Arkansas Razorbacks Football: State of the Program After 2013 Season
The 2013 season is over for the Arkansas Razorbacks. It was a very rough year for head coach Bret Bielema in his first season at the helm of the program to say the least.
After a 3-0 start, reality quickly set in on just how far off the Hogs were from competing in the SEC. For the first time in the history of the program, Arkansas suffered a nine-game losing streak and did not win a game in conference play.
The 2013 campaign was a failure, but it is all behind the Razorbacks and with no postseason play, the focus now shifts to the 2014 season.
There's a lot Bielema and his Hogs are going to have to work on in the offseason leading up to next year. With that said, here's a look at the state of Arkansas football after 2013 and heading into 2014.
As bad as the year was, the good news for Arkansas is that it returns a solid number of starters and key contributors for 2014.
Technically, the Hogs return a total of 12 starters on both sides of the ball. However, Arkansas has a number of guys that played just as much as the starters that will also be coming back to The Hill.
Returning Starters: 6
Offensive Line: Brey Cook, Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper
Quarterback: Brandon Allen
Running Back: Jonathan Williams
Wide Receiver: Keon Hatcher
The strongest parts of the Arkansas offense were on the offensive line and in the backfield. Freshmen Kirkland and Skipper got invaluable experience in their first year in college by starting in the SEC. Both had some growing pains as they were thrown into the fire early in their careers, but they played very well and are the future of the O-line. Cook will also be back for his senior year, so the Hogs will only have to replace two starters.
They paved the way for a prolific rushing attack headed by Williams and freshman Alex Collins. Williams was listed as the starter, but Collins got 40 more carries than he did, so both can be considered starting backs. They should be one of the best duos in the SEC in 2014.
The biggest question marks will be at the quarterback and wideout positions.
Allen was the man under center this year, but his job is nowhere near safe. His struggles were well-documented, and he will be fighting for his job during the offseason. Receivers will also need to step up. Hatcher should be the go-to guy, but behind him, there are no proven wideouts.
Returning Starters: 7
Defensive Line: Trey Flowers and Darius Philon
Linebacker: Brooks Ellis and Braylon Mitchell
Secondary: Will Hines, Tevin Mitchel and Alan Turner
Yes, the defense returns the majority of its starters, but they are from a unit that was porous.
Like the offense, the defense is going to have to make major strides in the coming months and position battles are sure to ensue. Two starters who should have no problem keeping their jobs are defensive end Flowers and tackle Philon. Flowers will be a senior leader and Philon, who has a very bright future, moved into the starting lineup during the season as a freshman.
Mitchell will be a senior and the most experienced in 2014. Freshman Brooks Ellis moved into a starting role late in the season and should be a fixture in the middle for the next few years. The Hogs have to replace Jarrett Lake, who was the most consistent of the group.
In the secondary, Arkansas will get Hines back after his sophomore year was ended with a broken arm. Freshman Jared Collins played admirably in his absence and will have a key role as well. The Razorbacks will have two seniors defending the pass in Mitchel and Turner.
Mitchel has plenty of skills and ability, but has been inconsistent in his career. Turner's return is big for a secondary that had all sorts of problems defending the pass. He was the team leader in tackles for 2013 with 97 total, 20 more than than the second-leading tackler.
The next two months leading up to National Signing Day are going to be very busy for Bielema and his staff. Recruiting is a vital part in building a program, and the Hogs have areas that they can help address by signing prospects.
The 2014 class currently has 16 commitments, including two 4-stars, but there is plenty of room for more talent.
DT Craig Evans
The 4-star defensive tackle has been committed to Wisconsin since 2012, but he was originally turned onto the school after building a relationship with then-Badgers' head coach Bielema according to Richard Davenport of WholeHogSports.com.
Davenport reported that Evans said his visit to Fayetteville on September 14 was "remarkable."
At 6'5", 300 pounds, Evans is a load to handle on the inside. He's very athletic and quick for his size and with some coaching, he could become a star at the collegiate level. Landing Evans would be a huge get for the Hogs.
LB Mike Smith
Linebackers coach Randy Shannon has deep roots in the state of Florida, and it is having a profound effect on Arkansas' recruitment of the Sunshine State.
The Hogs have two linebacker commits currently, and Mike Smith out of Miami is the top remaining player at the position on their board. He's been a Miami commit since the summer, but he's taking visits and will be in Fayetteville on Jan. 24 for one of them according to HawgSports.com's Big Red Board.
Arkansas is in desperate need of linebackers and already have two committed. Adding Smith to that group would greatly help depth at the position and make for some very good competition during the offseason.
CB Cornelius Floyd
Like the linebacker position, Arkansas needs help in the secondary. They had trouble all year stopping the pass and adding guys that are physical in coverage is a must. Floyd is a big, physical corner at 6'1", 190 pounds and has good hands, playing wide receiver in high school as well.
Floyd could come in and immediately challenge for a key role as a freshman.
Biggest Story Line
There's been a few, but the biggest and most concerning has to be the Hogs losing out on another top in-state prospect in defensive tackle Josh Frazier.
Frazier committed to Alabama in late Nov. over the Razorbacks, marking the second-straight year Arkansas lost a top prospect in its own backyard to the Crimson Tide. One of the most critical parts of being successful in recruiting is keeping the top prospects in your own state at home.
With the way things have gone for the Arkansas program in the last two years, it's understandable why a kid might like his chances elsewhere. But going forward, if Bielema and the Hogs want to build a winning program, they have to keep other programs from coming in and stealing the best the Natural State has to offer.
Stars of the Future
This past season wasn't kind to the Razorbacks, but that doesn't mean there weren't bright spots. There were a few first-year players that showed they are going to be very special players and stars of the future for Bielema.
RB Alex Collins
This is an obvious choice.
Collins led all freshmen in rushing at the FBS level and was just named to the 2013 Sporting News Freshman All-American Team. He became the 10th SEC and the second Arkansas freshman back to rush for over 1,000 yards. He also did that with a passing game that was nearly non-existant for much of the year.
There's no doubt that Collins is a future star and is primed to do big things for the Hogs in the years to come.
TE Hunter Henry
Henry also was named to the Sporting News Freshman All-American. What makes that impressive is that only one tight end is named to the team and Henry was the guy.
He finished second on the team with 409 yards receiving and a team-leading 14.6 yards per reception (min. 15 receptions). Henry has great hands and is able to find holes in coverage to make big plays down the field.
He is going to have a chance to win the Mackey Award as the nation's best tight end during his career. Henry is a natural at the position, and he is going to do big things before his career is over.
DT Darius Philon
Defensive tackle Darius Philon had a great first year, and he came on very strong in the second half of the season.
The Hogs stole him out of Alabama and it turned out to be a huge steal for Arkansas. Philon finished the season with three sacks and had nine tackles for loss. He uses his size and power to shed off blockers and find the ball like a veteran. Philon is going to be a fixture on the inside of the D-line for the next few seasons.
Everything is quiet on the coaching front on The Hill, for now.
For the first time in awhile, there aren't any rumors circulating about the status of the coaching staff. Bielema's job is safe for at least two more years, barring a complete disaster in the next few seasons.
The only assistant at this point that you could possibly make speculation about is offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. The offense looked completely lost at points in 2013, and you can't help but think that if it doesn't make some strides and begin to move the ball more consistently, Bielema could possibly look elsewhere for guidance over the offense.
O-line coach Sam Pittman got a hefty raise before even coaching in a game after Alabama made a run for him, so he's going to be in Fayetteville for some time.
Defensive coordinator Chris Ash has been with Bielema since he was at Wisconsin, so even though the defense struggled mightily, don't expect a change anytime soon there either.
Of course, these things can change in the blink of an eye in college football.
The Razorbacks must make major improvements this offseason because the 2014 schedule is loaded with tough games.
Unlike 2013, Arkansas begins the 2014 campaign right off the bat with a daunting road game at Auburn. They will get a tune-up the following week before an early-season, out-of-conference road test at Texas Tech, a game that could have huge implications for the Hogs' momentum moving into the meat of the schedule.
Northern Illinois at home in game four is not a gimme by any stretch. That's followed by facing off against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
The good news is that many of the hard games are at home. The Hogs get Alabama, Georgia, LSU and Ole Miss in Arkansas. If they can win at least two of those games, 2014 could be much more successful. Arkansas also closes out the year with a trip to Missouri instead of its usual season-ending showdown with LSU.
Having the tougher games at home next year sets the Hogs up for a chance to make a big jump in their record from 2013. That is going to be largely dependent upon the progress they make during the offseason.
It could very easily be a big turnaround, but it could just as easily be another forgettable year.
All recruiting rankings and data are courtesy of 247Sports.com. Statistics are provided from ArkansasRazorbacks.com and ESPN.com.
For more information on the Arkansas Razorbacks football team, follow Bryan Heater on Twitter @BHeaterRivals.
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