Most Arkansas fans were happy to see 2018 pass. The woes have been widely chronicled. But what does 2019 have in store?
I dust off my crystal ball and bring you seven Hogs predictions for 2019:
Hogs football wins six games, goes bowling
Most seasons that included a nonconference schedule as soft as Charmin toilet tissue, six wins would be the absolute minimum.
However, coming off a historically bad season, I’m not willing to give Arkansas more than two wins in the SEC.
The candidates would be the second game of the season at Ole Miss, and home tilts with Mississippi State and Missouri late in the season.
I wouldn’t say any of those three are gimmes. No game is really at this point. I would also add that if Arkansas doesn’t run the table against Portland State, Colorado State, San Jose State and Western Kentucky, coach Chad Morris will be under intense scrutiny.
Likewise, if Arkansas goes winless in the SEC for a second straight year only needing two wins to be bowl eligible, that is likely to not sit well with boosters either.
The talent Morris is bringing to Fayetteville is exceptional and many of those players will play immediately.
They get the benefit of cutting their teeth against lesser competition, and I’m banking on them gaining a lot of confidence and picking up some SEC Ws and playing more competitively in losses.
Hogs baseball returns to the College World Series
At least one friend I know who covers all things Arkansas thought I was nuts mentioning this in last week’s column. However, I am going stick with it.
I understand the Hogs lose key pieces such as dominant pitcher Blaine Knight, but pitcher Isaiah Campbell is poised to have a great year, and if Hogs starters can get to the back end of the bullpen, it is filthy with closer Matt Cronin waiting to finish the ninth inning.
Heston Kjerstad, Dominic Fletcher and Casey Martin are as good of a middle of the lineup as you will see in college baseball and coach Dave Van Horn has talent to sprinkle in at other key spots.
The start may not be pretty, but I see Arkansas catching fire at the end of the season and playing on the road in the postseason to make a run to Omaha.
Hogs Basketball in the NIT
This is a hard one because the Hogs have been inconsistent in the preseason. They played a very light non-conference schedule and dropped home games to mediocre opponents Western Kentucky and Georgia Tech.
That inconsistency won’t work against a rugged Southeastern Conference slate that features several Top 25 opponents. Arkansas must finish at least 9-9 to have a shot at the Big Dance with a chance to pick up a win or two in the SEC Tournament.
Not something you’d necessarily bet your life savings on based on the schedule.
Still, the Hogs feature one of the best big men in the country in Daniel Gafford, have some of the best chemistry of any Mike Anderson team and play good, team defense. Currently, several inexperienced players are finding their way.
The key will be how quickly they can reach their maturity and if they dig too big of a hole in SEC play before they find their way. The most likely scenario finds them as one of the last four out on Selection Sunday.
Morris lands Top 10 recruiting class
Some of you don’t believe it, but I am very impressed with Morris’ recruiting effort this year.
He landed the program’s best class on paper after one of its worst seasons. He has a charisma about him, with future blueprints as the only thing to advertise. Recruits are buying it.
If Arkansas shows any kind of improvement this year, look for his 2020 class to be ranked in the Top 10 by most recruiting services.
Arkansas women qualify for postseason play
When Arkansas hired Mike Neighbors to succeed Jimmy Dykes as women’s basketball coach, they got it right. Most that follow the program aren’t banking on if he will turn around the lethargic program but when.
The Hogs improved his first year without a glut of talent.
Arkansas finished the nonconference schedule with an 11-3 mark with a couple of nice wins. The SEC slate is even more unforgiving than the men, though, as the Hogs found out in Thursday night in a 93-69 home loss to juggernaut Mississippi State.
Look for Neighbors’ team to continue to improve and battle though the conference season enough to win 20 games and a WNIT bid.
Former Hog Steve Atwater lands in the Pro Football Hall of Fame
This week the NFL announced the former Hogs and Denver Broncos safety was among 15 finalists competing for eight spots in this year’s class.
Atwater should have already been voted in.
His credentials are impressive: an eight-time Pro Bowler, including seven consecutive; Two-time First-team All-Pro, 1,125 career tackles; 1990s NFL 1990s All-Decade selection and two-time Super Bowl champion.
Atwater, who was a HOF finalist in 2016, was one of the hardest hitters in NFL history and greatest all-time safeties. He belongs in Canton.
No Nolan Richardson Court
Arkansas misses a golden opportunity to name the court at Bud Walton Arena after the former legendary Hall of Fame coach during the 25th anniversary of the 1994 National Championship team.
Fans seem to overwhelmingly support the idea, but the administration seems reluctant. When Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek was asked on statewide radio about the prospects, he seemed uncomfortable.
Someone doesn’t want it to happen, and that is a shame. Richardson’s feud with the school upon his firing is well-documented, but former athletics director Jeff Long did a good job mending fences between the two parties. Richardson is a fixture at games at BWA supporting his protégé Mike Anderson.
Many will be disappointed if the 25th anniversary celebration passes without properly honoring Richardson.