Arkansas can only go up in 2019.
The Razorbacks’ room for improvement this fall is wide, as they were 2-10 overall and went 0-for-8 against Southeastern Conference foes in 2018. Las Vegas has set the over/under for their win total at 5.5, in part because of a non-conference slate stocked with cupcakes.
Kentucky is Arkansas’ out-of-division rotational opponent in SEC play this season. Arkansas travels to Lexington on Oct. 12; both teams will be coming off a bye week.
That game is about three months away, but it’s never too early to scout an opponent, especially one the Wildcats haven’t played since 2012. Here’s what you need to know about the Razorbacks.
A graduate transfer will start for Arkansas this fall, but who it will be is to be determined.
The Razorbacks’ top two passers from last year — Ty Storey and Cole Kelley — transferred (Storey is at Western Kentucky, Kelley at Southeastern Louisiana). Arkansas reloaded with Ben Hicks, from SMU, and Nick Starkel, from Texas A&M.
Hicks threw for a school-record 9,081 yards and 71 touchdowns in three seasons as a starter at SMU. He completed 56.7 percent of his passes and threw 34 interceptions.
Starkel started but suffered an ankle injury in Texas A&M’s season opener in 2017. He played in seven games that year, completing 60 percent of his passes for 1,793 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions. Starkel threw for 499 yards and four TDs in a bowl game loss to Wake Forest to end 2017, but lost the starting job to Kellen Mond last season and attempted just 22 throws in 2018.
Second-year head coach Chad Morris was non-committal on who would start to begin the year.
Morris, who took over at Arkansas last year after three seasons leading SMU, referenced UK head coach Mark Stoops when talking about building a program.
“When you take a head football coaching job, you know that establishing and enhancing a culture is your top priority, and it takes time, and it takes consistency, and there’s a certain process to follow to develop the results that you’re looking for,” Morris said. “You can look at examples for guys that I worked for, Coach (Dabo) Swinney, guys in this league, Dan Mullen and Mark Stoops. It didn’t happen overnight.”
Stoops went 2-10 and 0-8 as a first-time head coach at UK in 2013. The Wildcats went 5-7 the next two seasons before back-to-back 7-6 seasons in 2016 and 2017. A 10-3 campaign last year was one of UK’s best in program history.
Arkansas won 10 games in 2010 and 11 in 2011, both years under Bobby Petrino, who was fired from Louisville last year. It had three straight winning seasons from 2014-2016 before back-to-back losing years.
Continuing to gain ground on the recruiting trail — its 2019 class was ranked 23rd nationally by 247Sports — will be crucial in rediscovering those heights.
“It’s like shaving. If you don’t do it every day, you look like a bum,” Morris said. “So you got to recruit. And it’s every day and our staff hears it from me every day.”
Arkansas won 49-7 — the most-lopsided decision in series history — the last time these two got together. The score could have been worse; that game was ruled final with 5:08 remaining in the third quarter due to severe weather.
John L. Smith was the head coach of that 2012 Arkansas team, which finished 4-8 (UK went 2-10 that year). The Wildcats missed the entirety of the five years Bret Bielema coached at Arkansas from 2013-2017.
The Razorbacks are one of three SEC teams against which Kentucky has a winning record all-time, having gone 4-3 in their previous seven meetings. UK is 45-28-3 against Vanderbilt and 4-3 against Missouri.