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.