It is officially game week for Arkansas football.
The offseason will finally come to an end Saturday when the No. 19 Razorbacks welcome No. 23 Cincinnati to Reynolds Razorback Stadium for both teams’ openers.
That means it’s time to lock in predictions for the season. Without further ado, here’s how Best of Arkansas Sports managing editor Andrew Hutchinson sees 2022 playing out for Arkansas football…
Arkansas Football Season Predictions
Sept. 3 — vs. Cincinnati — W, 34-21
For the first time since 1980, a top-25 showdown kicks off the Arkansas football schedule. Cincinnati hasn’t lost a non-bowl game since 2019 and has won 29 of its last 30 regular-season games, but it is not the same team that reached the College Football Playoff last year. Although Luke Fickell is still a really good coach and they’ll be pretty good this year, I think Arkansas is better. Don’t be surprised if the Bearcats hang around, but I see the Razorbacks controlling the game for most of four quarters and winning by two scores.
Sept. 10 — vs. South Carolina — W, 38-35
The Arkansas football schedule is littered with “trap games” that could prove more difficult than some fans expect and none scare me quite as much as the Week 2 matchup against South Carolina. Coming off what I believe will be a convincing win over Cincinnati, Arkansas can’t lose focus the following week because Spencer Rattler and the Gamecocks come to town. After going 7-6 in its first season under Shane Beamer, a career position coach, South Carolina is giving me very similar Sam Pittman/2021 Arkansas vibes. I could see this game going either way, but with this being the Gamecocks’ first real test after opening against Georgia State and it being in Fayetteville, I give the Razorbacks a slight edge.
Sept. 17 — vs. Missouri State — W, 45-17
It will be interesting to see what kind of reception Bobby Petrino gets when he returns to Reynolds Razorback Stadium as Missouri State’s head coach. What I feel strongly about, though, is that he’ll really want to beat his former team and will throw the kitchen sink at the Razorbacks to do so. Petrino has a star quarterback and a top-five team in the FCS, so it won’t be a pushover like UAPB last season. If Chad Morris was still the head coach, I’d probably pick the Bears — maybe by two scores. Alas, Pittman is in his third season and the Hogs are rolling. Missouri State may keep it close for a quarter or so, but I can’t see Arkansas slipping up against an FCS foe.
Sept. 24 — *vs. Texas A&M — W, 23-18
For the better part of a decade, Arkansas found creative, heartbreaking ways to lose to Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium. It got to a point where I refused to pick the Razorbacks to win the game until they proved they could do it. Well, that happened last year. Even with KJ Jefferson going down and missing some time with an injury, Arkansas pulled out a 20-10 win over the Aggies and former Arkansas team captain Jerry Jones was finally able to give the Southwest Classic Trophy to his alma mater. Now that they’ve snapped that losing streak, I think the Razorbacks starting a winning streak of their own in another ugly win in Arlington.
Oct. 1 — vs. Alabama — L, 41-34
If things unfold as I predict, the hype surrounding this game will be unlike any we’ve seen in Fayetteville in a long, long time. The Razorbacks would be 4-0 and at least a top-10 team, if not higher. Barring a slip up against Texas (LOL), Alabama will be 4-0 and ranked No. 1. College GameDay would most likely return to Arkansas for the first time since 2006, when Darren McFadden ran wild against Tennessee. As much as I want to pick the Razorbacks to finally beat the Crimson Tide (it has to happen eventually, right?), I just can’t bring myself to do it until they prove they can. Plus, with arguably the best offensive player (Bryce Young) and defensive player (Will Anderson) in the country, I think this Alabama team could give Nick Saban just his third undefeated national title.
Oct. 8 — at Mississippi State — L, 45-42
Sam Pittman is undefeated against Mike Leach, but both games have been extremely close. Two years ago, Arkansas needed two fourth-down stops inside the 15-yard line in the fourth quarter to preserve a 21-14 win. Last year, the Razorbacks benefitted from three missed field goals — including one as time expired — in a 31-28 win. This year, Mississippi State is in its third season under Leach and Will Rogers is an excellent quarterback. I see this being a shootout much like last year’s Ole Miss game and this time, Arkansas’ luck runs out.
Oct. 15 — at BYU — W, 28-17
This seems to be the trendy “upset” pick for outside media. I’d be lying if I said I felt confident about the Razorbacks winning this one — after all, BYU is a really good team — but I just see them righting the ship after back-to-back tough losses and avoiding a three-game losing streak. That said, if Arkansas does manage to beat Mississippi State the week before, I think this turns into a loss. Over the last 16 seasons, the Cougars have won at least seven games 15 times and reached double-digit wins seven times, including each of the last two years. Throw in the altitude (only 400 feet lower in elevation than Colorado State’s stadium) and the fact it’s part of a brutal stretch just before an open date, it’s a very tricky game for the Razorbacks.
Oct. 29 — at Auburn — W, 41-13
You don’t need me to remind you what happened the last time Arkansas visited Auburn. Last year, the Razorbacks hosted the Tigers at the tail end of a murder’s row, having already played Texas A&M, Georgia and Ole Miss away from home the previous three weeks and turned in probably their flattest performance of the season. This year, Arkansas gets Auburn after an open date and those two games should provide plenty of motivation for Pittman’s squad. Considering you never know what kind of calls you’ll get in Auburn, the Razorbacks probably need to take the game out of the officials’ hands and beat the Tigers soundly — which is just what I’m predicting to happen. It may be such an embarrassing loss that Bryan Harsin doesn’t make it through the weekend with a job.
Nov. 5 — vs. Liberty — W, 49-14
Outside of the FCS matchup earlier in the season, this is probably Arkansas’ easiest game on the schedule. That said, the Flames are still coached by Hugh Freeze and have Charlie Brewer, who has more than 10,000 career passing yards at the Power Five level, at quarterback. That could make this a competitive game, but I think the Razorbacks will still be riding high from their win over Auburn and they cruise to another easy win.
Nov. 12 — vs. LSU — L, 21-17
LSU is probably going to have some growing pains under new head coach Brian Kelly, but it is still an immensely talented team and will probably knock off a team or two it probably shouldn’t this season. Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, I think they make sense as one of the Tigers’ victims. After all, LSU wasn’t particularly good last year and Arkansas needed a busted coverage to score its lone touchdown and then won 16-13 in overtime. This seems like a payback game for the Tigers, who I have coming out on top in a defensive slugfest.
Nov. 19 — vs. Ole Miss — W, 42-35
This is probably the most underrated rivalry in all of college football, but more so because of the wild stuff that happens on the field than how the two teams and fan bases feel about each other. From seven overtime games to massive comebacks and last-second scores to insane lateral plays, Arkansas-Ole Miss never disappoints from an entertainment standpoint…so why expect any different in 2022? This will be another shootout that features something crazy — Malik Hornsby throwing a touchdown to KJ Jefferson? A blocked punt for a touchdown? An onside kick attempt returned for a score? — with Arkansas coming out on top.
Nov. 25 — at Missouri — W, 35-14
Crazy, but true: Arkansas has never won in Columbia, Mo. Sure, part of that is because the manufactured “Battle Line Rivaly” has only existed for a few years, but the Razorbacks have lost each of their four games at Faurot Field since the Tigers joined the SEC — despite holding a fourth-quarter lead in three of them. That includes two years ago, when KJ Jefferson burst onto the scene with a huge performance that included what seemed to be the game-winning touchdown and two-point conversion with 43 seconds left. The Tigers ended up kicking a field goal as time expired to win 50-48 that year, but I think the defense shows up this year and Arkansas wins comfortably to cap a nine-win regular season.
If the Razorbacks win nine games as predicted above, it would be their best regular season since 2011, when they went 10-2 before winning the Cotton Bowl. Using our projected scores, Arkansas would average 35.7 points while allowing 24.3 per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, that would be another significant uptick in scoring. After back-to-back seasons averaging just under 22 points (21.7 in 2018 and 21.4 in 2019), Arkansas put up 25.7 points per game in Kendal Briles’ first season as offensive coordinator and 30.9 points in his second season last year.
Defensively, giving up 24.3 points per game would be a slight step back from last season, when the Razorbacks allowed an average of 22.9 points. However, that would be pretty solid considering the schedule is significantly tougher. It would also mark the first time Arkansas allowed fewer than 25 points per game in back-to-back seasons since 2010 and 2011.
Arkansas Football Offensive Prediction
A different player leads each of the three major receiving statistics
One reason for Arkansas’ success last season was Treylon Burks. Arguably the greatest wide receiver in UA history, he led the Razorbacks in receptions, receiving yards and touchdown catches each of the last two seasons.
With him gone to the NFL, some have speculated about who will be Burks’ replacement in the passing game. As cliche as it sounds, that will likely be accomplished by committee — something Sam Pittman himself has repeated multiple times this offseason.
I’ll take it a step further: The production will be distributed enough that three different players will lead each of the main receiving categories. Pinning down exactly who those players are is a bit more difficult, but I’ll give it a shot.
Wide receiver Jadon Haselwood and tight end Trey Knox feel like they’ll be KJ Jefferson’s safety blanket this season and either one of them could lead in receptions or touchdown catches. For the sake of this piece, I’ll go with Haselwood for receptions and Knox for touchdowns.
Those guys will have a lot of yards, but wide receivers Matt Landers and Warren Thompson are big-play threats capable of taking the top off of opposing defenses. For that reason, I think one of them will lead the team in receiving yards — with Landers being my official pick.
Arkansas Football Defensive Prediction
Drew Sanders racks up double-digit sacks
Just how important I believe Drew Sanders is to Arkansas’ defense isn’t really a secret, as I recently tabbed him the fifth-most indispensable player on the team — ahead of fellow linebacker and preseason All-SEC selection Bumper Pool. My reasoning is because Sanders brings something to the table that no one else does: an elite pass-rushing skillset.
Sanders’ teammates openly talked about how good of a swim move he has during spring ball and then during fall camp, he was always mentioned when coaches and teammates talked about Luke Jones’ performance at left tackle. It was usually something along the lines of, “Well, he’s asked to block our top pass rusher, Drew Sanders, quite a bit.”
It also appears that defensive coordinator Barry Odom is going to get creative with how he uses Sanders. Rather than just playing him as a traditional linebacker no different than Pool, Grant Morgan and Hayden Henry, the media has seen the Razorbacks use a 3-3-5 formation in which Sanders is the third linebacker and lined up as an edge rusher.
It’s been more than a decade since Jake Bequette racked up 10 sacks in 2011, the last Arkansas player to reach double digits. That’s the second-longest drought in the SEC, ahead of only Vanderbilt. I believe that drought ends this year thanks to Sanders.
SEC Football Projections
- Alabama: 12-0 (8-0)
- Arkansas: 9-3 (5-3)
- Ole Miss: 9-3 (5-3)
- Mississippi State: 8-4 (4-4)
- Texas A&M: 8-4 (4-4)
- LSU: 7-5 (3-5)
- Auburn: 5-7 (2-6)
- Georgia: 11-1 (7-1)
- Tennessee: 9-3 (6-3)
- Florida: 6-6 (4-4)
- Kentucky: 8-4 (4-4)
- South Carolina: 6-6 (3-5)
- Missouri: 5-7 (2-6)
- Vanderbilt: 4-8 (1-7)
Game-by-Game SEC Football Predictions
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