With less than two weeks left before Week 1 of the Arkansas football season, it’s time to start previewing the upcoming season and sharing some of those fearless predictions about how the Razorbacks will fare this fall.
Without further ado, here are 10 fearless Arkansas football predictions regarding the 2021 college football season:
1. A Strong Performance Against Texas Will Set The Tone
While I am not predicting Arkansas to upset Texas in Week 2, I do expect the old Texas vs Arkansas rivalry matchup with the Longhorns will prove to be significant for the Razorbacks. I anticipate Texas will ultimately leave Fayetteville with a victory, but not without receiving a fight from Arkansas.
This marquee matchup will be the Razorbacks’ first true test of the season, and I expect the Hogs to display a toughness and fight that will set the tone for the remainder of the season. Even if the Longhorns leave with a win, expect the Arkansas program to take a step in the right direction against its old rival.
2. QB KJ Jefferson Will Complete At Least 65% Of His Passes
One of the main questions surrounding Arkansas’ first-year starting quarterback KJ Jefferson—well, aside from whether he’s at his target weight—is how accurate the signal-caller can be as a passer. Last year, the dual-threat quarterback completed 47.2 percent of his passes, which was quite the drop-off from starter Feleipe Franks, who completed 68.5 percent of his passes to break the completion percentage record Kevin Scanlon (66.2%) set four decades prior.
Although Jefferson completed just 54.5% of his passes in his lone start—a game in which the Hogs scored a season-high 48 points and lost at Missouri—expect him to take a big step forward and reach the 65% offensive coordinator Kendal Briles has set as a goal for him.
3. The Offense Will Be Better On Third Down
All right, so you might be thinking, ‘Well, darn, they were 103rd in the nation last year, their third-down conversion percentage better improve this year!’ … But after seeing the team convert on just 33.82% of its third downs last season, Razorbacks fans should curb their expectations for just how improved the offense might be on third down.
Even if they aren’t automatic, though, I expect the offense to be better in crucial have-to-have-it scenarios with a full stable of running backs and Jefferson offering another running threat.
4. The Offense Will Rush For At Least 2,000 Yards
Expect the Arkansas offense to finish with at least 2,000 rushing yards for the first time since 2017, when the backfield was anchored by David Williams and Devwah Whaley. It’s no secret that head coach Sam Pittman is an O-Line coach by trade and that he has focused on rebuilding the front five into a prominent unit for the team.
Even though the reports indicate there are still position battles taking place at practice, Arkansas brings back all five of last year’s starters, meaning the position group is one of the more experienced on the team. With Trelon Smith battling injuries as of late, expect Raheim “Rocket” Sanders (already slotted in as the No. 2 running back) to receive touches early.
The rushing attack should be much more reliable as the season progresses, however, and expect the offense to total 2,000 rushing yards once again.
5. Treylon Burks Will Be An All-American
This may be the least-bold of these fearless predictions, but how can anybody not be excited about the Arkansas wideout? Treylon Burks caught the attention of the rest of the SEC after hauling in 51 receptions for 820 yards and seven touchdowns last year.
This year, I’m expecting him to take another step to garner the national spotlight of one of the nation’s top pass-catchers. With No. 2 wide receiver Mike Woods bolting for Oklahoma as a transfer, the Razorbacks will need Burks to lead the offense.
Thankfully for the Hogs, I expect him to answer the call.
6. The Defense Will Maintain Its Reputation As Turnover Creators
One of the bright spots surrounding the 2020 season was the defense’s ability to create turnovers. Arkansas ranked third in the SEC after coming up with 1.8 turnovers per game and finished tied for second in the conference with 13 interceptions.
Defensive backs Jalen Catalon and Hudson Clark led the way with three apiece, as they’ll serve as a couple ballhawks on this year’s defense, which returns the bulk of its starters from last year’s unit. With so many familiar faces back on defense, expect the Arkansas football team to continue to take the ball away from opposing offenses.
7. Trio Of Defensive Line Transfers Will Make A Difference
The Razorbacks added a pair of former Missouri starters in Markell Utsey and Tre Williams, both incoming transfers, as well as a highly-touted FCS grad transfer John Ridgeway from Illinois State. All three should be difference-makers for the Razorbacks, particularly Utsey and Williams, both of whom have experience starting in the SEC and are familiar with defensive coordinator Barry Odom, Mizzou’s former head coach.
With defensive tackle Jonathan Marshall gone to the NFL, it was clear Odom put an emphasis on shoring up the defensive line for the upcoming season. Expect the three newcomers to help bolster the unit.
8. Grant Morgan & Bumper Pool Will Be The SEC’s Top Linebackers Tandem
OK, OK, bear with me.
I know just how much talent the SEC has had at the linebacker position over the years, but you don’t have to look much farther than Fayetteville to find one of the best duos in the nation in Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool.
The two linebackers each surpassed the 100 tackles mark a year ago, with Pool finishing with 101 and Morgan tallying 111. Opposing offenses should be frightened about how Odom will utilize the pair after having a full offseason of preparation. Expect Morgan and Pool to not only anchor the Razorbacks defense, but to receive lots of praise in the process, too.
9. The Golden Boot Will Return To Arkansas
That’s right. After coming up oh-so-short in the 2020 rivalry game, Arkansas will knock off LSU for the first time since 2015 to reclaim the Golden Boot when the rivals meet on Nov. 13 in Baton Rouge.
There were positives the Razorbacks can take away from last year’s meeting—for starters, they outgained the Tigers in total yards (443 to 419) and passing yards (339 to 271). However, the 2020 matchup against LSU also showed just how bad the Razorbacks were in critical situations—they went 0 for 10 on third down.
With improved efficiency on the offensive side of the ball, 2021 will be the year Arkansas returns to the win column against LSU.
10. Shine Your Shoes… Arkansas Is Going Bowling
Following last year’s 3-7 record, most pundits seem to expect Arkansas will finish right around .500, with 5-7 and 6-6 being two records that have routinely been tossed around.
I’m a little more optimistic about what the Razorbacks can achieve in Year 2 of the Pittman era. With so much talent returning on defense, I expect the defense to carry the water the first couple weeks while the offense finds its footing with Jefferson at the helm.
Unlike last year when the team went 0-4 in its last four, expect the Hogs to finish this season much stronger and clinch a bowl appearance after finishing the final month 3-1—with victories over Mississippi State, LSU and Mizzou and the lone loss coming at Alabama on Nov. 20.
See the latest on the Arkansas football team here: