The countdown to the kickoff of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ season is now less than 40 days, and the opening of preseason drills is just over a week away. The anticipation for the season was stoked last week by SEC Football Media Days at Nashville.
The Razorbacks were picked to finish fifth in the SEC West in the final year of divisional play by selected members of the attending media. Though LSU was the talk of the town throughout the week, Alabama was picked first in the West, followed by the Bayou Bengals, Texas A&M, Ole Miss, the Hogs, Auburn, and Mississippi State.
In the East, Georgia was of course THE pick, followed by Tennessee, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Missouri, and Vanderbilt.
In terms of All-SEC selections, tailback Raheim “Rocket” Sanders was the lone Razorback voted to first-team honors. Quarterback K.J. Jefferson made the second team along with offensive guard Brady Latham and cornerback Dwight “Nudie” McGlothern.
That’s not much love from the national and regional media that attended the event, but Arkansas’ underachieving 7-6 record last season certainly has onlookers questioning how the Hogs will perform this season. New defensive coordinator Travis Williams and his right-hand man co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Marcus Woodson take over what was considered one of the worst defenses in the SEC last year.
Dan Enos returns to Arkansas as offensive coordinator. He previously held the same position under Bret Bielema for three seasons (2015-17). During the 2015 season Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman was the offensive line coach working with Enos, and during that season, the Razorbacks compiled more than 6,000 yards of total offense, which has only happened three times in school history.
I’m personally optimistic that the Hogs will finish better than fourth in the West this season, but I’m generally overly optimistic this time of year. The only time I haven’t been was going into Chad Morris’ second year as head coach.
I freely admit I’m a homer. Northwest Arkansas is a wonderful place to live no matter how well the Hogs play, but when the Razorbacks are good in any of the three major sports, the atmosphere On the Hill and around the region is downright magical.
Just for fun, here’s my list of the top-10 Razorback players going into fall camp. Yes, I know it’s a bit ridiculous to rate players whose positions and duties are totally different in this manner. It’s kind of like rating which is more important your kidneys or your liver. You need both functioning to live for very long, but until the Hogs get down to business on the practice field, it’s not a bad way to bide the time.
First I’ll mention three dark-horse picks: Defensive end John Morgan III (6-2, 273), a transfer from Pitt. He could be a difference-maker on the edge. Linebacker Antonio Grier (6-1, 228) is a transfer from South Florida, who had a nice spring and is a likely starter. Wide receiver Isaac TeSlaa (6-4, 215) came on toward the end of spring. Coming from Hillsdale (MI.) College, he lacks SEC experience, but he has an SEC build.
10. Luke Hasz
I might be crazy to rank a true freshman this high on the list, but the 6-3, 230-pound tight end from Bixby, Okla., was one of the Hogs’ best if not the best recruit, and he plays a position that is usually emphasized in Enos’ offenses. It’s a position in which the Hogs need immediate help. Hasz is young, but he’s going to have plenty of opportunities to grow and mature this season. He has all-conference potential in future seasons.
9. Isaiah Satenga
The 5-11, 178-pound redshirt freshman from Fayetteville has excellent hands and speed to burn. He’s playing in the slot, and by the middle of this season, I think every Razorback fan will know his name. If this list were made at the end of the year rather than before it starts, Satenga might be listed a good bit higher.
8. Beaux Limmer
This is the third year for the 6-5, 306-pound senior from Tyler, Texas to start, but he is moving from guard to center this season, where Pitman always starts when building an offensive line. Expect him to not just be one of the best centers in the SEC but one of the best linemen.
7. Brady Latham
The 6-5, 310-pound senior for Jenks, Okla., is a three-year starter who knows the ins and outs of trench warfare in the SEC. He along with Limmer and the Hogs’ other guard — likely Florida transfer Josh Braun (6-6, 341) — are responsible for most of the holes Arkansas’ running backs will travel through this season. Having experienced, smart, and powerful linemen like Latham are hallmarks for all good offenses.
6. Landon Jackson
There might not be a more imposing physical specimen on the team. The Texarkana, Texas, product stands 6-7 and weighs in at a muscular 283. That’s ideal size for his defensive end position. With powerful long arms, O-linemen will find it hard to get to his body, and his tree-trunk legs give him the push and speed that’s been uncommon on the Razorbacks’ front lately. He is a key cog in what is expected to be a deep, pivotal position for the Razorbacks’ defense.
5. Chris “Pooh” Paul
The 6-1, 230-pound linebacker from Cordele, Ga. is a heat-seeking missile who is physically and attitudinally exactly what Williams wants at linebacker. He gained starting experience in the final few games of last season when Bumper Poole was out with an injury that no doubt helped in his development. He will be counted on for physical play as well as leadership from his key position this year.
4. Dwight “Nudie” McGlothren
There’s not another Razorback that has more swag than the 6-2, 190 pound cornerback from Houston. He was a bright spot in the Hogs’ secondary last year, and his coverage skills will be key in allowing the Hogs to run a four-man front this season. He has an aggressive nose for the ball and likes to mix it up with receivers. The Razorbacks have to be better in the secondary this season to improve, and McGlothren’s ability and leadership will play a big role in making that happen.
3. Cam Little
This may seem an odd or a too high placement for the 6-2, 181-pound product of Moore, Okla., but every time Little steps on the field as a place-kicker, it is an opportunity for the Hogs to earn points. Pittman’s teams have a history over the past three seasons of playing a lot of close games in SEC play. Given the opportunity, Little’s performance could be the difference in winning or losing. Little having a great season would likely coincide with Arkansas having at least a good one, too.
2. Raheim “Rocket” Sanders
The 6-2, 237-pound running back from Rockledge, Fla. is going for his second 1,000-yard season in a row. He was the only Hog voted first-team Preseason All-SEC, and has been mentioned as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy by some. Based on Darren McFadden’s history with the award, the Razorbacks would have to be in the hunt for the national title for Sanders to win the award, but there is no doubt he has the talent to be one of the best running backs in the nation. However, he doesn’t have to carry the load by himself. Arkansas has an excellent running back room that includes A.J. Green, Rashod Dubinion, and Dominique Johnson to help keep Rocket fresh. The Hogs should have a fresh, dangerous back ready to go throughout the game. Fresh legs will make Rocket all the more dangerous.
1. K.J. Jefferson
The 6-3, 246-pound senior from Sardis, Miss., is the straw that stirs the Razorbacks’ drink. Pittman has yet to officially name team captains, but he called Jefferson THE Razorbacks’ leader last week at SEC Media Days. Jefferson has more than a few Razorback all-time records within his sights including passing yardage and all-purpose yardage as the season begins. Keeping him healthy is a priority, but what makes Jefferson so good is his ability to run and shed tackles. Enos’ offense won’t ask him to run the option as much, but it will test his eyes and touch as a passer. This stands to be a big season for Jefferson if he remains healthy, and the Razorbacks need him at his best for what is again one of the most challenging schedules in college football.