5 Dream/Doomsday Scenarios for Arkansas in 2022

If you spend any time in the state of Arkansas, you’ll hear the men at the round table at any family restaurant talk about their hopes for a great Razorback football season.

A returning superstar quarterback, a running game that led all Power 5, and a defense with a dog with them. There’s a lot to like in 2022.

What will make this a dream season for the Razorbacks? Here are 5 storylines the Hogs need to see another New Year’s bowling game…or even more. Follow-up to the bad news: 5 worst-case scenarios they hope to avoid.

Dream scenarios

KJ Jefferson Takes Next Step, Heisman Hype Begins Mid-October

I start with this because Jefferson performed well in October outside of the game against Georgia last season. The Hogs are once again playing a tough schedule with early matchups that include Cincinnati, South Carolina and Alabama. He threw the ball well in the Southwest Classic against Texas A&M with an 80-yard bomb and multiple runs to cap off a monumental win to start the season 4-0.

Many eyes will be on what happens in Fayetteville on September 3 with the presence of SEC Nation. Arkansas opens the season with the Bearcats coming out of a College Football Playoff. People still doubt Cincinnati. Jefferson says he has a “chip on his shoulder” to prove his doubters wrong.

What must Jefferson do to become a candidate for Heisman? If he can average 350 yards and 3 touchdowns per game to go along with some signature wins, start the conversation.

Solid unit of defensive transfers in the SEC top 3

Jordan Domineck, Terry Lambert, Landon Jackson, Dwight McGlothern, Drew Sanders and Latavious Brini are all capable starters at the Power 5 level and have all picked Arkansas to end their careers. Credit defensive coordinator Barry Odom for attracting such talent.

The Hogs needed passing throwers, a dominant linebacker to go along with Bumper Pool, and a few defensive backs to round out the deepest positional group on the team. Arkansas also has returning U.S. candidate Jalen Catalon as safety from injury and looks phenomenal to start camp. A real “no-fly zone” could be in order.

Sanders was emerging as a force in Alabama before his injury last season. Jackson (6-7,270lbs) could be just what the doctor ordered as a peak rusher. He didn’t play much to start his career at LSU, but the talent is here to become a factor for the Hogs.

Arkansas starts 5-0, beats Alabama to start October

It’s been 14 long seasons since the Razorbacks beat Alabama. When Tide’s winning streak began, it was tied at 8 (officially, thanks to some canceled matches) and loaded with many memorable matches over the years. Let’s call it like most SEC programs call it “BS” or “Before Saban.”

The stars are aligning this season for a great team and an all-time record. Seven total home games, a neutral site against Texas A&M and 3 real road games – at BYU, Mississippi State and Auburn. If Arkansas can start 5-0 and be a potential top-10 team, a matchup against a presumed top-ranked Alabama could put College GameDay (maybe) in Fayetteville for Week 5.

With all eyes on the Razorbacks, a win would show the nation that 9-4 was no fluke and that Arkansas’ program arrived in the SEC much sooner than expected.

A win over Alabama really starts to speak of a “dream season” on The Hill.

Run the game leads again Power 5

Arkansas has been very competitive and physical in 2021, which helped the Hogs lead Power 5 rushing (227 yards per game).

It all started with the bombing of Texas in front of a raucous crowd in Fayetteville. Then, after losing 3 straight in October, they bounced back to win 5 of 6 en route to their first bowl win since 2015, all thanks to their dominant running game.

They can definitely do it again with 73% of the production going to Rocket Sanders, Dominique Johnson and AJ Green. They are expected to surpass last season’s numbers. If so, they will be sitting well in November.

Sam Pittman unanimously named coach of the year

Oh yes! The most unlikely coach to win this award when hired in the 2020 cycle quickly brought the program back.

The process has been difficult, but what else does he have to prove? A team that won just one conference game in 3 seasons from 2017-2019 actually won an SEC game on their second try in Starkville in 2020.

A team with something to prove won all 4 trophy games last season – and was in possession to defeat Alabama.

What if they did win 10 or 11 regular season games? Is this the Pittman Prize up for grabs? Bet your chocolate sauce does!

A coach of the year award is the icing on the cake for a dream season for Arkansas in 2022.

* * * *

And now for the bad news:

5 nightmarish scenarios

A 0-2 start to the season

If Arkansas loses its first 2 games – both at home – that would be tough to overcome.

Yes, Cincinnati made the playoffs last season, but the Bearcats are starting over at quarterback and replacing several other NFL draft picks as well.

South Carolina completes the Beamer Ball this season. There are plenty of new faces, including former 5-star QB Spencer Rattler, who hope to propel the Gamecocks to the next level in the SEC East. If the Razorbacks are reeling from a loss to Cincinnati the previous week, the Gamecocks could sneak a win with an 11 a.m. CT kickoff.

An 0-2 start could wipe out all the momentum the Hogs gained last season, creating a potential 1-4 start.

Defense is not as good as advertised

The Hogs added a lot of talented transfers in defense. Jordan Domineck (Georgia Tech), Landon Jackson (LSU), Latavious Brini (Georgia), Dwight McGlothern (LSU) and Drew Sanders (Alabama) all arrive with hopes of taking Arkansas to the next level.

What if this group couldn’t find their chemistry with a 0-2 start? Could the trust they placed in Barry Odom disappear? A disappointment could be massive on social media with all the hype surrounding the program this offseason.

The watch block…

Arkansas could have up to 2 or 3 new starters on the offensive line. Who replaces left tackle Myron Cunningham? The answer is former 4-star and Charlotte transfer Ty’Kieast Crawford. He has a huge advantage but hasn’t started a game since the 2020 season.

The right tackle has also been solidified, with the return of Dalton Wagner for his 5th season. Expect Wagner to win a positional battle against Notre Dame transfer Luke Jones. However, Wagner has a history of back problems, so Jones will have the opportunity to make an impact.

Worst case scenario? What if both tackle positions fail? Does that mean a lot of sacks and scrambling opportunities for Jefferson? A lower season could be ahead.

Lack of post-Burks production

No player will replace the production of Treylon Burks (1,104 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns).

Jadon Haselwood and Matt Landers arrive as transfers. Isaiah Sategna is a true Fayetteville freshman who possesses breakthrough speed. There are so many unknowns before the season. Can the receivers open? Can they play in space? This is a real concern for the Razorbacks at fall camp and one that could cause a crisis in Week 1 and beyond if left unaddressed.

No rush pass

Pittman has focused on recruiting the defensive line this offseason. For the third consecutive season, he replaced the coaching position. Deke Adams is the new guy and is used to forming an active line while recruiting very well.

Adams’ new defensive line could fail without the rushers proven this season. John Ridgeway, Tre Williams and Markell Utsey are all gone. Domineck and Jackson arrived through the portal. Will they blend in with returnees like Zach Williams, Eric Gregory and Jashaud Stewart? Adams has his hands full trying to figure out the answer. Although Pittman feels confident in his D-line, but that’s still a huge question mark.

Finding a pass rush could be the difference between a 6-win or 10-win team.

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