After a bye week, Auburn will face off against Arkansas in Fayetteville on the third Saturday in October.
Chad Morris’ first year as head coach for the Razorbacks last season was a disaster. The Razorbacks suffered through their first double-digit loss season in program history as they went 2-10 and winless in SEC play.
It’d be difficult for Arkansas to do worse than their embarrassing 2018 campaign. The Razorbacks were near the bottom of the conference in pretty much every significant statistical category. However, improvement is expected in Morris’ second season in charge.
The Razorbacks top two quarterback options from last year, Ty Storey and Cole Kelley, have both transferred out of the program. As a replacement, Arkansas brought in SMU transfer Ben Hicks.
Hicks, a redshirt senior, is likely the team's starter going forward, a move that is even more likely seeing as Morris was Hicks’ coach at SMU from 2015 to 2017.
Hicks comes to Fayetteville as SMU’s all-time leader in both passing touchdowns and yards with a combined 74 total TDs in his previous three years as a starter, including 34 in 2017 alone.
The 6-foot-1, 214-pound quarterback will obviously be facing tougher competition in the SEC. Kelley and Storey failed to make a major impact last year, so any fresh face has a good chance to be an improvement.
If Hicks doesn’t work out, the Razorbacks also brought in former Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel,who has starting experience in the SEC. Starkel threw for nearly 1,800 yards, with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions for the Aggies in 2017 before seeing his playing time plummet after Kellen Mond won the starting job in 2018.
At running back, junior Rakeem Boyd should shoulder the load. The star of season three of Netflix’s "Last Chance U" impressed in his first season in Fayetteville, accumulating 899 yards from scrimmage on 6.0 yards per carry.
Boyd only had two touchdowns in 2018 but if the former JUCO product can take the next step, the Razorbacks can go back to churning out solid running backs like they have done for the past two decades.
Senior Devwah Whaley is a solid veteran option with starting experience that should complement Boyd well.
In terms of pass catchers, it doesn’t look great for the Hogs. La’Micheal Pettway, who led the team last year with 499 receiving yards, is now at Iowa State. After his departure, Arkansas isn’t left with a ton of proven talent.
After catching 30 balls for 400 yards, senior tight end Cheyenne O’Grady will likely be the top receiving option for the Razorbacks in 2019.
O’Grady is the only returning Razorback with over 210 receiving yards, and his six touchdowns last year led the team.
Among wide receivers, Pettway’s departure left a big gap to be filled. True freshman Trey Knox may be the best candidate to fill that role.
Knox has turned heads throughout spring practice and had a 45-yard touchdown catch during the team’s spring game. With a 6-foot-5, 218-pound frame, Knox has the size to immediately step in and be a threat for the Hogs.
Arkansas ranked in the bottom three of the SEC in both sacks and tackles for loss allowed in 2018. That’s a trend that could continue into 2019 as the Hogs return only two of the five starters from last year’s unit.
Redshirt senior left tackle Colton Jackson and junior center Ty Clary will attempt to lead a unit that needs to improve if Arkansas wants to be successful on offense.
For as much as the Razorbacks struggled on offense last year, the team’s situation wasn’t much better on defense.
Ranking 13th in the SEC and 108th in the NCAA in scoring defense, the Razorbacks defense rarely showed up to play. Allowing a combined 96 points to Mississippi State and Conference USA opponent North Texas show that.
Starting defensive tackle Armon Watts led the team with seven sacks last year; he’s off to the NFL. Replacing him is versatile lineman McTelvin Agim.
Agim, a 6-foot-3, 279-pound senior, can play both defensive end and tackle and should excel in an increased role.
Agim posted a solid 2018 with 45 tackles, 10 TFLs and 4.5 sacks — good enough for the senior to be named to the preseason All-SEC second team by Athlon Sports.
Lining up behind him is likely the Razorbacks' best player. After a stellar junior campaign that saw him post 118 tackles (third in the SEC), linebacker De’Jon Harris certainly could’ve taken his talents to the NFL.
Instead, Harris, already proven to be one of the best tacklers in the SEC, will return for his senior season in Fayetteville.
To go along with 118 tackles, Harris also recorded nine TFLs and two sacks — a feat that helped him to be named to the All-SEC second team by the Associated Press.
With another year under his belt, Harris should continue to be one of the lone bright spots for a subpar Arkansas defense.
Losing star safety Santos Ramirez and starting cornerback Ryan Pulley certainly won’t help a Razorbacks' defensive backfield that allowed about 245 yards a game through the air last season
Arkansas’ defensive backs are young and unproven. Redshirt sophomore cornerback Jarques McClellion only started nine games last year but is already the team’s most experienced corner.
With Ramirez gone, junior strong safety Kameron Curl has a chance to be the leader of the defensive backfield.
Curl posted 53 tackles with five passes defended last year and, at 6-foot-2, has solid size that can help the junior take the next step.
Special teams could be the area where the Razorbacks shine the most.
Senior kicker Connor Limpert was a Lou Groza Award semifinalist last year and after going 19-24 on his FG attempts, was named to Athlon Sports’ preseason All-SEC second team.
At 5-foot-10 and 180-pounds, wide receiver De’Vion Warren may lack the frame to make an impact in the passing game. However, his speed, quickness and elusiveness allow the junior to excel in the return game. Warren’s 28.5 yards per return on kickoffs ranked second in the SEC and should be a factor for the Hogs going forward.
It wasn’t pretty in Morris' first year in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks were winless in conference play and largely ineffective on both sides of the ball.
Regardless, another two-win season for Arkansas is probably unlikely. While the team has major question marks at almost every position on the board, a second year under Morris’ system should only benefit the team.
Harris is a bona-fide star and while he might be one of the only established impact players on the team, it’s likely someone steps up in an increased role.
The development of Hicks as the new signal caller is imperative if the Razorbacks want to compete in the SEC and while the Razorbacks are certainly a few years away from actually contending on a national stage, a couple wins here and there isn’t out of the question for the team down in Fayetteville.