Spring practices are in the books and fall camps will be here before you know it so that means getting an early jump on the 2006 NCAA football season. Knowing the teams now will save you time in August and Matt Fargo is here to help you get a grasp of what to expect this upcoming year. We go from worst to first in this 2006 College Football Preview.
#31 – Arkansas Razorbacks 4-7 SU; 6-4 ATS
Fargo’s Take Arkansas is probably still a year away from being a major player in the SEC but if last season was any indication, the Razorbacks are going in the right direction. Four of their seven losses were by four points or less including games against bowl teams Georgia, South Carolina and LSU. Head coach Houston Nutt has been on the hot seat for some time now but after landing arguably the best recruit in school history in quarterback Mitch Mustain, he gets to stay for at least a little while longer. The rushing game was one of the best in the country a season ago but with new offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn at the helm, there will be more of a wide open attack. The Razorbacks return the most starters of any team in the SEC and anything short of a bowl appearance this season will be a huge disappointment. The schedule sets up well for that to happen and a possible run at the SEC West isn’t totally inconceivable.
Returning Starters on Offense – 10 The signing of Mustain puts Arkansas in excellent position for the future but he likely won’t get his chance to shine until next year. Malzaun was his coach in high school and the Razorbacks will be running that same offense, so he is already ahead of the pack in that regard. Robert Johnson, benched midway through last season when the Razorbacks needed a spark, was made the starter and he will have to improve his passing game immediately. At running back, Darren McFadden had a sensational freshman season and he will be the go to guy again. Unfortunately, he is likely out for the season opener because of a broken toe suffered in the summer. The offensive line is enormous and experienced and will pave the way for another potent running attack. The receivers will be led by Marcus Monk and Cedric Washington but more consistency is necessary.
Returning Starters on Defense – 9 Arkansas finished 34th in the country last season in total defense and while allowing 24.6 ppg, the unit improved as the season went along. A 70-point game by USC certainly didn’t help the average and taking that out, the number comes down to 20.1 ppg. The Razorbacks allowed 19 points or fewer in their last four games and six games total for the season. Everyone who made contributions last year is back with the only exception being cornerback. The secondary should not be a liability however as four JUCO transfers will be competing for the unit that finished 45th in passing defense a season ago. The run defense stiffened down the stretch, allowing just 64.2 ypg in its final five games after allowing 189.5 ypg in its first six games. The stop unit should improve even more this season.
Schedule Eight home games, including two in Little Rock, are on the schedule this season and that should push Arkansas to its first winning record since 2003. The most anticipated game of the year is the first against USC as the Razorbacks had this one circled since the September 17th drubbing from last year. The other three non-conference games are all at home and all will be easy wins against Utah St., SE Missouri St. and La-Monroe. The SEC schedule will be a challenge as usual but catching Alabama, Tennessee and rival LSU all at home is a huge bonus. The road games consist of Vanderbilt, Auburn, South Carolina and Mississippi St. with the games against the Tigers being the lone sure loss. If the Razorbacks can upset Alabama at home, that far-fetched run at the SEC East won’t be so far-fetched anymore.
You can bet on… Arkansas made huge progress last season with a very young team and was just a few plays away from becoming bowl eligible. That should not be a problem this year but it all hinges on the quarterback situation and if the new offense can be picked up quickly. Johnson has a very short lease after his struggles from last year. There are two games on the schedule this season that are being played in Little Rock and that is where Arkansas has flourished under Nutt. In 20 games played there, the Razorbacks are 19-1 SU and 12-7 against the number. The first game is against La-Monroe, a sure win while the other is against LSU in the season finale. The Tigers are the team that owns that one win and had better be ready for a fight.
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