After back-to-back tragic seasons and a worldwide lockdown that put the campaign in jeopardy, the Arkansas Razorbacks are back with a coaching staff renovation and are set to start the new season in Fayetteville this Saturday.
Arkansas will only take on Southeastern Conference opponents this season due to changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Razorbacks are looking to snap a 19-game losing streak in SEC play. Their last win came at Ole Miss in 2017, and they have not had a winning record since 2016.
This season will be the Hogs first with new head coach Sam Pittman, former offensive line coach for the Georgia Bulldogs. Pittman spent 2019 as an associate head coach and the o-line coach. He held the same roles in Fayetteville between 2013 and 2015 prior to his Georgia stint.
“It means everything,” Pittman said on being hired as the head Hog. “You hear about dream jobs. It’s the truth. This is the best job in the country. I know I’m the head coach here and that’s easy to say, but I really mean it. I think we’ve surrounded ourselves with guys that think the same thing I do.”
Arkansas hired former Missouri head coach Barry Odom as defensive coordinator Dec. 13. Ten days later, former Florida State offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Kendal Briles, was hired onto the staff to serve the same positions.
Briles’s offense received a boost when Arkansas signed graduate transfer quarterback Feleipe Franks, who was formerly the starter for Florida. However, in his third game last season, Franks was carted off the field with a broken ankle which ended his season and his tenure as the Gators’ starter.
During his college career, Franks has thrown for 4,593 yards, 38 touchdown passes, 17 interceptions and a completion percentage of 59% in the 27 games he played. On the ground, he has run for 438 yards and rushed for eight touchdowns. In 2018, he led an offense that averaged 35 points per game.
Franks will not have to do much to improve on the 2019 quarterback play of Nick Starkel and Ben Hicks, who combined for 12 interceptions and only nine touchdowns.
In front of Franks will be an offensive line under the tutelage of Pittman, who, since 2013, has had 15 linemen drafted to the National Football League, including six first-round picks.
The offensive line is the key to a successful running game and Georgia has had great success running the football in recent years. Georgia has had five running backs drafted since 2015, four of whom were top-40 overall picks.
A Pittman-led offensive line should benefit the Razorbacks’ standout senior running back Rakeem Boyd, who is looking to have a big season going into the draft. Boyd faced the decision of returning for his senior season at Arkansas or declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft, but he opted for the former.
“I’m really proud of Rakeem,” Pittman said. “I’m proud that he came back to be a part of our football team.”
Boyd was recently named to the Preseason All-SEC second team. Last season, he ran for 1,133 yards and eight touchdowns, while also having five games in which he ran for over 100 yards.
The Razorbacks’ returning wide receiver corps is one of the best groups the school has had in recent years. The team will retain sophomores Trey Knox and Treylon Burks as well as junior Mike Woods. After the disappointing quarterback play in 2019 the receiving corps could have a breakout season with Franks under center.
On the other side of the ball, the Razorback defense has been nightmarish the past few years. Last season, Arkansas allowed 37 points per game, and had a five-game streak late in the year allowing 45 or more points.
As a former head coach in the SEC, Odom is an improvement over his predecessor John Chavis, who is now a middle school assistant coach, but the defense may not be totally fixed in the first game of his first season with an irregular preseason.
The Razorbacks’ 10-game schedule includes seven Top 25 teams. With the SEC’s decision to only play intraconference games and the additions of No. 5 Florida and No. 4 Georgia to Arkansas’ 2020 slate, the Hogs arguably have the most difficult schedule in 2020.
Arkansas will open its season against Georgia Saturday, Sept. 26 at 3 p.m. at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium with attendance limited to 17,000 spectators. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.