Woo Pig! Hogs poised for bounce-back season, will go ‘over’ 6.5 wins
Published on Monday, 7/24/23, at 10:11 a.m. Eastern.
Arkansas finished the 2022 season with a 7-6 record both straight up and against the spread. The Razorbacks are now 19-17 SU and 21-13-2 ATS during Sam Pittman’s three-year tenure.
Going into Year 4, FanDuel has Arkansas’ season win total at 6.5 shaded to the ‘over’ at a -122 price (-102 for the ‘under’).
DraftKings has the Hogs’ overall number for wins at seven (‘under’ -145, ‘over’ +125) and has them at 3.5 for SEC wins (‘under’ -135, ‘over’ +110). The betting shop is also offering a matchup prop for regular-season wins between Arkansas and Miami, with the Hurricanes installed as -125 ‘chalk’ and Pittman’s squad at -105.
Arkansas lost four games by nine combined points last season. The loss to Texas A&M in Arlington, TX., was a gut-wrenching defeat. With the Razorbacks leading 14-7 with less than four minutes remaining in the first half, quarterback KJ Jefferson reached the ball toward the goal line on a first-and-goal play.
As he extended the ball to try and break the plane, it was knocked loose and recovered by Tyreek Chapell, who appeared to be stopped by Rocket Sanders near the 20. But Chappell then handed the ball off to Demani Richards, who raced 82 yards for a touchdown.
Instead of Arkansas having two or three chances to punch the ball into the end zone from A&M’s 1, the Aggies cut the deficit to 14-13 (after the point after failed). With 1:30 left in the fourth quarter, Arkansas kicker Cam Little attempted a go-ahead 42-yard field goal.
I’ve watched thousands of football games and I’ve never once seen a kick hit the very top of the upright. In the NFL, the uprights on the goal posts are five feet higher. When Little hit the top of the upright, the ball bounced back and was no good but if the game were played at a college stadium (Arlington is the home of the Dallas Cowboys), the Razorbacks would’ve taken a 24-23 lead.
Instead, Jimbo Fisher’s team ran out the clock and prevailed. It was a deflating loss for Arkansas, which came into the game with a 3-0 record.
Alabama jumped all over the Hogs by a 28-0 score the following week in Fayetteville. However, Arkansas scored 23 unanswered points and had all the momentum going into the second play of the fourth quarter.
Alabama QB Bryce Young had left the game with a hand injury in the second quarter. The Crimson Tide appeared rattled with back-up QB Jalen Milroe facing a third-and-15 situation at their own 20.
Milroe dropped backed to pass and saw an opening. He darted to his right and into the open field, picking up several key blocks and racing 77 yards to the Hogs’ 3. Two plays later, Alabama scored for a 35-23 lead.
The Tide went on to capture a 49-26 win.
With Jefferson injured in the fourth quarter of the loss vs. ‘Bama, he was out the following week at Mississippi St. The Bulldogs jumped on the Razorbacks early and coasted to a 40-17 win.
Arkansas responded with back-to-back road wins at BYU (52-35) and at Auburn (41-27), only to lose 21-19 at home vs. 23rd-ranked Liberty on Nov. 5. Then at home the following week, the Hogs had to play without Jefferson again and dropped a 13-10 decision vs. seventh-ranked LSU.
They got Jefferson back the following week and he threw three TD passes without an interception in a 42-27 home win over 14th-ranked Ole Miss. But in the regular-season finale, Arkansas lost 29-27 at Missouri.
With a chance to salvage the season and finish with a winning record, Pittman’s team went to Memphis to face Kansas in the Liberty Bowl. Arkansas went ahead 38-13 on Rashod Dubinion’s two-yard TD run with 8:43 remaining in the third quarter.
The Jayhawks, who were playing in the postseason for the first time since 2008, refused to go away, though. They scored 25 straight points, including a pair of TDs in the final 1:05 to force overtime.
Arkansas ended up winning 55-53 in triple overtime, but it was a wretched Bad Beat for backers of the Razorbacks as 2.5-point favorites.
Arkansas returns four starters on offense and six on defense. Most important, Jefferson and Sanders are back to give Pittman’s squad one of the nation’s best QB/RB combinations.
Jefferson completed 66.0 percent of his passes for 2,648 yards with a 24/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. He also had 640 rushing yards (815 before subtracting sack yardage), nine TDs and a 4.1 yards-per-carry average.
For his career, Jefferson has connected on 65.5 percent of his throws for 5,804 yards with an elite 48/10 TD-INT ratio. He has 1,429 rushing yards, 19 TDs and a 3.9 YPC average. Jefferson has led the Hogs to a 16-9 record in his 25 career starts, but five of those losses came by only nine combined points.
Sanders enjoyed a breakout 2022 campaign, producing 1,443 rushing yards, 10 TDs and a 6.5 YPC average. He also caught 28 balls for 271 yards and two TDs. Sanders finished second in the SEC and 13th in the country in rushing yards.
In Phil Steele’s preseason magazine, Sanders is a first-team All-SEC selection and a second-team All-American. Along with center Beaux Limmer, who was a second-team All-SEC choice last year when he started 12 games at guard and one game at center, Jefferson is a preseason second-team All-SEC pick.
In Steele’s National Unit Rankings, Arkansas is fifth at QB, fourth at RB, 40th on the offensive line, 32nd on the d-line, 51st at LB and 57th in the secondary.
Jefferson’s top-four receiving targets are gone, so it’s not surprising that Steele doesn’t have the Razorbacks’ WRs ranked among his top-63 nationally. The Hogs’ wideouts are ranked in a last-place tie with Vandy (13th) in Steele’s SEC Unit Rankings.
Pittman did a great job of working the portal to re-tool his 2023 roster. According to the 247Sports Composite, Arkansas has the country’s No. 22 overall recruiting class in 2023, but the transfer-specific class is ranked No. 11 nationally.
There are three WRs and one TE among the 18-player group of transfers. Five of those 18 players are four-star transfers, including ex-Bowling Green WR Tyrone Broden. In 13 games for the Falcons last season, Broden had 32 catches for 506 yards and seven TDs. In 2021, he produced 36 receptions for 596 yards and five TDs in nine games.
Pittman’s two other WRs from the portal come to Fayetteville from Division-II schools, and both are 6-foot-4 targets. Andrew Armstrong had 1,317 receiving yards at Texas A&M Commerce in the last two years. Isaac TeSlaa played 26 games at Hillsdale College in three seasons, racking up 2,116 receiving yards with a 17.9 yards-per-catch average.
Var’Keyes Gumms, a 6-foot-3, 240-pound TE, was a first-team All-Conference USA selection last year at North Texas. The four-star transfer had 34 catches for 458 yards and five TDs for the Mean Green in 2022.
Arkansas is expecting Gumms to compete with true freshman Luke Hasz for the starting role at TE. Hasz, a 6-foot-3, 245-pounder out of Bixby HS, is a four-star recruit who was ranked as the No. 3 prep player in the state of Oklahoma. He enrolled early and participated in spring practice.
Another freshman TE, Shamar Easter, could contribute right away. Easter was the No. 1 high school player out of Arkansas in the 2023 class, but the 6-foot-5 Ashdown product did not enroll early.
The o-line lost three starters, including first-team All-SEC center Ricky Stromberg, who won the Jacobs Trophy last season for the SEC’s top o-lineman and was drafted in the third round by the Washington Commanders. They also lost tackle Dalton Wagner, who was a second-team All-SEC selection in 2022.
Limmer will anchor this group and the other returning starter is guard Brady Latham, who has started 36 career games for the Razorbacks. Arkansas has added a veteran in Josh Braun, a three-star transfer from Florida who started nine games for the Gators last year. A pair of sophomores in Devon Manuel (6-9, 310) and Patric Kutas (6-5, 305) are expected to start at the tackle positions.
Pittman might be the best offensive line coach in the nation. He’s produced 15 o-linemen that have been drafted since 2013, including seven first-round picks. Therefore, I’m confident that this group will be solid despite losing three starters and two of the SEC’s best o-linemen.
Pittman had to replace both of his coordinators in the offseason. DC Barry Odom left to become the head coach at UNLV, while OC Kendall Briles left to take the same position at TCU. Odom and Briles had been with Pittman in all three seasons since he took over in Fayetteville.
He’s replaced those guys with veteran OC Dan Enos and DC Travis Williams. Enos returns to Arkansas after serving as the OC for the Razorbacks from 2015-17. Since then, he’s spent time on staffs working under Nick Saban at Alabama, Jim Harbaugh at Michigan and Luke Fickell at Cincinnati.
Enos had been the OC at Maryland for the last two seasons when the Terrapins averaged 29.3 and 28.2 PPG. Williams is a former two-time All-SEC LB at Auburn, who had been Gus Malzahn’s DC at UCF for the last two years. He also served as co-DC for Malzahn at his alma mater.
I love how Pittman picked up veterans with experience galore out of the portal to re-stock his defensive personnel. Arkansas gave up an average of 30.6 points per game in 2022, but I expect this unit to be improved.
Junior cornerback Dwight McGlothern was a third-team All-SEC pick in 2022 and is a preseason second-team All-SEC selection in Steele’s magazine. McGlothern produced 52 tackles, 10 passes broken up, four interceptions, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and one tackle for loss last year.
The other CB spot will be manned by Lorando Johnson, a three-star transfer from Baylor who was a four-star prospect coming out of high school. Johnson started 13 games for the Bears in 2021 and 2022.
Georgia transfer Jaheim Singletary will also compete with Johnson for the starting spot opposite of McGlothern. Singletary was a five-star recruit out of high school and is a four-star transfer.
Pittman snagged another secondary addition from the portal in ex-Baylor DB Al Walcott, who is expected to start at the HOG position. Walcott had 83 tackles, 10 TFL’s, four PBU, three forced fumbles, two sacks and one interception for Dave Aranda last year. In 27 career games, Walcott has recorded 116 tackles, 11 TFL’s, nine PBU, four interceptions for 105 return yards and one TD, three forced fumbles and two sacks.
Junior safety Hudson Clark is the Hogs’ top returning tackler. Clark had 67 tackles, 11 PBU, four TFL’s and one interception in 2022. He has started 21 career games for the Razorbacks. Quincey McAdoo will start at the other safety spot after contributing 30 tackles, four PBU and two interceptions last year.
The defensive front should be vastly improved thanks to the arrival of dudes galore via the portal. Ex-Pitt DE John Morgan played 46 games for the Panthers from 2019-2002, producing 73 tackles, 23 TFL’s, 14 sacks, three forced fumbles, two PBU and one fumble recovery.
Former Missouri DE Trajan Jeffcoat has started 29 times in 40 career games from 2018-2022. He has 84 career tackles, 19.5 TFL’s, 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one scoop-and-score fumble recovery. Anthony Booker is a four-star transfer DT from Maryland. The 6-foot-4, 320-pound space eater had 27 tackles, five TFL’s, two sacks and two forced fumbles last season.
There’s also ex-La. Tech DT Keivie Rose, who started 32 games for the Bulldogs in the last three seasons. Former South Florida LB Antonio Grier sustained a season-ending injury on Sept. 24 of last year. Despite being limited to three games in 2022, Grier still has 238 career tackles, 23.5 TFL’s, 10 sacks, four forced fumbles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one pick-six.
Sophomore Chris Paul will start at the other LB spot. He had 62 tackles, eight TFL’s, four sacks and three QB hurries in 2022. Paul will be pushed for playing time by Cincinnati transfer LB Jaheim Thomas, who was a four-star recruit coming out of high school. Thomas had 70 tackles, 6.5 TFL’s and two sacks for the Bearcats last season.
Arkansas starts the regular season with three home games vs. Western Carolina (in Little Rock), vs. Kent St. and vs. BYU. The Razorbacks end the regular season with three consecutive home contests vs. Auburn, vs. FIU and vs. Missouri.
They have an extremely brutal four-game stretch from Sept. 23 to Oct. 14 in which they have to get on an airplane four Fridays in a row. This murderer’s row of games starts at LSU, followed by vs. Texas A&M in Arlington, then at Ole Miss and finally at Alabama.
Even when Arkansas gets to return home on Oct. 21 to face Mississippi St., the Bulldogs will have two weeks to prepare for the Hogs, who will be playing their eighth game in eight weeks.
Pittman’s team does have one advantageous spot on the schedule, though. When Arkansas plays at Florida on Nov. 4, it will be coming off of its bye week with two weeks to prepare for the Gators, who will fall into a natural letdown scenario after playing arch-rival Georgia in Jacksonville the week before.
I think Arkansas wins its first three games and its last three. The toughest tests in those six games will be Auburn and Missouri, but Hugh Freeze’s bunch will be in a back-to-back travel spot when it visits Fayetteville.
With six home wins in our pocket, we’ll need one more victory to get a winner (at FanDuel) or a push (at DraftKings). Arkansas is a 13.5-point road underdog at LSU and an 18-point underdog at Alabama in Games of the Year lines, and we don’t expect an upset in either contest.
I think Arkansas has an excellent chance to beat Texas A&M like it should have last year. If not, there’s the home game vs. Mississippi St. and the road game at Florida. I’m confident the Hogs will win at least one of those three contests and could win all of them.
The only game I omitted is the trip to Oxford. That’s a winnable game, too. It’s the third game outside of Fayetteville in a row for Arkansas, but the Rebels have to play at Alabama and at home vs. LSU in the two previous weeks.
But if I could get Arkansas at Ole Miss as a pick ’em game right now, I’d be taking the Rebels. Even if the Razorbacks do fall in Oxford, this still sets up to be a nice bounce-back season for Pittman in Year 4 of his tenure.
I think Arkansas wins at least seven games but probably eight, and it could get to nine if it wins in Arlington and Gainesville.
PREDICTION: I’m on Arkansas to go ‘over’ 6.5 wins at a -122 price (FanDuel) for 1.5 units. I’ll also risk one-half unit on ‘over’ 7 wins for a +125 payout (DraftKings).
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**
-247Sports currently has Arkansas ranked 18th in its Team Recruiting Rankings for the 2024 class. The Razorbacks have 16 verbal commitments, with nine four-star prospects and seven three-star players. The jewels of the class include four Top-100 players nationally in the 247Sports Composite. This quartet includes CB Selman Bridges, a 6-foot-3, 170-pound prospect from Lake Belton High School in Temple, TX. He’s the country’s sixth-best CB and is ranked No. 50 overall. There’s also 6-foot-2 WR Courtney Crutchfield, a Pine Bluff product who is the No. 1 player in the state of Arkansas and is ranked No. 61 nationally. Four-star DL Charleston Collins, a 6-foot-4, 250-pounder from Wilbur D. Mills HS in Little Rock, is the state’s No. 2 player and No. 77 in the nation. Finally, there’s WR Ashton Bethel-Roman, the No. 92 player in the country out of Missouri City, TX.
-Arkansas lost its back-up QB Malik Horsby when he transferred to Texas St. The speedster had 172 rushing yards last season and a 5.5 YPC average. Horsby completed 13-of-27 passes (48.1%) for 268 yards with a 1/2 TD-INT ratio.
-FanDuel has Arkansas with 95/1 odds to win the SEC Championship Game. The Razorbacks have 25/1 odds to win the SEC West for the first time since 2006.
-Jefferson has 50/1 odds to win the Heisman Trophy at FanDuel, while Sanders has 150/1 odds.
-Little buried 13-of-16 field-goal attempts last season with a long of 51 yards in 2022. The true junior has nailed all 96 career PATs and is 33-of-40 on FGAs in 26 career starts. Little is a preseason fourth-team All-SEC selection in Steele’s magazine.
-Jeffcoat, the senior DE who transferred from Missouri, is also a fourth-team All-SEC pick in Steele’s preseason mag.