FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas didn’t get much love at the SEC Media Days last week.
Which, coming off a 2-10 season, was understandable and expected. The team was basically two plays away from being 2-10 in 2017 as well. It took a great effort from T.J. Hammonds to get past Coastal Carolina and Connor Limpert kicked a field goal on the last play of the Ole Miss game for the victory.
So it is understandable reporters are skeptical of how good this Arkansas team can be in Chad Morris’ second season. However, this team has a good chance to prove the doubters wrong.
If things fall right for Arkansas in 2019 a 6-6 or 7-5 record is extremely possible. How can the Razorbacks make that much improvement in one season? Here’s the path for the Hogs to get to a bowl game this fall.
The first key will be start the season 4-0. That would include beating Portland State, Colorado State and San Jose State in Fayetteville.
That would also include going to Oxford and winning Morris’ first SEC game on Sept. 7 in Week 2. That won’t be easy, but the Razorbacks could have very easily beaten the Rebels in Little Rock last season.
The Hogs’ offense was rolling and hadn’t been forced to punt the entire game entering the fourth quarter. But along the way the Hogs lost Devwah Whaley and Rakeem Boyd at running back due to injuries. Then, quarterback Ty Storey went down with an injury in the fourth quarter.
Ole Miss then mounted a rally and won the game. Ole Miss lost some key members off that team and this is a winnable game for Arkansas. It’s one they definitely need to steal.
That would allow the Razorbacks to take on Texas A&M and have momentum going into AT&T Stadium for the Sept. 28 game. Morris knew this job had its challenges when he took over.
“When you take a head football coaching job, you know that establishing and enhancing a culture is your top priority, and it takes time, and it takes consistency, and there’s a certain process to follow to develop the results that you’re looking for,” Morris said. “You can look at examples for guys that I worked for. Coach (Dabo) Swinney, guys in this league, Dan Mullen and Mark Stoops. It didn’t happen overnight.”
In Morris’ second season at SMU he went from 2-10 to 5-7 in the second year. If Arkansas can come out of September this fall 4-1 he could have a better second year at Arkansas than he did with the Mustangs.
Morris understands the process of turning a program around.
“The process has gone from being a coach-fed team to a player-led culture follows three steps that we always talk about,” Morris said. “I know it. I do it. And I own it. And my focus as a head football coach at the University of Arkansas is about building a program that’s a consistent winner. Year in, year out, we want to compete for championships, but to win championships first, you got to develop champions and our staff is doing a tremendous job of doing that and recruiting that way and turning young men into champions. But it doesn’t happen overnight.”
Following the Texas A&M game the Hogs will get a bye week. That gives them two weeks to heal after five consecutive games and prepare for a Kentucky team that also suffered big losses from 2018. Like Ole Miss, Kentucky is a winnable game, but also like the Rebels it’s a road game for Arkansas. The Hogs and Wildcats will battle in Lexington on Oct. 12.
While it won’t be easy, Arkansas needs to start the season 5-1. That would mean Morris’ first two SEC wins would come away from home. The rest of October gets brutal following the Kentucky game. Arkansas will host Auburn on Oct. 19 and then head to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama on Oct. 26.
If the Razorbacks can head into November with a 5-3 record they would have to feel great about their chances of bowling following the season. Three of the four games in November are home games.
Mississippi State comes to Fayetteville on Nov. 2 and then one week later Ty Storey and Western Kentucky roll into Razorback Stadium. If they were 5-3 entering November then win one of these games and the bowl reps will come calling.
Arkansas’ lone road game in the final month is Nov. 23 against LSU. Arkansas gets a bye following the Western Kentucky game to help prepare for the final two games.
The Hogs close out the regular season on Friday, Nov. 29, against Kelly Bryant and Missouri. Missouri is a game the Hogs would love to get some revenge from last season’s disaster in Columbia to close out 2018.
“Our mission is to prepare young men for success both on and off the field for the rest of their life,” Morris said. “And when I got in this business of changing lives and impacting lives through the game of football, and winning football games, that hasn’t changed. We always have and we have always developed young men in our program as people, as students, and then as players. That’s our process for getting results.”
Arkansas will surprise some people this fall and make it to a bowl game.