Can Arkansas Survive The New Challenges?

Can Arkansas Survive The New Challenges?

During the 2021 season, Arkansas Football accomplished many feats, including winning all three ‘trophy’ games against Texas A&M in Arlington, LSU in Baton Rouge, and Missouri in Columbia, to finish the regular season with an 8-4 record. The Hogs would defeat Penn State in the Outback Bowl to give them their 9th victory of the season and a first bowl victory over a Big 10 team. This win would come on January 1st – their first on this date since the 2000 Cotton Bowl. Arkansas went on to win more than eight games for the first time since the 2011 season when they won eleven. This season the Razorbacks will travel to unfamiliar places and battle some old familiar friends. Can Arkansas survive the new challenges?

Fans will see the usual SEC opponents in Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU, and others, but this season features teams that have made serious noise on a national level. Mixed into an already challenging schedule in 2022 are three groups the Hogs have yet to face in their 112-year history. This season features another participant from last season’s CFB Playoff and a familiar coach with a new team packed with talent. Let us dig into who these teams are and how much damage they can do on this season’s slate.

Who Is New?

Cincinnati – September 3rd – Fayetteville, Arkansas

Cincinnati poses an immediate threat as they enter Fayetteville for a week-one tussle. The Bearcats come in as the defending American Athletic Conference champion. In case you missed it, last season, they went 13-1 and became the first G5 school to make the College Football Playoff. The Bearcats’ head coach, Luke Fickell, has done an impressive job of changing the culture in The Queen City. Since a record of 4-8 in his first season in 2017, Fickell and the Bearcats have lost only seven games.

Though they lose their star signal caller in Desmond Ridder, Running Back Jerome Ford, and WR Alec Pierce, this team is still loaded with talent. Cincy will return 13 starters [8 offense, five defense] for this season and fill these voids with additions in the transfer portal in multiple areas this offseason. They brought in Ben Bryant from Eastern Washington, where he was 68% passing on the season with 14 TDS last season. Bryant, paired with returning sophomore Evan Prater,  leaves the position room with the talent to make a smooth transition.

The Bearcats will not be intimidated entering the hostile SEC environment on the season’s opening day. Their trip to South Bend and 24-13 victory last October 2nd; will erase any doubt about the previous statement. Arkansas will need to make plays well and create extra possessions to knock off the previous season’s darling team.

Liberty – October 1st – Fayetteville, Arkansas

Arkansas will face an old familiar coach when the Liberty Flames make the trip to the hill to start October. Hugh Freeze, former Ole Miss coach,  is now in his 4th season at the helm in Lynchburg. Since entering the 2018 season, the Flames have not lost less than six games.

Since Freeze has been in Lynchburg, the Flames have gone to three straight bowl games. They finished 8-5  and Cure Bowl trophy in 2019. In 2020, the Flames finished with a 10-1 while winning the Cure Bowl. Freeze and company would follow that up with an 8-5 season and a Lending Tree Bowl victory.

The question coming into this season will be who will replace Malik Willis, the star dual-threat QB from 2021. When Baylor transfer Charlie Brewer made his commitment, he filled the quarterback position. Arkansas fans are all too familiar with the type of teams Freeze has become accustomed to having. Liberty will have a bye week before the 1,018-mile trek to Fayetteville. If Arkansas comes in unprepared, that may be just the edge they need.

BYU- October 15th – Provo, Utah

Historically, Arkansas doesn’t play well on the west coast as they hold an 0-3 record. These losses came during the 2000, 2005, and  2018 seasons. Arkansas will travel to Provo to take on the Cougars from BYU. Led by 7th-year head coach Kalani Sitake, the Cougars have remained a team to be reckoned with. The Cougars have compiled a  21-4 over the last two seasons. BYU played in the Independence Bowl yet lost to a UAB team 31-28 and finished with a 10-3 record.

In 2022 the Cougars return all starters on defense and eight on offense. The returning quarterback, Jaren Hall, played well in 2021 [ 2,583, 64% in 10 games played] and will look to improve his experience this season. This offense has the weapons to continue their 452 yards per game and 33 points per game from last season. Injuries hindered this team on both sides of the ball but affected the defense.

The Cougar defense has all eleven starters back and is hoarded with NFL talent. The linebackers for BYU are their strong suit with Payton Wilgar, Ben Bywater, and Keenan Pili, who will be something all Offensive coordinators will have nightmares over. Arkansas must make the right reads to keep this talented defensive unit on their heels.

One thousand two hundred sixty-seven miles separate Provo from Fayetteville on the map. This road trip will be essential for this team on their journey this season.

This season’s schedule may be this staff’s most fascinating yet and features teams not readily available to most. Coach Sam Pittman, his staff, and this team may see heights not seen last year if things fall into place. Can the Hogs get to 10 or even 11 wins in 2022?

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