Improved depth gives Hogs a chance despite challenging schedule

Arkansas has perhaps the most talented squad since the hey days of the Bobby Petrino era.
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders (5) celebrates after a touchdown against Alabama during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 1, 2022, in Fayetteville, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

The countdown to kickoff for the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 2023 season stands at 15 days, and by nearly all accounts, this will be one of the most talented squads to take the field for the Hogs in recent memory.

It’s perhaps the most talented squad since the hey days of the Bobby Petrino era in 2010-2011, although the Hogs’ 2015 squad was also a very talented group.

Better yet this Razorback squad might boast the most playable depth since beyond those periods.

Depth has always been an issue for Arkansas, even for the very best Razorback teams dating back to the 1970s. Two-deep depth charts have always been issued to the media, but unfortunately the Razorbacks haven’t always been two-deep. Some names were merely place holders.

The old cliche is “next man up,” but too often for the Hogs, the next man hasn’t been ready or capable of performing at the SEC level. That is changing at Arkansas with solid recruiting work both with high school prospects and through the transfer portal.

The Razorbacks seemed to have vastly improved themselves through the transfer portal since the disappointing loss at Missouri to finish the regular season last year.

At least 25 players transferred out of the program at the end of last season, but Sam Pittman and his staff seemed to have made the most of the their opportunity by improving the team at most positions.

The Razorbacks will have transfer-portal starters and/or playable backups in the secondary, at linebacker, the defensive line, the offensive line, tight end, wide receiver, and quarterback. Outside of the kicking game, that’s every position group but running back, which probably is the deepest position group on the entire team.

Depth works wonders for a football team. It makes practices more competitive. It creates options for coaches, and it keeps players fresher for the fourth quarter.

Depth is what allows programs like Georgia and Alabama to dominate games in the fourth quarter. Back-up players at programs with legitimate depth aren’t second-stringers. They are starters-in-waiting.

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (1) gestures toward fans after scoring a touchdown against Kansas during the first half of the Liberty Bowl NCAA college football game Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

I’m not suggesting the Razorbacks have improved to that level with this team, but thanks to the transfer portal and for what at the moment appears to be excellent use of it by Pittman and his staff, the Razorbacks are perhaps the deepest they’ve been in a decade or more.

How all of that plays out on the field, we’ll have to find out.

The Razorbacks have an incredibly challenging schedule as always. The Hogs’ late September and October schedule is stacked like no other in recent memory with basically four road games in a row.

Yes, the Texas A&M game at Arlington, Texas on Sept. 30 is technically played at neutral site deep in the heart of Texas, but it’s still a road trip with at best a 50/50 crowd.

Each of the teams — No. 5 LSU on Sept. 23, No. 24 Texas A&M on Sept. 30, No. 22 Ole Miss on Oct. 7, and No. 4 Alabama on Oct. 14 — in that run are ranked in the preseason Associated Press Top 25.

It’s going to take all the depth the Razorbacks can muster for the Hogs to survive the rigors of that portion of the season. Making matters more critical, Arkansas’ games that sandwich that portion of the schedule aren’t pushovers in any shape, way or form.

The Hogs host BYU on Sept. 16 and Mississippi State on Oct. 21. The Cougars will be seeking payback for what the Razorbacks did to them last year in Provo, Utah and not even Alabama whipped the Razorbacks as soundly last season as the Bulldogs did. It will certainly be a new year but nothing can be taken for granted.

Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos indicated Thursday that most of the Hogs’ offensive installation is complete, with the Razorbacks working on variations to certain plays and sets.

Enos remarked that Arkansas’ defense, especially the front seven has been a chore to work against in practices, but adding that the competition should pay off for the Razorbacks this season.

The Razorbacks will have their final full-scale scrimmage of the preseason on Saturday. How the Hogs perform in that scrimmage will no doubt be key when Pittman and his staff make their final decisions before breaking the squad into the varsity and scout units at some point next week.

It will be interesting to see how the Hogs’ pecking order further evolves as we move ever closer to kickoff.

Arkansas Razorbacks 2023 football schedule

Countdown to Kickoff: 15 Days

Sept. 2 – Western Carolina at Little Rock (12 p.m. ESPN+/SEC+)
Sept. 9 – Kent State (3 p.m. SEC Network)
Sept. 16 – BYU (6:30 p.m. ESPN2)
Sept. 23 – at LSU (TBA)
Sept. 30 – Texas AM at Arlington, Texas (TBA)
Oct. 7 – at Ole Miss (TBA)
Oct. 14 – at Alabama (TBA)
Oct. 21 – Mississippi State (TBA)
Nov. 4 – at Florida (TBA)
Nov. 11 – Auburn (TBA)
Nov. 18 – Florida International (TBA)
Nov. 24 – Missouri – (3 p.m. CBS)