You can argue that off-season predictions are always meaningless. They’re usually somewhat off, but this SEC football season has proved more than ever just how incredibly, drastically wrong they can be.
However, especially when you don’t go to a bowl game the off-season stretches [guitar riff] on and on and on and on. And predicting the next season is a great way to fill some of that time. Everybody wants to know what’s going to happen next fall, as if it’s some thrilling TV series nearing its climax and we’re looking for clues to unlock the puzzle early.
At a certain point, we all want to look forward in hopes the future can bring us something more pleasant than focusing on analyzing the atrocity we’re just grateful to have survived, but this year, predicting 2014 just seems especially pointless – so I’m going to make a resolution not to do it.
I don’t think Arkansas will go 3-9 next year. I didn’t think they would this year. But trying to figure out where those wins come from next season is quite the conundrum. When you’ve gone 0-8 in conference play and are currently on a 12-game SEC losing streak, what games can you look forward to and say, “that’s a game Arkansas should win”?
We can hope the Hogs will be better for several reasons. Generally, young teams improve from season to season from experience and development. We can see that the Arkansas roster is getting filled with more of Bret Bielema’s own players. Everything should be falling into place a little better than it did in 2013. Other than replacing Zach Hocker, there may not be a unit on the team that you shouldn’t expect to be better next year.
As always, we can look to history to try to make sense of these things. Between 2002-2012, seven SEC teams went winless in conference play. Only once did one of those teams go 0-8 the next year (Kentucky in 2012 and again in 2013). So the odds are pretty good Arkansas will find at least one SEC victory somewhere next season. However, only when there’s been a regime change have any of those programs gone better than 1-7 the next fall.
Does that mean Arkansas is destined for a 1-7 SEC season next year? Of course not. It could happen. Might not. But another reason it’s hard to predict is that the SEC will look so dramatically different next year.
As usual, Arkansas plays a tough schedule (when you’re a struggling team, every schedule is tough) featuring Alabama, LSU, Texas A&M, Georgia, and Missouri, and all those schools are losing their starting quarterbacks after this season (assuming Johnny Manziel also leaves). They’re all going to have somewhat new looks with players with different playmaking abilities than what we’ve seen lately, and we won’t have much of an idea of what they will look like until games actually start.
The same goes for some of Arkansas’ non-conference opponents as well. Jordan Lynch is leaving Northern Illinois, so perhaps they’ll fall back to the role of traditional middling non-AQ school just in time for their trip to Fayetteville (or, worst case scenario, they’ve developed a system to establish themselves as the Boise of the Heartland, as Gus Malzahn might say). Texas Tech is also probably going to have a quarterback battle going on through its off-season as well, now that their Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year is transferring and their bowl starter is a mystery, at least to the public.
Of course, quarterback isn’t the only position that matters, and we can safely assume most of those teams will still field plenty of talented players. It’s just that we’ve also seen bad quarterback play torpedo otherwise good teams, and inconsistency at that position might make it more likely a growing team like Arkansas can surprise somebody.
More than any other year since I’ve been paying close attention, I have a hard time trying to figure out what will happen next season. We’ll have a somewhat clearer picture as we go through National Signing Day, spring practice and fall camp, but there will still be more unanswered questions than normal until games kick off, and that’s really exciting.
So spend the next several months listening to the talking heads, buying the preseason magazines, and reading sites like this one to try and guess what happens next fall, but I’m going to try to stay out of it because I admit, it’s all a guess from me at this point. But I’m sure sometime in the coming months I’ll be put on the spot and give a prediction, so I’m not counting on this resolution to last.
Oh, what the heck. 6-6. But don’t ask me which games.