Hogs' lack of bowl game in '17 meaningless for '18

By: Harry King
Published: Friday, January 12, 2018
Arkansas tight end C.J. O'Grady scores a touchdown during the Razorbacks' game against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, Charlotte, N.C. Arkansas was one of 23 teams that participated in the 2016 bowl season but did not make a bowl game the following year.
Photo by Jason Ivester
Arkansas tight end C.J. O'Grady scores a touchdown during the Razorbacks' game against Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl on Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016, Charlotte, N.C. Arkansas was one of 23 teams that participated in the 2016 bowl season but did not make a bowl game the following year.

— Touted every January as a positive plus for the next season, carryover from a bowl game is not all that.

Supposedly, glorious accomplishments lie ahead for bowl teams in general, and winners in particular. For programs on the way up, winning six and qualifying for a bowl is often described as a springboard. For habitual bowl participants, winning in the postseason is touted as impetus for bigger and better.

Such blanket statements don’t match the facts, an encouraging sign for Arkansas fans.

Twenty-three of the 78 teams that participated in the 2016 bowl season did not win the minimum six games to be bowl eligible in 2017. Among the most dramatic reversals — 9-3 Tulsa to 2-10, 9-3 Air Force to 5-7, 8-4 North Carolina to 3-9, 8-4 Florida to 4-7 and 8-4 Tennessee to 4-8.

Plus, a 13-0 Western Michigan that lost in the Cotton Bowl a year ago, finished 6-6 this year and was left out of the postseason.

Arkansas was also among those that backed up, from 7-5 in 2016 to 4-8. Note the head coaches of the only four-game winners in the SEC all lost their jobs.

Florida and Tennessee also share the ignominious distinction of being among 12 teams that won bowl games after the 2016 season and were not bowl eligible this year. On top of that, six other bowl game winners had worse regular season records in 2017 than in 2016.

Putting a positive spin on Arkansas missing out on a bowl for the first time in four years is not difficult.

For instance, if Arkansas had been bowl eligible, leftovers from Bielema’s staff would have coached the game and the extra practices would have been for naught because both offense and defense will undergo a makeover.

Although Chad Morris does not inherit an abundance of talent, the new-look offense and the schedule are reasons to believe Arkansas can win six and earn a bowl bid in 2018.

Playmakers have a license to flourish in the up-tempo spread and wide receiver Jordan Jones comes to mind. The speedy sophomore is one of six returning players with double-digit receptions. When healthy, running backs Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley are capable, and the coaches will figure out the quarterback situation.

Meanwhile, the defense can’t be worse.

Pretty much, Arkansas’ starters will be holdovers from 2017 and redshirts.

Hamstrung by the early signing period, Arkansas only obtained eight signatures last month and, although another 10 or so could join the Razorbacks in February, I wonder about the quality of available athletes.

About one-third of the top 100 prospects did not sign in December, but a website that tracks such things says Arkansas is not among the SEC schools favored by more than a dozen of those athletes. Positioned to skim the cream are national champion Alabama with only 19 signees and 2016 champion Clemson with 15.

A positive for Arkansas is the 2018 schedule, which appears easier than the 2013 lineup Bret Bielema faced his first year. That year, the Razorbacks were 0-8 in the SEC when four SEC West teams won nine or more and wound up in the AP Top 20, and all six went bowling. In addition, South Carolina — Arkansas’ permanent opponent from the SEC East at the time — finished 11-2.

Michigan buying out of the home and home that was to begin in September leaves Arkansas with an FCS team and opponents from the Mountain West, Conference USA and American Athletic Conference on the non-conference schedule, and Arkansas should be favored in all four non-SEC games.

In addition, Vanderbilt — 6-26 the last four years under Derek Mason — replaces South Carolina on the schedule, and Ole Miss should be vulnerable considering quarterback Shea Patterson’s transfer to Michigan and the NCAA’s two-year ban on postseason participation.

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