Hogs Embracing Change; Looking for Success
After much change and transition, we have a slightly clearer picture of where the Arkansas Razorbacks are headed. I will address as many of the changes and the current outlook for many sports.
Spring football in Arkansas came and went without much fanfare, primarily because much of the focus is on players that were out for Spring competition for injury or the new recruiting class coming in. In the rating era, this is the best class of incoming freshman Arkansas has ever assembled. What is most important, Coach Chad Morris went after needs for the team and not just star ratings. One thing is proven, this staff can recruit.
The game saw many familiar faces, as well as graduate transfer and former quarterback for Morris in Ben Hicks. Arkansas chose to not divide the squad into two specific teams, but placed the offense in white and the defense in red, with the quarterbacks wearing the anthracite uniforms. The offense was pedestrian, but that was expected with numerous injuries, including Rakeem Boyd at running back and the veteran receivers. Hicks was solid, but not flashy, while wide receiver and early enrollee Trey Knox was impressive. While talking with Coach Bobby Allen on the sideline, he mentioned the hand strength of Knox. Just moments later, Knox ripped away a pass over the middle in good coverage and took it to the house.
Defense is faster. Even with the number of outstanding athletes missing from the rotation, they looked significantly better. For Arkansas to succeed, this recruiting class will have to contribute immediately, and they looked able. On site, but not able to compete was another graduate transfer quarterback in Nick Starkel. He threw for a measly 499 yards in his last appearance in a bowl game at Texas A& M before losing the job after a coaching change to Kellen Mond. Starkel will be eligible in the fall and will have two years remaining. His skill set may elevate him quickly if he can learn the system, the one advantage that Hicks has on him at this point. Arkansas saw in state quarterback Ty Story transfer to Western Kentucky and redshirt freshman Conner Noland is in the weekend rotation for the Arkansas baseball team, so he may likely pursue that avenue with great success.
Morris is changing the atmosphere. There is expectation, and this season should produce a trip to a bowl game if the development continues as expected. The state is optimistic, and the recruiting results keep piling up, fueling the fire for this season and the ones to come.
Arkansas parted ways with a head basketball coach that has not experienced a losing season. Anderson is an incredibly likable person and brought the program out of the cesspool it was in after two failed coaches. He also had links to Nolan Richardson and the national championship team, but in the end, it was not enough. He has since landed at St. Johns while Arkansas went for the high energy Eric Musselman, most recently of Nevada. He has NBA coaching experience and once finished as a runner up for coach of the year to some guy named Popovich. He brings a new style of play in the NBA style of space and pace. The days of 40 minutes of hell and Nolan Richardson do not work in todays game, with the changes to the hand check rule, and even more importantly, the number of timeouts allowed for television. In the 80’s and 90’s, you could just run people into the hardwood, but those days have passed. Mussleman brings a new look in recruiting as well, known for landing many of the top transfers in the nation. In his few short days, he has already landed highly regarded transfer 6-7, 215, Jeantal Cylla. Several other athletes have been rumored, but none officially confirmed.
I, for one, hated to see Anderson go, but winning is essential and Arkansas expects more. I do believe they landed a great fit for the fan base and the morale is extremely high. Following the media from Nevada, most there truly appreciated what he brought to the program and he has handled the transition well.
Baseball is rolling, fresh off a sweep of the #2 team in the nation. Pitching was supposed to be the issue, but Van Horn is not afraid to risk a midweek game to get experience for his young talent. Isaiah Campbell is a legitimate ace, but Conner Noland has developed as a freshman. Behind them, Cody Scroggins, Zeb Vermillion and Jacob Kostyshock have been a great battalion. Back also is one of the nations best closers in Matt Cronin.
Offensively, they have been rolling up the opposition. Heston Kjerstad and Casey Martin have continued the excellence into their sophomore campaign. Transfers who started out as in state talent, Matt Goodheart and Trevor Ezell have been blistering the opposition. Jack Kelley, who was primarily a pinch runner a year ago, is starting at second base and has 8 home runs. I am leaving out so many who have been significant in the early success and 31 wins of this Razorback team. Look for them to make a deep run and try to avenge their runner up performance a year ago.
Women's Softball is playing well, most recently taking 2 out of 3 from LSU. They are 34-15 on the season and looking to hopefully host another postseason regional. At an Amateur women’s golf event at Augusta, Maria Fassi finished a close second in what was a historic event in many ways. Women’s basketball has been revitalized quickly under homegrown head coach Mike Neighbors and Sapulpa, Oklahoma native Chelsea Dungee. Following an NCAA tourney snub, they made a deep run in the NIT. Dungee is heading to play with Team USA this summer.
Track and Field, well, they just build a lot of trophy cases. They win in indoor, outdoor, and cross country, a feat that is almost impossible with the way scholarships are managed by the NCAA.
Overall, the mood in Arkansas is optimistic. Football should be better, basketball has a complete new vision, and baseball is on pace to make a deep post season run. For all of the Razorback fans calling the Hogs from Green Country, we hear you. Tulsa is proudly the second largest alumni base outside of the state of Arkansas and will always be connected with the happenings on the hill.