Doc Harper: Razorback Football Will Be Better, But How Much Better?


Doc Harper Bio Page“An epic and complete disaster!”

“I actually thought it was pretty good.”

“We’re going to suck. Again.”

“Why does anybody actually care about that to begin with?”

And thus were the reactions to Arkansas’ spring game.  Varying wildly and all perfectly valid.

About the only conclusion I’ve been able to draw from all of spring practice and recruiting season is that I believe Arkansas Razorback football will be better this season, but how much better is a giant mystery.

The Razorbacks should be improved or at least be the same at virtually every position on the field other than center and possibly kicker. The team will have more weapons on offense. Running back, receiver and tight end all feature new names expected to make immediate impacts. Defensively, a new scheme and a year of development for most of the players is expected to pay dividends.

Possibly the biggest achievement of Arkansas’ spring was the successful transition of both AJ Derby and Damon Mitchell to tight end and receiver, respectively.  Specifically, Mitchell was expected by many to transfer after he was moved because he apparently was only interested in playing quarterback. But last week it was announced that he’d decided to stay in Fayetteville and play receiver. That’s a big recruiting victory for Bret Bielema. Mitchell’s a great natural athlete who has only played receiver for a couple of weeks. Fans should be excited to see what he can do with several months and a full fall camp learning the position.

But Brandon Allen, oh, poor Brandon Allen. Few fans were able to see that he really was the best quarterback on the team in the scrimmages leading to the spring game, but that first half of the Red-White Game went about as badly as it possibly could have, short of major injury. Yes, he was much better in the second half, and it was a scrimmage without the full playbook and the defense was used to everything after 15 practices and so on. But that was brutal.

With so many recruits on hand and national media members using the spring game as their only evidence of how Arkansas has evolved since November, that can’t be what the Arkansas coaches wanted to happen. The next day, Las Vegas oddsmakers made the Hogs a 20.5-point underdog in the season opener against Auburn. At least one national reporter came on a local sports talk radio show and said Arkansas would go 0-8 in the SEC again this season. Arkansas is probably a lock to be picked dead last in the SEC West when all projections come out in the endless train of preview magazines through SEC Media Days.

And that’s the thing, despite all the new players coming in, or expected to play larger roles, or respond better to new coaches, these aren’t the types of players whorazorback football will be better but how much better are stars to begin with. People who aren’t that familiar with the players aren’t going to be very impressed with the idea of Korliss Marshall playing a larger role at running back or Derby or Mitchell. Those names may be more recognized in the fall but for the next few months they’re not going to change anybody’s mind about Arkansas, so fans will have to continue dealing with getting little respect until the program finally breaks through and wins a meaningful game.

When that victory will come is anybody’s guess. While many will remember the nine-game losing streak to end the 2013 season, what fans should cling to is the fact that Arkansas was in position to win the games against Rutgers, Mississippi State, and LSU, and were competitive against Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Auburn.  The Hogs wouldn’t have to have been too much better to turn some of those losses into wins.

Arkansas will be better. But anybody who’s ever watched football knows how any momentum can instantly be halted in one bad play. Getting better is as much about eliminating mistakes as it is developing new skills and learning from experience. Arkansas will very likely have chances to win late in games again this season. If they can make one fewer mistake, or make one more tackle, or find one more offensive weapon, they may very well be able to win some of those games this fall.

And if we can survive the next four months of hearing the same talking points over and over and over, we’ll find out just how much better this team will be.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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