The season is over for the Arkansas Razorbacks. When a team finishes 3-9 and winless in its conference, it's hard to take away positives from the year.
From quarterback Brandon Allen's struggles to the defense's inability to stop anyone, 2013 was full of problems for the Razorbacks. One position that wasn't a problem was running back. Sophomore Jonathan Williams had himself a very good year with 900 yards and an average of 6.0 yards per carry.
However, he was outdone by a freshman named Alex Collins. If you didn't watch this kid tote the ball this year, then shame on you because he's the next big thing on The Hill. The Hogs may have a lot of problems, but head coach Bret Bielema can sleep a little easier at night knowing he has Collins in his backfield for the next few years.
Collins was not only the best freshman back for the Razorbacks or even in the SEC, he was the best in the entire country. His 1,026 yards ranked 35th in the nation and led all freshmen. In fact, including the FCS, Division II and Division III, only nine freshmen rushed for more yards.
To put just how good of a season he had into better perspective, Collins surpassing the 1,000-yard mark made him just the 10th freshmen in SEC history to accomplish the feat, as tweeted by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Wally Hall:
Alex Collins two carries for 8 yards puts him in elite company. Only 10 freshmen in SEC have rushed for more than 1,000 yards.— Wally Hall (@WallyLikeItIs) November 29, 2013
For the Arkansas program, it made him the second freshman back to rush for more than 1,000 yards in a season.
The first to do it? Some guy named Darren McFadden.
Collins is sure to garner postseason honors, including being named to the Freshmen All-American team and one of the All-SEC teams.
Many backs have one skill but lack the others to be great. Collins, on the other hand, possesses the speed, power and vision that set apart the great backs from the average ones. What made his first season so impressive were the circumstances he was dealing with.
Up until the last few games, Allen posed no threat to drop back and beat teams with his arm. The passing game was so anemic that opposing defenses were able to stack the box all year against the Hogs to stop Collins and Williams. Collins was also running behind a line that featured two true-freshmen starters who were learning on the fly.
Despite the circumstances, Collins was still able to surpass the 1,000-yard milestone and average 5.4 yards per carry.
It's that rare combination of speed, power and vision that is going to make him a very special player for the Razorbacks in the years to come—and it already has to a degree. Collins can run defenders over, or he can use his elusiveness to juke them out of their shoes.
A lot of times, though, the first wave of defenders doesn't even have a chance to put a hand on him.
His ball-carrying vision allows him to find holes in the defense while his speed gives him the ability to hit the hole quickly once he has located it. That's indicated in ESPN's stat sheet, where he had a run of over 10 yards in every game except the last one against LSU. In six of Arkansas' 12 games, he had longs of over 20 yards—nine games with a long over 15.
The scary thing is, Collins is only going to get better with time.
He's a model student and citizen around the Fayetteville community and is a perfect example of what the student-athlete should be. After a season in a Razorback uniform, the humble and hard-working kid out of Florida has already endeared himself to Arkansas fans.
Even if you're not a Hog fan, you find yourself rooting for Collins. He's just that kind of person.
With an offseason to hone his skills and work on his game, he is bound to put up even better numbers in 2014. Arkansas fans need to savor these next few years with him carrying the ball out of the backfield because he's the biggest thing for Arkansas since McFadden was making hearts stop.
Every so often, a player comes along, and you know from Day 1 he's going to do great things. Collins is one of those players.
For more info on the Arkansas Razorbacks, follow Bryan Heater on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.