(Part 4 of a 14-part SEC preview series)
Arkansas' hopes for the upcoming season are centered around senior quarterback Austin Allen and a veteran offensive line.
Beginning his fifth year in Fayetteville, coach Bret Bielema returns six starters on both sides of the ball from last year's 7-6, 3-5 outfit.
Uncharacteristic of a Bielema-coached team, the Hogs threw the ball effectively but struggled with the running game. Arkansas ranked eighth in the Southeastern Conference in scoring (30.3 points per game), third in passing (264.2 yards per game), 11th in rushing (164.2 ypg) and eighth in total offense (428.4). A negative-4 turnover margin — 13th in the conference — didn't help the Hogs' cause.
Completing 61.1 percent of his passes, Allen led the league in passing with 3,430 yards and 25 touchdowns. However, he is looking to reduce his interceptions after being picked off 15 times.
Arkansas has some concerns about its backfield. Second-team All-SEC tailback Rawleigh Williams III (245 carries, 1,360 yards, 12 touchdowns) retired after suffering a second neck injury during spring practice.
Williams' absence opens the door for sophomore Devwah Whaley (100-602-3; 6 receptions, 139 yards). Graduate transfer David Williams (56-239-3 at South Carolina) could prove to be a valuable addition to the backfield after joining the Hogs in June.
Six of the top seven receivers from last season are missing. Senior wide receiver Jared Cornelius (32 receptions, 515 yards, 4 TDs) and sophomore tight end Austin Cantrell (13-120-2) are the top holdovers. Sophomore Brandon Martin is among the newcomers to watch. Martin prepped at Wossman before transferring to Prime Academy (Texas) as a senior and spending last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
Senior center Frank Ragnow, who hasn't allowed a sack over a span of 26 consecutive starts, is the mainstay of the offensive line. Junior left guard Hjalte Froholdt started all 13 games last fall after shifting over from the defensive line. Froholdt played his first American football game as an exchange student from Denmark during his sophomore year of high school. Guard Johnny Gibson and tackle Brian Wallace, a pair of juniors, man the right side. Sophomore left tackle Colton Jackson slides into the left tackle spot, vacated by first-team All-SEC performer Dan Skipper.
Former Iowa State head coach Paul Rhoads (2009-15) has been assigned the task of upgrading a defense which allowed 31.1 points per game (10th in the SEC). Besides yielding the most points by an Arkansas defense since 2008, the Hogs ranked 10th against the run (205.5 ypg), eighth against the pass (221.2 ypg) and eighth in total defense (426.7 ypg).
Sophomore end McTelvin Agim (27 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) is the team's most experienced defensive lineman. Briston Guidry, a redshirt freshman out of New Orleans Rummel, is projected to start at the opposite edge, with senior Bijhon Jackson (9 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks) of El Dorado at nose tackle.
Senior Dwayne Eugene Jr. (44 tackles, 1 interception), who prepped at Rummel, and junior Dre Greenlaw (42 tackles, 1 INT) return at linebacker, with junior Randy Ramsey (23 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles) and New Orleans John Ehret alumnus De'Jon "Scoota" Harris (37 tackles, 2 TFL, 1 sack) stepping into starting roles.
Senior free safety Josh Liddell (63, 2 INTs) is the top returning tackler. Yet another former Rummel Raider, senior Henré Toliver (45 tackles, 2 INTs), and junior Ryan Pulley (47 tackles, 2 INTs, 13 pass breakups) are the incumbent cornerbacks. Junior Santos Ramirez (43 tackles, 1 INT, 2 FF) of Shreveport Evangel takes over at strong safety. Senior cornerback Kevin Richardson II has rejoined the squad after being lost for the season in Week 1 vs. Louisiana Tech. Starting the final five games in 2015, Richardson tallied 44 tackles and an interception.
Junior Cole Hedlund will handle the kicking after sharing the job with Adam McFain last year. Sophomore Blake Johnson is the new punter.
Former Shreveport Evangel standout Jared Cornelius returned 12 punts for a 7.1-yard average, while Deon Stewart ran back 21 kickoffs at a 20-yard clip.
2017 ARKANSAS SCHEDULE
(ALL TIMES CENTRAL)
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Aug. 31 (Thurs.) Florida A&M (at Little Rock) 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 TCU 2:30
Sept. 23 vs. Texas A&M* (at Arlington, Texas) 2:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 New Mexico State TBA
Oct. 7 at South Carolina* TBA
Oct. 14 at Alabama* TBA
Oct. 21 Auburn* TBA
Oct. 28 at Ole Miss* TBA
Nov. 4 Coastal Carolina TBA
Nov. 11 at LSU* TBA
Nov. 18 Mississippi State* TBA
Nov. 24 (Fri.) Missouri* TBA