Is Arkansas a Legit Contender for 2015 SEC Title?

Barrett Sallee@BarrettSalleeSEC Football Lead WriterJuly 1, 2015

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What if I told you that a team with two SEC wins in two years, an offense that is one-dimensional and a defense that lost its three best players is a contender in the toughest division in college football?

You'd say that I'm crazy, right?

Well, that's exactly where Arkansas finds itself, after shutting out LSU and Ole Miss last November and throttling Texas in the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl to close out the season.

Where did that strong late-season push land Arkansas? In the SEC West's elite, apparently.

Arkansas' over/under win total for the 2015 season is at 8.5, according to CBSSports.com. That may not seem too lofty, but it's tied for second with Auburn and Ole Miss for the second-most in the SEC West, and it's only one game behind Alabama, which has an over/under at 9.5.

Clearly, Vegas seems to think that Arkansas is a contender. But as Todd Fuhrman of Fox Sports 1 notes, that confidence isn't exactly steadfast:

Let's follow along with the pros in Vegas and pump the brakes on the Arkansas hype train.

While Arkansas is going to be improved, it's much more likely to be this year's version of Ole Miss than it is to be a true division-title contender. 

Remember what Ole Miss was last year? A team that was in the mix for a couple of months before injuries took their toll and the lack of championship-level depth reared its ugly head?

That's where Arkansas is most likely headed in 2015.

Arkansas QB Brandon Allen
Arkansas QB Brandon AllenScott Halleran/Getty Images

Offensively, the Hogs will be fine.

The dynamic duo of Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins at running back behind one of the most fearsome offensive lines in the country clearly works. Can Brandon Allen take the next step and become more of a difference-maker than a game manager? He has his doubters, including Bo Bounds of 105.9 in Jackson, Mississippi (via Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly in Arkansas):

Still, the presence of new offensive coordinator Dan Enos—who has produced four 3,000-yard passers in the last five seasons as the head coach of Central Michigan—should at least help Allen take the next step and look like a downfield weapon from time to time. 

That might be all the offense needs to really hit its stride.

The real concern, though, is on defense, where head coach Bret Bielema and defensive coordinator Robb Smith have to replace stud defensive end Trey Flowers, monster defensive tackle Darius Philon and last year's leading tackler, linebacker Martrell Spaight.

Arkansas DL Taiwan Johnson
Arkansas DL Taiwan JohnsonNelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

Bielema and Smith will be counting on players such as tackles Bijhon Jackson and Taiwan Johnson, as well as end JaMichael Winston, to become difference-makers up front.

Not just difference-makers, though. Consistent difference-makers. 

That's not the easiest thing to do, and it is not something that should be expected. 

Besides, it's not like Arkansas' defense was that consistent down the stretch. Sure, the shutouts in November were awesome, but they also gave up 459 yards and 7.40 yards per play at Mississippi State in early November, as well as 423 yards and 5.10 yards per play at Missouri to close out the regular season.

There were consistency issues last year, even when Arkansas' defense was "hot," and now some of its key contributors are gone.

The logical next step for Arkansas is to take a small step forward rather than a gigantic leap. A small step forward would be an eight- or nine-win season, staying competitive in every game and showing a little more consistency on the road.

Anything more would be considered too much, too soon in the SEC West.

Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of cfbstats.com unless otherwise noted, and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports' composite rankings.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and college football video analyst for Bleacher Report as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on Sirius 93, XM 208.

Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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