Early football preview and predictions: Arkansas Razorbacks
Observer Sports Staff | Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Date: Sept. 12
Location: Notre Dame Stadium
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m.
Notre Dame’s 2020 home opener will be against the Arkansas Razorbacks. Arkansas is one of just four SEC opponents that the Irish have never played; this game represents the first of a home-and-home series, with Notre Dame traveling to Fayetteville in 2025 for the road matchup.
The Razorbacks have not found much success in the last two seasons, finishing the 2018 and 2019 seasons with identical 2-10 (0-8 SEC) records. However, they moved on from head coach Chad Morris last November and hired Sam Pittman as their next head coach. Pittman previously served as associate head coach and offensive line coach at Georgia.
They also added multiple key graduate transfers, including former Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks. In 2018, as the starter, Franks passed for over 2,400 yards and 24 touchdowns but elected to transfer after redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask performed well in his absence following a season-ending injury last year. This move should bring stability to an offense that started three different quarterbacks last year, none being very effective. Arkansas also returns senior running back Rakeem Boyd, who was sixth in the SEC last season with over 1,100 rushing yards. They return eight starters on offense.
They also have five four-star incoming freshmen who figure to make an immediate impact. Their offense will undoubtedly be much improved by the addition of Franks and the additional playmakers around him, but they only made modest improvements to a defense that was last in the SEC last year, allowing more than 36 points per game. They lost leading tackler and second-team All-SEC linebacker De’Jon Harris, and defensive tackle McTelvin Agim who led the team with 8.5 tackles for loss, as well as T.J. Smith and Gabe Richardson, who also started on the defensive line. Even though they return seven starters on defense, their defense arguably will be worse this year, especially their front seven.
The Irish are likely to take advantage, and use this game to continue finding out who they are on offense, after losing key threats like Chase Claypool and Cole Kmet, and Chris Finke either graduating or declaring for the draft.
“There [is] great competition with a lot of really good receivers,” head coach Brian Kelly said after the Irish’s practice on March 5.
Notre Dame has a lot of inexperienced receivers, and it is unclear who will be the top threats. Junior Tommy Tremble is the top returning receiver, finishing last year with 183 yards and four touchdowns. Junior receivers Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy are likely to be featured heavily in the passing game as well.
Notre Dame will also pound the ball on the ground, racking up rushing yards. After Tony Jones Jr. declared for the NFL draft, it appears junior Jafar Armstrong will be the Irish’s number one back for his senior year. Many expected him to be the starting running back last year, but suffered an injury in the opener last year against Louisville, and Jones emerged to take most of the carries. Armstrong has competition again this year, as junior C’Bo Flemister was very impressive in limited playing time last season, and figures to get more carries this year. Additionally, four-star recruit Chris Tyree, who ESPN ranks as the fifth best running back in this year’s class, will also challenge for playing time.
Liam Coolican — Sports Writer
My prediction for this game is that Notre Dame will dominate offensively, especially on the ground. Arkansas’ offense will be better than most expect, and will challenge the relatively inexperienced Notre Dame defense, but they still will allow far too many points to stay in the game. I expect the game to be close for a half, but Notre Dame will pull away in the second half to win big in a high scoring affair.
FINAL: Notre Dame 52, Arkansas 27
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
This game should be no problem for the Irish. The Razorbacks have lost 19 straight SEC games, and they haven’t beaten a quality opponent in years. The Irish, on the other hand, have been stellar at home as of late. In fact, they are undefeated at home since their 2017 loss to Georgia. While I could see this Arkansas team being vastly improved next year and potentially pushing for a bowl game, they won’t stand a chance against the Irish.
The Irish will also have a week’s rest coming into the game, which will play into their advantage. I expect the Irish offense to be firing on all cylinders from the start and for there to be no doubt about who the better football team is. I anticipate all the players being fired up for the home opener, and the game will be over mid-way through the third quarter. Hopefully the Irish can use this game to learn something about younger players as well.
FINAL: Notre Dame 48, Arkansas 13
Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer
I predicted Notre Dame would barely escape Navy in their opener, so they’ll be ready to roll against Arkansas, which is bad news for the Razorbacks, who despite being an SEC squad, are not a good football team. After a 2-10 campaign in 2019, it’s hard to tell if things will get better for them, and they definitely won’t in this game against a Top-10 Notre Dame team. The Irish defense should be elite as always, and their offense will come into their own under Tommy Rees. After a slow first game in a Notre Dame uniform, look for both graduate transfer Bennett Skowronek and freshman running back Chris Tyree to have big games as Notre Dame cruises in their home opener.