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2016 SEC Preview: Arkansas looking to reload for new season

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Another bowl appearance may be the best the Razorbacks can hope for in 2016.

AutoZone Liberty Bowl - Arkansas v Kansas State Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Since head coach Bret Bielema took over at Arkansas in 2013, the Hogs have seen their win total increase every season. After one year at the bottom of the SEC, Bielema guided the Razorbacks to back-to-back winning seasons. The key in the last two seasons for Arkansas has been finishing strong, defeating both LSU and Ole Miss in November before winning bowl games over Texas (2013) and Kansas State (2014). Their miracle win over Ole Miss in Oxford this past season opened the door for Alabama to win the SEC West and ultimately the College Football Playoff against Clemson.

Arkansas’ main problem for this season will be trying to replace the offensive firepower that will be playing on Sundays this fall. TE Hunter Henry, RBs Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins, guard Sebastian Tretola and QB Brandon Allen were all drafted last April. Surprisingly, those five picks put Arkansas up to fourteen players drafted since 2014, trailing only Alabama, LSU, and Florida for players drafted out of the SEC. The Hogs only return three starters from last season: WR Drew Morgan, center Frank Ragnow, and senior tackle Dan Skipper. Skipper is looking to build off of last years’ All-SEC performance as he is currently on the Outland Trophy watch list. Brandon Allen’s brother, junior Austin Allen, is expected to be the starting QB. Allen will have last season’s leading WR, Drew Morgan, to throw to, with returning seniors Keon Hatcher (injured in week two last year) and deep threat Dominique Reed rounding out the WR core. Senior RB Kody Walker will be the lead back. Walker put up just shy of 400 yards rushing and six TDs before suffering a season-ending injury in the ninth game of the year in 2015.

On the other side of the ball, the Razorbacks should be fine. Returning nine starters, the Hogs should be able to replicate last season’s run defense, ranked 12th nationally, but they must improve on the pass defense (116th last season). If Arkansas can reload the offense while improving the pass defense, they will increase their chances to make a bowl game.

The Schedule

Arkansas will kick-off the 2016 season at home vs. Louisiana Tech before traveling to Fort Worth to take on #14 TCU. After playing Texas State, the Hogs will kick off their SEC schedule vs Texas A&M in Dallas, followed by Alabama and Ole Miss at home before traveling to Auburn. They will then welcome in Florida and LSU before ending the season on the road at Mississippi State and at Missouri.

Last Season

Arkansas ended last season finishing 8-5 and 5-3 in the SEC, which was good enough for third in the West. The Hogs’ season could have been much better had they avoided early home defeats to Toledo and Texas Tech. Following the defeat to Tech, the Razorbacks dropped an overtime game to Texas A&M before upsetting Tennessee in Knoxville. Arkansas would win six of their last eight to finish 7-5, with their only losses in Tuscaloosa (after leading the Tide at the half) and a 51-50 shootout to Mississippi State.

Prognosis

The Hogs will need to get off to a winning start vs. Louisiana Tech. If not, they could be looking at 0-2 after traveling to TCU. However, they should beat Texas State and Alcorn State to wrap up the out-of-conference portion of the schedule before a series of challenging SEC West foes to start their league slate. With the lack of experience on offense, coupled with a very tough schedule, it would be counted a success for the Hogs if they advance to their third straight bowl game.