Coach: Bret Bielema (10-15, entering third season; 78-39 overall)
2014 record: 7-6 overall, 2-6 Southeastern Conference; seventh in Western Division
Look back: After a bumpy 3-9 debut season under coach Bret Bielema, Arkansas made major strides in 2014. The former Wisconsin coach again leaned on an aggressive rushing attack and stout defense to rumble to a winning record and bowl bid.
The team made the most of its nonconference opportunities and scored big league wins over then-No. 17 LSU and then-No. 8 Ole Miss, but the Razorbacks still struggled to win consistently in the SEC. The team came close to upsetting then-No. 6 Texas A&M (35-28 loss in overtime), then-No. 7 Alabama (14-13 loss), then-No. 1 Mississippi State (17-10 loss) and then-No. 17 Missouri (21-14 loss), but the Razorbacks couldn’t come up with big plays in crunch time.
Arkansas closed the year with a 31-7 victory over Texas in the Advocare Bowl, easily winning what many figured would be a low-scoring defensive battle between two teams relying on toughness during rebuilding periods.
Offensive starters returning: 9
Offensive starters lost: 2
Defensive starters returning: 5
Defensive starters lost: 6
Key losses: OL Brey Cook, TE AJ Derby, DL Darius Philon, DL Trey Flowers, LB Braylon Mitchell, LB Martrell Spaight, DB Alan Turner
Top returnees: QB Brandon Allen, OL Dan Skipper, OL Sebastian Tretola, OL Mitch Smothers, OL Denver Kirkland, RB Jonathan Williams, TE Hunter Henry, WR Keon Hatcher, WR Cody Hollister, DL JaMichael Winston, DL Taiwan Johnson, LB Brooks Ellis, DB Jared Collins, DB D.J. Dean, DB Rohan Gaines
Strengths: The Razorbacks return nine starters on offense, including the dynamic rushing duo of starter Jonathan Williams and backup Alex Collins. They are both coming off 1,000-yard rushing seasons, with Williams amassing 1,190 yards and 12 touchdowns and Collins adding 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns.
They will continue to get a big lift from a front line that only loses offensive lineman Brey Cook. Arkansas ranked No. 24 nationally in rushing offense (218 yards per game) and No. 11 in fewest sacks allowed per game (1.08) thanks to the strong front line.
The defense loses many key playmakers, but it’s hard to imagine a Bielema-led team will take a major step back. The defense ranked No. 10 nationally in total defense (323.4 yards allowed per game) while competing in the might SEC West.
Weaknesses: Arkansas would never be confused with a passing team, but the Razorbacks still need quarterback Brandon Allen to force opponents to respect the pass in order to open up quality rushing lanes. The Razorbacks ranked No. 100 nationally in passing offense (188 yards per game) and No. 65 in pass efficiency (128.58).
The team losses a significant chunk of its defensive starters from last season, including leading tackler Martrell Spaight and sacks leader Trey Flowers. Without Darius Philon and Flowers anchoring the defensive line, it may be hard to match the Arkansas’ impressive No. 15 national ranking in third-down conversion defense.
Outlook: While the offense should continue to improve and control the clock, Arkansas will need six new starters on defense to adapt quickly if the Razorbacks expect to move up the brutal SEC West standings. Bielema should be able to steer his team to another bowl appearance, but it will likely take more time to become a conference division title contender.
Sept. 5 UTEP
Sept. 12 Toledo (in Little Rock, Ark.)
Sept. 19 Texas Tech
Sept. 26 Texas A&M (in Arlington, Texas)
Oct. 3 at Tennessee
Oct. 10 at Alabama
Oct. 24 Auburn
Oct. 31 UT-Martin
Nov. 7 at Ole Miss
Nov. 14 at LSU
Nov. 21 Mississippi State
Nov. 27 Missouri
College Football / College Basketball Handicapper. 2011 won 74%, 2012 won 72% 2015 SPECIAL. CALL, 877.WIN.ATS9 EMAIL,V@VincentRizzoSports.com