Latest Phil Steele All-SEC Teams Are a Joke as Far as Hogs Concerned

Sam Pittman, Phil Steele, Arkansas football

To say the Arkansas football team is in a rough spot right now is a bit of an understatement. Everyone knows it, certainly. But the urgency with which the Razorbacks need a turnaround is a topic that needs more discussion.

The Razorbacks, heading into coach Sam Pittman’s fifth year, are coming off a 4-8 season in which they won exactly one SEC game. Such a record would be jarring if it weren’t so common over the course of the last decade. As the commenters – those who actually read this, but they’ll sure enough comment on the headline – often remark, “Always so negative! Focus on the future!”

Well, the future is pointed toward by the summer release of college football preview magazines. Yes, they’re still a thing. And yes, the best of which is Phil Steele’s. The longtime publisher/prognosticator revealed his preseason All-SEC teams with the recent release of his magazine. He named four All-SEC teams – first through fourth – with each team composed of 29 different position players. Take a wild guess at how many of those 116 players represent Arkansas?

Four. 

That’s a joke. And not a joke by Phil Steele. Arkansas is not talentless, but in a rapidly evolving college-football landscape, teams that lack talent compared to their brethren who are going to be favored to make the expanded playoffs’ “elite eight” according to the Best US sportsbooks will be left behind even faster than before.

The Threat of Being Left Behind

The Big Ten and Big 12 each decided it didn’t need, didn’t want Washington State and Oregon State anymore when it folded in most of the rest of the Pac-12. The Cougars and Beavers didn’t bring enough to the table to be considered big enough prizes. Consequently, Wazzu and OSU are left to the second tier of college sports in the Mountain West. 

It isn’t unreasonable to think Arkansas could find itself in such a position someday sooner rather than later. Sure, the Razorbacks remain financially appealing to the SEC with multiple Fortune 500 companies within 30 miles of campus. But what good is that money when it isn’t showing itself through the school’s athletic department? If you don’t have a tie to the state, you don’t care. In football, the Hogs have little national identity and are located in a state that, too, is being left far behind.

The Razorbacks are not tied to this fate. In fact, in that ever-changing landscape, who knows how much longer the NCAA will even exist as we know it. But even what is foreseen would likely not leave Arkansas in a good position.

What is now the FBS and FCS could turn into the Elite, The Next-Level and The Third Tier. Is that a world in which Arkansas makes that top level? And even if it did, on what planet would it be feasible to think the Razorbacks could compete?

Not a Pretty Picture for Arkansas Football

The Hogs don’t need to just win this year, though they do need that. Sam Pittman needs that. Hunter Yurachek may even need that. But for the long-term health of the athletic department, the Arkansas football team must find a way to get back to winning regularity after a decade-plus wandering the wilderness. They must become something more than the laughingstock of the SEC. As a reminder, the Hogs have just as many seasons in which they won two SEC games or fewer as they do bowl-game appearances in that time span. 

Folks, it takes a .500 record to make a bowl game. The total number of winning SEC seasons since Bobby Petrino took over the program from Houston Nutt in 2008 is three. Breathe that in deeply. Arkansas has finished better than 4-4 exactly three times in the last 16 seasons. 

Three out of 16. Or, if fractions bring home the point any further, 3/16. A joke, indeed.

Wins come via talent. Arkansas has a dearth of it again in 2024. Even if the Razorbacks meet the very low bar of .500, no one with a brain is picking Arkansas for more than a 7-5 record. Heck, no one with a brain is even picking a 7-5 record. Hard-pressed it will be to find a majority of even Arkansas faithful who have the Hogs going 6-6. 

More Phil Steele

Bonus points to you if you can guess the four players Steele named to preseason All-SEC teams. And, no, it doesn’t count if you already looked. For the record, they are defensive end Landon Jackson, kick returner (not wide receiver) Isaiah Sategna, guard Joshua Braun and wide receiver Andrew Armstrong. 

So, one of the four players is a guy who might touch the ball twice in a game – on a good day – and another is an offensive lineman on a group that gave up the most sacks in the SEC last year. 

Talent can come in quantity and quality, as it does at places like Georgia or Alabama. The Bulldogs and Crimson Tide have 12 players listed on the four All-SEC teams by Steele. Six of UGA’s and four of Bama’s are on the first team, totals Arkansas has never come close to achieving.

Going over the data from the last decade of Steele’s preseason selections, the best year for the Hogs numbers-wise was in 2021, when Arkansas had eight players named to a team. That year Treylon Burks, Jalen Catalon and Grant Morgan were all on the first team. It’s not a coincidence the Hogs finished 9-4 that year, the team’s best record since 2011.

The math is simple. The more higher-end players on the roster, the better team is likely to be. Consider the below data, with the season winning percentage for the following fall in boldface after the number of preseason All-SEC players listed by Phil Steele:

  • 2023: Six preseason players (one 1st team, four 2nd, two 4th); 33.3% games won
  • 2022: Seven players (three 1st, one 3rd, three 4th); 53.8%
  • 2021: Eight players (three 1st, one 2nd, two 3rd, two 4th); 69.2%
  • 2020: Six players (zero 1st, one 2nd, one 3rd, four 4th); 30% vs only SEC teams
  • 2019: Data not immediately available; 16.7%
  • 2018: Nine players (one 1st, three 2nd, two 3rd, three 4th); 16.7%
  • 2017: Four players (two 1st, two 3rd [no 4th team listed]); 33.3%

What it Means for Arkansas Football

Talent is hardly the end-all, be-all, though. The 2018 team is an outlier. Of course, we all know who coached that team, too, don’t we? Talent is required, but just because it’s there isn’t a guarantee for success.

Look at last year’s Hogs team. Rocket Sanders was a first-teamer at running back and KJ Jefferson (quarterback), Chris Paul Jr. (linebacker) and Dwight McGlothern (cornerback) were second-team selections. Sanders was hobbled early and never found his form and Jefferson was too beat up by a porous offensive line to ever be as effective as that second-team selection suggested. All of those players have since left the program – a detriment, even if they didn’t live up expectations.

Arkansas’ four selections this year are the fewest the team has had in at least the last decade (our cut-off for the purposes of looking through the archives). The good news for the Razorbacks is that they don’t have the lowest total. Mississippi State and Vanderbilt have one player apiece, both of whom are on the fourth team. Even outside individual players, Steele doesn’t think highly of the positional units themselves. Arkansas’ best non-special teams group is ranked 11th out of the 16 teams (quarterback, defensive line and secondary each hold that ranking).

It’s nary a surprise, then, that Steele has Arkansas tabbed to finish 14th in the new-look SEC. Wins against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Alabama-Birmingham and Louisiana Tech are all but guaranteed (we lived through the Chad Morris era, so prefacing “guaranteed” with “all but” is necessary). After that? Mississippi State, maybe? Then who? Every other game will see Arkansas not only as an underdog in the betting lines, but also from regular ol’ analysts and journalists. 

The past suggests little will change in the long-term. But, based on the rate of change college athletics is currently undergoing, Arkansas’ timetable is running short. Big changes are needed in Fayetteville. Will they come or will Fayetteville eventually find itself treated like a Corvallis or Pullman?

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Arkansas Football Players on Phil Steele’s All-SEC Teams

2023

Rocket Sanders – 1st

KJ Jefferson, Beaux Limmer, Chris Paul Jr., Dwight McGlothern – 2nd

Cam Little, Trajan Jeffcoat – 4th

2022

Jalen Catalon, Bumper Pool, Ricky Stromberg – 1st

Little – 3rd

Jadon Haselwood, Limmer, Isaiah Nichols, 4th

2021

Treylon Burks, Catalon, Grant Morgan – 1st

Pool – 2nd

Myron Cunningham, Jordan Silver – 3rd

Trelon Smith, Stromberg – 4th

2020

Rakeem Boyd – 2nd

Burks – 3rd

Ty Clary, Pool, De’vion Warren, Silver – 4th

2018

Hjalte Froholdt – 1st

Brian Wallace, Scoota Harris, Warren – 2nd

McTelvin Agim, Santos Ramirez – 3rd

Devwah Whaley, Randy Ramsey, Dre Greenlaw – 4th

Now, for a more optimistic take:

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