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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Expectations heighten as Hogs' season nears

by Wally Hall | July 13, 2021 at 2:11 a.m.

It is hard to believe, but the Arkansas Razorbacks will start their football season in 53 days.

Rice comes to town after playing only five games last season because of coronavirus postponements.

The Owls might be a little better than last year's 2-3 record because they return 19 starters, nine on offense and 10 on defense.

If all goes as planned, Luke McCaffrey will be the starter at quarterback for Rice, so out of the chute the Razorbacks will get tested by a dual-threat quarterback. Carolina Panthers' running back Christian McCaffrey is his brother.

It is doubtful the Razorbacks will be looking ahead to their second opponent, Texas, because not one of these Razorbacks was born the last time the Longhorns and Hogs were rivals in the old Southwest Conference.

The last few years have been tough on the Owls, who haven't had a winning season since 2014 when they went 8-5. But anything can happen on opening day.

The Razorbacks have 19 starters back as well, but expect them to be picked last in the SEC West when the conference media days end next week.

Despite beating Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee last season, the Hogs didn't convince most voters a corner has been turned.

Yes, the Hogs easily could have been 5-5, but it's become natural to doubt the Razorbacks. Their last winning season was 2016 when they went 7-6.

Since then, they are 11-35. That does not demand respect from opponents or pollsters.

Before Coach Sam Pittman's arrival last season, the Hogs had gone two years without an SEC victory. They had just one the season before that.

Now it's a new season and everyone is undefeated. Already on some radio call-in shows, there is talk the Razorbacks should get bowl eligible.

In reality, this is like Pittman's first year. A year ago he didn't get a spring practice and didn't know much about his team until August.

In the four years prior to Pittman, the best recruiting class Arkansas had was 2019 at No. 23 nationally, but the four-year average was No. 31.

That gets you beaten in the SEC.

What shows is a difference in attitude and approach. And yes it is early, but for the Class of 2022 the Razorbacks are currently ranked No. 18 and have 10 more scholarships to give.

Of the 15 who have committed, five are four-star players.

That means before folks start predicting winning seasons, they need to give Pittman a chance to build a team with his players.

The nucleus is there for a decent season, but there isn't much margin for error. A couple of injuries and anything could happen.

One vast improvement is the team discipline. While there was nowhere to go but up, Pittman and his staff command respect and treat the players with the same.

There are no favorites. It is a team sport, and everyone is treated like part of the team.

If a starter breaks a rule, he's punished the same as a walk-on. Drop a pass in practice, well, let's just say it is frowned upon.

For a team to move up -- which is extremely hard in the SEC because there is only one king of the hill -- someone has to go down, and it's hard to find a team in the West that looks like it is headed in the wrong direction.

In fact, there are so many returning starters that it looks like last season.

Alabama has the fewest starters back with 11. After that, every school in the West has at least 15. Some of that is because the NCAA granted an extra season because of the pandemic.

Still, it is just 53 days until the first game of what could be an entertaining season.

Print Headline: Expectations heighten as Hogs' season nears

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