5 Reasons Auburn Should Be Worried About Arkansas, Part 5

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Nov 2, 2013; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks kickoff returner Korliss Marshall (33) tackled on a kick return by Auburn Tigers defensive back Jonathon Mincy (6) at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Auburn defeated Arkansas 35-17. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

In anticipation of the 2014 season opener, we are counting down the five reasons Auburn should be worried about Arkansas. If you’ve missed any of the first four editions of this series, check them out here:

1. It’s the Season Opener

2. These Hogs Can Run

3. The Razorbacks Could Have Won Last Year

4. Bret Bielema is a Very Good Coach, Believe it or Not

And finally, we come to the conclusion of our five part series. I am sorry to disappoint, but reason number five is the most obvious of them all – and it is one that Auburn fans should not be quick to forget, because it hits so close to home.

5. Arkansas Will Be a Better Football Team in 2014

Yes, Arkansas has lost nine games in a row. Yes, they went 0-8 in conference play last season. Other than the schedule setting up differently for the Hogs in 2013 than it did for the Tigers in 2012, we’re talking about the same thing.

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Auburn got better, much better in fact, in just one year. Arkansas will be better too. The only question is, how much will they improve by August 30?

Last year was bad for the Razorbacks. In the month of October alone, opponents outscored Arkansas by 117 points – and the Hogs only played three games that month. The team ended the season with a minus-nine turnover ratio, which was the worst mark in the Southeastern Conference and ranked 111th out of 126 FBS teams.

On offense, the Razorbacks finished 11th in the SEC and 99th in the country in total offense with 357.2 yards per game. They were 12th in the league and 105th nationally in scoring offense, averaging 20.7 points per contest. And the Hogs finished dead last in the Southeastern Conference and 114th overall with just 148.5 passing yards per game – quite a turnaround from three consecutive years with more than 3,000 passing yards from 2009-2012.

The defense wasn’t much better. Arkansas allowed 413.4 total yards per game, which ranked ninth in the SEC and 76th nationally. They were 11th in the league in both rushing and passing defense, allowing 178.4 and 235 yards per game, respectively. And finally, the Razorbacks allowed 30.8 points per game – 12th in the conference and 88th in the nation.

But, 2014 is a different season. A combined 13 starters are gone from last year’s squad, including four players that were drafted into the NFL. Furthermore, the Hogs must replace 31.2% of their letter winners from last season.

Sep 22, 2012; Fayetteville, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks defensive end Trey Flowers (86) during the game against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Rutgers defeated Arkansas 35-26. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

And while those numbers may seem high on the surface, most college football teams across the country are in a similar situation. It’s part of the reason why programs can have such quick turnarounds from year to year – say, from three wins (including exactly zero in conference play) in 2012 to an SEC Championship in 2013.

I’m not expecting Arkansas to make that kind of jump in 2014, but the fact that it has been done before is a reason for concern.

The brightest spot on the Arkansas roster, and the biggest reason for optimism among their fan base, is the running back position. Alex Collins ran for more than 1,000 yards as a true freshman last season while sharing carries with Jonathon Williams, who had 900. The pair returns intact, and will be joined again by Korliss Marshall, who has top-end speed and averaged 8.6 yards per carry in very limited duty last season. Auburn saw what Marshall can do last year when he nearly took a kickoff to the house in the second half.

Of course, to succeed on offense, a team needs more than just a trio of talented running backs. The Hogs are also quite gifted on the offensive line, though they will need to replace All-SEC center Travis Swanson. Dan Skipper and Denver Kirkland played remarkably well as true freshmen last season, and Bray Cook also comes back as a starter. Two full-timers must be replaced, but with returners Luke Charpentier, Mitch Smothers and Grady Ollison competing, as well as newcomers Cameron Johnson, Sebastian Tretola and Frank Ragnow, the O-line should be better overall.

Additionally, while Arkansas – and quarterback Brandon Allen specifically – struggled in the passing game last season, the Razorbacks will benefit from the experience the junior gained in 2013. Allen completed only 128 of his 258 (49.6%) passing attempts last season for 1,552 yards, 13 touchdowns and ten interceptions.

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