Bryant decision only slightly alters '19 expectation

By: Harry King
Published: Thursday, December 6, 2018
Hawgs Illustrated/BEN GOFF 
Ryan Mallett (right), former Arkansas quarterback, greets Kelly Bryant, former Clemson quarterback, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Hawgs Illustrated/BEN GOFF Ryan Mallett (right), former Arkansas quarterback, greets Kelly Bryant, former Clemson quarterback, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

LITTLE ROCK — Asking Arkansas football fans about the 2019 season, the right adjective, a little inflection and some background can influence the answer.

For example, emphasizing “reasonable” prior to “expectations” discourages blind faith in immediate production from new Razorbacks, and declaring Chad Morris inherited little SEC talent continues the tone.

Results of the unscientific polling during casual conversation with folks at high school football games and coffee klatch regulars at the fitness place has been on hold more than a week pending the destination decision of a 22-year-old quarterback.

According to some with Razorback ties, Kelly Bryant scheduled his announcement for Dec. 4 as a birthday gift to Morris, the man who recruited him to Clemson. Instead of completing the conspiracy and embracing Fayetteville, Bryant opted for Missouri.

So much for the power of a player-coach relationship.

While sorting out the Tigers, Razorbacks, Auburn, North Carolina and Mississippi State, Bryant cited positives about each program, including quarterback Drew Lock’s progress under Missouri’s first-year offensive coordinator, Derek Dooley. Lock’s total production declined in 2018, but his completion percentage jumped from 57.8 in 2017 to 63.2 this year, and Bryant’s 2019 season is a one-year audition for the NFL.

Also, Bryant probably noticed Missouri’s roster includes three underclassmen with 26 catches or more and a total of 15 touchdowns.

If Bryant had opted for Arkansas, revisiting with poll participants and revising the question would have been necessary. To most, Bryant would have been worth at least one or two victories, but while compiling a 16-2 record as a starter at Clemson, Bryant had far more help than he would have had at Arkansas.

Without him, 5-7 was the most popular response. Even among the optimistic, 6-6 was the max.

This amateur pollster is on board with 5-7.

Same as in 2018, 4-0 vs. non-conference opponents is a must for Arkansas to record five or more victories. The 2019 group appears even weaker than the Eastern Illinois-Colorado State-North Texas-Tulsa group that was 2-2 vs. the Razorbacks.

Portland State was 4-7 and gave up 48 or more four times, one of Colorado State’s three victories was against Arkansas, San Jose State of the Mountain West Conference was 1-11, and Conference USA member Western Kentucky was 3-9.

Other than that, Arkansas’ opportunities are few and far between.

Alabama, Texas A&M and LSU — the best in the SEC West — will not regress and Auburn will be better or Gus Malzahn will be unemployed. Already, his offensive coordinator has bailed for Kansas and other assistants might follow Chip Lindsey’s lead.

Swapping SEC East teams Vanderbilt for Kentucky, a nine-game winner with a young quarterback who completed 71 percent or more in four of the last five games, is no bargain. And, Bryant will help Missouri move on without Lock.

Remaining are the Mississippi schools, both starting over at quarterback. This century, winning records at Arkansas were often built on 2-0 vs. the Rebels and Bulldogs. Houston Nutt was perfect in his last four years; ditto Bobby Petrino his final two years. Since 2011, Arkansas’ only sweep occurred in 2016.

Morris was among more than a dozen new coaches in Power Five conferences and more than half had losing seasons. Jonathan Smith at Oregon State matched Morris’ 2-10 record while Chip Kelly was only one slightly better at UCLA (3-9), and Scott Frost was 4-8 at Nebraska. Meanwhile, Willie Taggart, Matt Luke, Jeremy Pruitt and Kevin Sumlin were 5-7 at Florida State, Ole Miss, Tennessee, and Arizona.

On the plus side, Florida’s 9-3 under Dan Mullen was the best. Texas A&M’s Jimbo Fisher, Mississippi State’s Joe Moorhead and Oregon’s Mark Cristobal were 8-4, while Arizona State’s Herm Edwards was 7-5.

In a twisted sort of way, Morris is in a better position than most of the others when it comes to meeting expectations. For instance, Mullen and Fisher will be expected to compete for division titles in 2019.

Meanwhile, Morris will receive kudos if Arkansas gets to the Missouri game with a chance to be eligible for a bowl.

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