Don’t be expecting answers this week as Arkansas finishes fall practice.
Normally, you’d say they would be getting ready for the season opener, but, let’s face it, if the Razorbacks aren’t ahead of Florida A&M by at least 35 points at halftime, there’s a problem.
No, we won’t get any answers until sometime around 6:30 or so on Sept. 9. The game against the Rattlers won’t provide many.
Yes, the Hogs will probably look really good. They better. It’s highly doubtful the competition will be as good as what they see in practice every day. At least it better not be.
Don’t be misled by the coaches, who talk about players “practicing hard” or “going faster” or “getting better.” Every team is saying the same things this time of the year.
This isn’t a prediction column by any stretch. That will come next week.
To be honest, there’s cases to be made for this team finishing anywhere from 5-7 to 9-3. It all depends on the answers to the questions.
For starters, everyone is putting quarterback Austin Allen into the running for the top quarterback in the SEC. He may be.
The problem is a quarterback in an offense like Arkansas has will only be as good as (A) his offensive line allows and, (B) his receivers make him.
Oh, everybody likes to talk about the Bret Bielema “identity” of a power running game. That’s ancient history, folks. Arkansas is now a power running program.
The only time they’ve resembled that is 2005-07. They had an offensive line full of future NFL prospects, Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and Peyton Hillis at running back and just enough receivers in the mix to keep things slightly honest.
In fairness, though, with those three keeping anybody honest was something you’d like to have, but didn’t worry about a whole lot.
No, the Hogs are a team that has success with an offense that has a gimmick or two. Like in the Bobby Petrino era, there were so many people out on routes if the quarterback could hang in there long enough SOMEBODY was going to be open.
And, when in doubt, the receivers were good enough to simply make a play.
Bielema is a smart guy. He’s aware the last coach in the league that was stubborn about sticking with trying to have an “identity” of power running got fired last year down in Baton Rouge.
Even Nick Saban at Alabama has admittedly opened things up. Reports out of Tuscaloosa are there won’t be a lot of change from the past three seasons in the offensive direction.
They will be more up-tempo, passing and letting quarterback Jalen Hurts make plays with his legs. They want to improve the downfield passing attack, which is what Saban has harped on constantly since losing to Clemson last year.
“That’s what the kids want to play so that’s what I figured we had to switch to,” Saban said during an interview on the SEC Network when he was asked about the offensive change. “I went with quarterbacks who could also make plays with their legs and not just their arm.”
It’s the way college football has evolved. All four teams last year in the playoff were spread teams with dual threat quarterbacks. Don’t even think about the Crimson Tide as being a pro-style offense anymore.
That doesn’t mean the running game goes away. It’s as important as ever.
It’s about creating space. Auburn will be a running team, but they aren’t going to just huddle up, line up and try to get four yards a play.
Nobody can do that anymore. Everybody in the SEC has a few good players, even Vanderbilt.
The guess here is the best anybody will ever be able to do running one of those ground-and-pound offenses in the SEC is seven or eight wins in a season … with a few good breaks and occasionally catching a team on a down week.
That is why I think the biggest question the Hogs will face is finding wide receivers and tight ends who can make plays.
They are going to have to score a lot of points to win games this year, in my opinion. Going to a 3-4 only puts more of the weakest players on the roster on the field at the same time.
That is, unless the answer to the next biggest question is different than I’m guessing.
Yep, the linebackers. In the SEC, the team with the best linebackers tends to win more games. It used to be the lines, but lately it’s been linebackers.
It’s how the game has changed.
Have there been some good things in fall camp? Absolutely.
The Hogs will be better this year. Of that, there is absolutely no doubt.
But the reason what last year’s record was makes zero difference in teams this year is because everybody got better.
Arkansas isn’t the only place with spring practice, scholarship players, a couple of talented walk-ons and a good strength coach.
So do 13 other teams in the league.
Which is why there really are more questions than answers everywhere.
Finding the answers is what makes the season fun.