Welcome to the haze of mid-season football. The point where rationality is thrown out the window. It is hard time for Razorback fans, so many close calls have left the cardinal wearing Saturday fans disgruntled.
I think it is important to take a step back and realize this is exactly the Razorback team we thought they would be at the beginning of the season. In fact I think the Razorbacks, despite a losing record, are much better than originally thought.
Preseason predictions ranged from the most optimistic at 6-6 to the average of 3-9. Unless you sit around listing to Drive Time Sports (which I only encourage for entertainment value), this was not predicted to be a huge season. What is was is a step in the right direction.
I personally thought the Razorbacks would land somewhere around 5-7 or 6-6. Which, for the record, the Hogs are still on track to do. But the way the team has reached this point is something to be excited about, while maintaining realistic expectations.
I think there are 3 key areas that we can put where the Razorbacks stand with 3 remaining games.
If you look at most predictions, the schedule has aligned just as thought up until this point. Most of the 3-9 predictions had us losing to Texas Tech, which ended up being a very overrated team.
Then Arkansas went through the death row of the SEC, playing Auburn (#6 at the time), A&M (#6), Bama (#7), Georgia (#10), and Mississippi State (#1). That means the average ranking of the teams in the five losses is 7.5. That is the highest average loss ranking in the country, the Razorbacks have not played a team outside of the top 10 and lost.
The Silver Lining
The positive for fans is every single one of those games was winnable. Come out strong in a few second halves, hit a few extra points and field goals, and not start off flat for the last memorable game to be played in War Memorial and this is a football playoff team.
I am not one for moral victories, but damn, if you are a Razorback fan be proud. The flip side of it is that only 1 of the the remaining 3 games is inside the top 10. Razorbacks play a demoralized LSU team that has struggled with the run, a wavering Ole Miss team that struggles against the run and has QB consistency issues, and finally Missouri team that is much worse than their record indicates.
Best guess Arkansas takes down two of the remaining opponents to go 6-6 and loses a heartbreaker against Ole Miss.
Did you really think Brandon Allen was a superstar QB? Surely not. Instead due to inflated hopes fans are piling on him saying he is not even an SEC level QB. The reality is that every single stat points to Allen being exactly a middle of the road QB for the SEC.
The problem is, stats suck sometimes. Take Tony Romo for example. Romo for much of his career is a high stat QB. The problem is that he never quite finishes out games, never has that extra boost at the end. Brandon Allen is Tony Romo. Give him a winnable game and he will do his duty. Put him in a situation where you need him to rally and forget it. For the record that has been the case with every Arkansas QB since the Nutt era.
The Silver Lining
There are some really great players on this team that are the future. Further Bielema has began to establish a consistent core recruiting class. It will take winning to break into top 10 classes, but the steady churn of good athletes will help dramatically. Future is bright at all skill positions, imagine two more years of Collins and Williams behind a deeper O-Line.
Coaching for me has been the sore spot this year and it starts with the offense. In 6 years as an SEC offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has had only one winning season (7-6 2009 Tennessee). Chaney is a good stat guy, see Brandon Allen post above. The problem is that he does not consistently win games and often shows questionable play calling in the second half.
Chaney is not a guy to finish out games, never has been, never will be. Chaney served as a transitional offensive coordinator to move the team from a pass first mindset to a balanced attack. That transition period is over.
The Silver Lining
The biggest silver lining is Chaney will likely be replaced after the year is up and Arkansas will move to a better fit offensive coordinator. Give Bielema some credit two years ago when he negotiated his contract to allow the Hogs to be one of the highest coordinator paying teams in the country. It will attract some talent.
To the current staff’s credit, Chaney has coached up a Brandon Allen to be a middle of the road QB. I am curious to see how is work with Rafe Peavey impacts his future as our next QB. On the defensive side they have done exactly what they need to do. The grind it out offense allows for the defense to be much more explosive without fear of wearing down. It has served well in controlling the QB through pass rush and contains. The defensive coaches have built a defense to take the best advantage of everything.
Again, don’t be surprised to see your Hogs come out and look very good for the rest of the season. All 3 games remaining are highly winnable. A combination of the cold, rivalry, and Arkansas’ running attack should serve them very well against LSU. Sudden overconfidence by fans and players could lead to a big disappointment against Ole Miss.
Everything stands a chance at coming together for the 2015 season, so feel free to set those expectations a little higher. With Dak Prescott and Bo Wallace potentially going to the NFL and home games against Mississippi State, Auburn, and Missouri Arkansas looks strong. Next year Arkansas is somewhere between a 7 and 9 win team depending on how Auburn, A&M, LSU, and Alabama come out next year.