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4 x 4 Preview: Arkansas

By Matt Smith
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Armed with a proven head coach, Arkansas is hoping to prevent missing out on a bowl game for a second consecutive season.

4 Household Names

1. C Travis Swanson (Sr.) – New head coach Bret Bielema routinely churned out elite offensive linemen during his seven years at Wisconsin. Swanson should be the first in his Arkansas tenure. The senior has made 38 career starts and is a top Rimington Trophy candidate, given to the nation’s best center. At 6’5” and 314 pounds, Swanson has great size for a man in the middle and will the have the eye of NFL scouts all season.

2. DE Chris Smith (Sr.) – While Smith is well known amongst Arkansas fans, he’s somewhat overlooked by everyone else because of the prolific offenses under Bobby Petrino and last year’s 4-8 meltdown. Smith could challenge the school sacks record after registering 9 ½ as a junior.

3. DT Byran Jones (Sr.) – Petrino’s Arkansas teams often came up short in big games due to inferior defensive line play. With Smith and Jones, Bielema’s first teams likely won’t have that problem. Jones has great size at 310 pounds and has filled a key void in the Razorbacks’ defense against the conference’s power running games.

4. K Zach Hocker (Sr.) – Most of Arkansas’ career scoring records will belong to Hocker when his career closes following this season, a few of which he has already broken. His 2012 season, like the rest of the team, was somewhat underwhelming after making 21 of 27 attempts in 2011, but Hogs fans should feel very comfortable in a close game with Hocker on their side.

4 Relative Unknowns Who Will Become Household Names

1. RB Alex Collins (Fr.) – You may know the name Alex Collins, but that’s likely because his mother refused to sign his letter of intent to Arkansas on National Signing Day. Collins will team with returnee Jonathan Williams to give the Hogs a solid 1-2 punch in the backfield. With a new quarterback, sophomore Brandon Allen, and major question marks at receiver, Collins’ impact must be immediate.

2. OG Brey Cook (Jr.) – A prized recruit a few years back, Cook’s development has been slow. He’s fluctuated between tackle and guard, but likely will remain inside despite having more of a tackle’s physique at 6’7”. With what should be a more lineman-friendly offense, expect Cook to finally emerge as a force up front in his third season.

3. LB Otha Peters (So.) – Peters walked into a great situation last season with regards to playing time, as Arkansas was extremely thin at linebacker. He earned a starting role late in the season and showed that the future was bright. Position flexibility is the sophomore’s greatest asset, as he can play both inside and outside.

4. TE Hunter Henry (Fr.) – Henry did not waver in his commitment to the program after the 2012 fiasco. It turned out to be a wise decision, as Bielema’s Badgers teams always seemed to have a weapon at tight end. Blocking will come with time, but Henry should make an immediate impact in the passing game. There is no better friend for a young quarterback than a reliable tight end.

4 Must-See Games

1. Sept. 28 vs. Texas A&M – The Aggies will make their first visit to Arkansas since the Razorbacks left the Southwest Conference in 1992. This begins the toughest four-game stretch of any team in the nation for Arkansas, as they then travel to Florida and Alabama, surrounded by a home date with South Carolina. This will mark Texas A&M’s first road game since its landmark win at Alabama last November.

2. Oct. 12 vs. South Carolina – If for nothing else, this could be the last game between these two for awhile, as both teams are expected to get new permanent partners for the 2014 season. They’ve met every year since entering the SEC together in 1992, with the Razorbacks having won the past three at home. The Gamecocks don’t play an opponent in October who finished 2012 with a winning record, so this could be an opportunity to catch them napping.

3. Oct. 19 at Alabama – Bielema wasn’t shy about comparing his credentials with those of Nick Saban when he left the Big Ten for the SEC in 2000. Saban went to three bowl games in the Big Ten, while Bielema went to three Rose Bowls. The two are on the same side of the no-huddle offense debate, but don’t expect any warm, fuzzy moments between them when the Razorbacks come to Tuscaloosa.

4. Nov. 2 vs. Auburn – This may be the only one of the four that falls into the “winnable” category for the Hogs. However, this game is on here for one reason: the war of words between Bielema and Tigers coach Gus Malzahn regarding no huddle-offenses. Neither one held back during last month’s SEC Media Days when the topic came up. Expect plenty of gamesmanship when they meet in Fayetteville.

4 Bold Predictions

1. Collins will lead the team in rushing. There’s no position better than running back for true freshman to make an impact, as we saw last year with Georgia’s Todd Gurley and Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon. Despite the drama in February, Collins appeared extremely mature in interviews, which should ease his transition to major college football. Williams may be the opening-day starter, and both will top 100 carries, but Collins is the future.

2. Arkansas will sweep its non-conference schedule. OK, so predicting wins over Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss isn’t exactly going out on a huge limb (although watch out for the Ragin’ Cajuns). However, Arkansas will likely be an underdog at Rutgers after a convincing home loss last season. A 4-0 start is probably a must if the Hogs hope to go bowling.

3. The Razorbacks will finish last in the SEC. Bielema seemed tickled by the fact that the SEC media voted his team last in the SEC West, but he may not feel that way in November when it actually comes true. The schedule is brutal, and the overall talent level is not up to par.

4. Arkansas misses a bowl game for the second straight year. The Hogs will survive their midseason gauntlet still in bowl contention, but a surprisingly strong Auburn team and an Ole Miss team off of a bye week will put an end to bowl hopes. A win over Mississippi State will allow the Hogs to avoid a winless season, but it’ll be home for the holidays for the third time in six years for Arkansas.

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Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.