Head Coach: Sam Pittman
Offensive Coordinator: Kendal Briles Defensive Coordinator: Barry Odom
2021 Record: 9-4 (4-4) (Beat Penn State in the Outback Bowl)
2022 Non Conference Opponents: Cincinnati, Missouri State, BYU, Liberty
Key Additions: WR Jadon Haselwood, WR Matt Landers (Toledo), DE Jordan Domineck (Georgia Tech), LB Drew Sanders (Alabama), S Latavious Brini (Georgia), LB Dwight McGlothern (LSU)
Arkansas was one of the biggest surprise teams last season, as they blew all expectations out of the water and put together a strong campaign, beating the likes of Texas, Texas A&M and Penn State. In 2022, the Hogs will be without star receiver Treylon Burks, who was a huge part of their offense and it will be interesting to see how quarterback KJ Jefferson fares without him.
Jefferson finished 2021, his first season as starter with over 2,600 passing yards, 21 touchdowns and four interceptions. His main attribute is his arm strength, as on throws 20+ yards down the field last year, Jefferson completed just under 58% of his attempts for seven touchdowns and only one interception. Having Treylon Burks at his disposal definitely inflated those numbers, but Jefferon’s arm strength is real and there is no denying that. If he is going to become an elite quarterback this season, Jefferson needs to work on his mechanics, as many of his throws come off as half hearted, simply because Jefferson doesn’t do a good job stepping into them. What makes Jefferson such an enticing prospect is his build and rushing ability. He stands at 6’3 and weighs around 240 pounds, so he is practically built like a linebacker, making him extremely tough to bring down. Last season, Jefferson rushed for over 800 yards, making him Arkansas leading rusher and he averaged over 5 yards after contact per carry. With Jefferson being the main threat for the Hogs in terms of rushing, the running back position loses some value, but they do have a serviceable back in Raheim Sanders. Sanders averaged over five yards per carry last season and rushed for 578 yards on 114 attempts. With him and Jefferson in the backfield, look for the duo to be heavily active in running read options and RPO’s, which they did effectively last season. At receiver, look for Jadon Haselwood to lead the corps. The Oklahoma transfer never fully found his footing as a Sooner, but still showed some flashes last season, catching 37 passes for 399 yards. Haselwood will look to take over Treylon Burks’ old role, which I think he will do well in, but not as well as Burks. Last season, Haselwood made ten contested catches on 21 attempts. He has a huge catch radius and stands at 6’3, a build that allows him to box out defenders similar to the way Burks does. The Hogs also return Warren Thompson and brought in Matt Landers from Toledo. Both had over 300 receiving yards a season ago and look for them to complement Haselwood. Even though Arkansas still has some solid receivers, they undoubtedly regressed due to the loss of Burks. The offensive line was very good last season, ranking in the top half of the SEC in both run and pass blocking. In 2022 they return four of their five starters, so look for Arkansas to have one of the best, if not the best offensive line in the SEC. No one on the Hogs line last season allowed more than 16 pressures or three sacks, and that speaks to the job Sam Pittman has done in Fayetteville, as he made it known he would emphasize offensive line play. The offensive line will do their job, and KJ Jefferson will keep running opposing linebackers over. The X factor for the Hogs offense is Jadon Haselwood. Like I said, I think his skill set fits the Arkansas offense tremendously, he just needs to put it all together and give KJ Jefferson a reliable lead receiver.
On the defensive line, the three starters for this coming year all got meaningful reps last season, however none were full time starters. Against the run, neither of the defensive ends were very productive and it was more of the same against the pass, as the two combined for only 20 pressures and neither had an above average win rate. Defensive tackle Isaiah Nichols is the one to highlight on the line, as even though he isn’t too productive rushing the passer, he is a very good run stuffer. Last season, Nichols was a sure tackler, only missing 6.7% of his attempts, and his average depth of tackle was only 1.1 yards down the field. Nichols has gradually improved every year within the Arkansas program, so look for him to be a breakout candidate and lead the Arkansas defensive line in 2022. At linebacker, the Hogs have a very solid duo with Bumper Pool and Drew Sanders. Many College Football pundits are ranking Pool as the best linebacker in the nation, which is a horrendous take. Pool is very solid, and I’d rank him in the top 25 for his position, but he is nowhere near the best. He is very inconsistent against the run, and mainly because he doesn’t play with his head and just runs straight for the ball. At times this works and Pool looks like the next coming of Bobby Wagner, but when it doesn’t he looks like a deer in headlights. Pool is a very physical player and the thing I admire most about his game is how little separation he allows in coverage. Even though he did allow an 82.1% completion percentage, he only allowed 6.3 yards per reception. He has gotten better in coverage every year, so look for him to add a couple forced incompletions to his resume this fall. Drew Sanders was a very hot name in the transfer portal, as he is very talented, but was buried at the bottom of Alabama’s loaded depth chart. Coming out of high school, Sanders was a consensus five star recruit and could have gone literally anywhere. He is a very good athlete and played every position during high school, and with his understanding of all those positions, linebacker is a natural fit. If Sanders can live up to his billing, he and Pool have potential to be one of the best linebacker duos in the SEC. The secondary lost a couple starters to the transfer portal, but made a big splash by adding former Georgia safety Latavious Brini. Brini can defend the run and is solid in coverage, as he forced six incomplketions and allowed only one touchdown last season. Brini knows what being part of a winning program is like, so look for him to become a leader in the Hogs secondary. As for the rest of the secondary, the situation is very hot and cold. All three of the Hogs cornerbacks got meaningful reps last season and were downright awful. All three allowed a passer rating better than 113 when targeted and the three of them combined did not record a single interception. The only one who showed any promise was LaDarrius Bishop, who allowed a completion percentage of just 48.1%. On the contrary, all the Hogs safeties are fantastic. I already touched on Brini but Jalen Catalon and Myles Slusher are arguably better than him. Last season, neither of them allowed a completion percentage better than 50% when targeted and Catalon allowed a passer rating of just 21.7. With Brini, Catalan and Slusher in the secondary, it is going to be very hard for teams to beat Arkansas with the deep ball in 2022. Outside of the safeties, I don’t have much confidence in Arkansas’ defense. The front seven struggled rushing the passer last season and returned no one that had more than 11 pressures from that unit. Against the run, only Isaiah Nichols was above average in average depth per tackle, and with him being the only run stopping force on the team, his numbers may not be sustainable.
The loss of Treylon Burks will make the Arkansas offense a lot easier to gameplan for, which will hurt them throughout a very tough schedule. From week one and on, this is an absolute gauntlet. Sure Cincy won’t be as good as last year but Luke Fickell did a great job adding instant impact transfers and their front seven will still be stingy. From Texas A&M to Auburn, I see the Hogs losing five straight, as they have to face a plethora of elite running backs and Mike Leach’s potent air raid on the road. The schedule gets easier toward the end, but by that time who knows how fatigued Arkansas players will be and if they’ll be able to hang with teams they should beat easily. Overall, this schedule is miserable, and if Arkansas can win more than seven games, they should be proud of their season.
Record Prediction: 7-5 (4-4) V Cincinnati: Win
V South Carolina: Win
V Missouri State: Win
V Texas A&M: Loss
V Alabama: Loss
AT Mississippi State: Loss
AT BYU: Loss
AT Auburn: Loss
V Liberty: Win
V LSU: Win
V Ole Miss: Win
AT Missouri: Win