For serious College Football fans or addicts as the case may be, the beginning of the season is often bittersweet. That’s because no matter how much we long for the sights and sounds of football, we often have to endure our favorite team opening the season against the “Little Sisters of the Poor” as Gee Gordon Smith would call them.
While these games can’t be compared to the excitement of watching your team locked in a top 10 showdown, there is a lot of information that can be learned from these games. For Arkansas fans, here are five items to watch for as Arkansas opens the season with the less than inspiring lineup of Missouri St., New Mexico and Troy before locking up with Alabama in T-town on September 24.
- Run Defense - The last two seasons Arkansas has given up an average of 97.5 rushing yards per game against non-conference opponents not named Texas A&M. For a team that has ranked near the bottom of the SEC against the run over the last three seasons, it is important, even against inferior talent, to dominate.
- Rushing Offense - Equally as unimpressive against non-conference teams has been the rushing offense, who was out-gained by Louisiana Monroe in the second game of last season. This is of particular concern as the Razorbacks look for a back to step up and fill the void with Knile Davis out for the season.
- Offensive Line Continuity - Last year, Arkansas started the same offensive line for all 13 games. It was that continuity that helped propel the Hogs to six straight wins down the stretch. This year they are replacing three starters which presents many challenges in a unit where continuity and communication are so critical. By the New Mexico game, the Razorbacks need to have settled on starters so that they can get two games together under their belts before the trip to Alabama.
- Tyler Wilson Efficiency - There are many positives to get excited about with the new Arkansas signal caller, particularly his performance at Auburn last year in which he completed 25 of 35 passes for 332 yards and four touchdowns coming off the bench. The other side of the coin is that he has 7 touchdowns to 7 interceptions in his career. In order for Arkansas to compete for a championship this year, Tyler Wilson needs to compete close to 70 percent of his passes and have a 4:1 touchdown/interception ratio. Wilson has struggled at times with confidence and the early schedule presents a great opportunity for him to get on a roll.
- Injuries - Who wins championships often boils down to luck and a big part of this is avoiding key injuries. Last year the Razorbacks lost Dennis Johnson in the second game and this year they have already lost Knile Davis for the season. The Razorbacks can ill afford any more key losses.
These are the five things that I’ll be looking for in those first three weeks. I believe it will be possible to accurately predict the winner of the Alabama game based on how Arkansas does on these facets during the first three games. What will you be looking for?