 30||New Mexico St.||Arkansas||-24|
|Oct 7||Arkansas||South Carolina||-3.5|
|Oct 28||Arkansas||Ole Miss||1|
|Nov 4||Coastal Carolina||Arkansas||-21|
|Nov 18||Mississippi St.||Arkansas||-5.5|
|Legend: After bye week / Overlook Watch / B2B road games / Neutral site|
The opening season win total for Arkansas was 7 juiced -110 in either direction, but most shops have since moved it to U 7 -140 or O 6.5 -130 after money poured in on the under. My projections have Arkansas at 6.8 wins which is consistent with many 7-5 Arkansas forecasts I have seen. I can't justify an over position on my alma mater (even at 6.5) given the number of depth issues, coaching turnover, and scheme changes.
On a more positive note, Arkansas has a few hidden scheduling advantages this season. They only play 4 true SEC road games since their week 3 matchup against Texas A&M will be played in Arlington. Arkansas also gets 4 SEC opponents the week following a matchup with either Alabama or LSU (Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State). The Hogs have a very favorable situational schedule on paper as they could potentially catch a number of teams flat.
One of these favorable spots will pop up November 11 as Arkansas travels to face LSU the week after the Tigers play at Alabama. Conversely, Arkansas should be very fresh after b2b relatively easy weeks (Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina) and focused to avenge a 28 point whipping LSU put on them in Fayateville last year. Look to hit the Game of the Year line of Arkansas +14 or better.
Arkansas is 0-5 the last 5 years against Texas A&M with the last 3 all being played in Arlington (2 of which went to OT). The good news is Arkansas has a bye the week before so maybe this is the year Bret Beilema finally beats Kevin Sumlin. However, I would still look at Texas A&M at anything under -7. The Hogs have lost 5 straight to the Aggies by an average margin of 19 and all by at least a touchdown.
Dre Greenlaw (LB) - The leading tackler for Arkansas in 2016 suffered a foot injury against Alabama six games into the season and the defense was never the same against the run. Greenlaw’s presence is paramount to the success of the new 3-4 defense being implemented by Bielema and new Defensive Coordinator Paul Rhodes. The effects of the injury are keeping Greenlaw’s workload light this August, but make sure he is healthy before investing in Arkansas in 2017.
David Williams (RB) - With Rawleigh Williams III retiring in the spring due to injury, David Williams will backup Devwah Whaley in the backfield. The graduate transfer from South Carolina will get ample opportunities to carry the ball and protect Austin Allen especially if Whaley struggles picking up blitzes. Williams is also already showing leadership early in camp with his play and demeanor in front of numerous freshman and JUCO transfers at the Hog skill positions.
Hogs are 6-1 ATS after a bye week since 2014 which applies September 23 against Texas A&M
It all goes right if…
Center Frank Ragnow can get consistent offensive line on each side starting with both tackle spots. The development of Brian Wallace and Colton Jacson will be absolutely critical for the Arkansas offense. Expectations for Austin Allen were low 12 months ago after Brandon Allen never put it all together in 3 seasons, but Allen was absolutely brilliant in 2016 despite facing constant pressure. If the offensive line comes together, Austin Allen will create havoc on opposing defenses all year long.
It all goes wrong if…
Nothing will go right this season if the defense does not return to A, B, and C gap dominance. If Arkansas can't find defensive linemen who can effectively play in their new 3-4 scheme, then there will not be much improvement from the 2016 rush defense that allowed an appalling 6.1 yards per carry (only Cal and Nevada were worse).
Arkansas +16 at LSU (5Dimes)
Texas A&M -6.5 in Arlington
If you like parlays and want some action on the Mayweather/McGregor fight, consider Arkansas -1050 on 5Dimes to NOT make a New Years Six Bowl parlayed with Floyd for free money.
For more, check out the full SEC Conference Preview.