Midseason report: Arkansas

It’s only been two years since Arkansas finished 11-2 and knocked off No. 8 Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl. The Razorbacks were considered one of the up-and-coming teams in the SEC, but then the Bobby Petrino incident happened. Now the Razorbacks are still trying to pick up the pieces.

First-year head coach Bret Bielema got off to a good start. His Arkansas team looked impressive in a 34-14 win over Louisiana Lafayette to open the season. They won the next two games and looked well on their way to 4-0 before a second-half collapse to Rutgers. The Razorbacks allowed 21 unanswered points in the final 20 minutes, losing 28-24 on the road.

Since the loss, Arkansas has dropped three straight games. It went from bad to worse this weekend when South Carolina came to Fayetteville and spoiled homecoming, dominating the Razorbacks, 52-7. It was their seventh straight conference loss, and it won’t get any easier this weekend when they visit No. 1 Alabama.

To make matters worse, the staff learned Monday that they will be without defensive tackle Robert Thomas for the remainder of the season after he broke his leg against the Gamecocks. Thomas had 31 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and 3.5 sacks.

It’s been a far cry from Bielema’s first season at Wisconsin where he went 12-1 with the Badgers, but it’s a rebuilding project and the Hogs still have three winnable games left against Auburn, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins might be the best running back in the conference, and he’s only a freshman. Through the first seven games, the former ESPN 300 recruit has rushed for 720 yards, good for second in the SEC, and four touchdowns. Even in Saturday’s loss to South Carolina, he went for 69 yards and a score and averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Bielema loves to have a workhorse in the backfield, and Collins has shown he can be that guy this year and for years to come. He’s the type of talent you can build a team around.

Defensive MVP: DE Chris Smith

There’s no way to devalue the loss of Smith, but Arkansas still boasts one of the top defensive lines in the SEC even without him. They lead the conference in sacks (20) this season, and the main culprit has been Smith, who is tied for the league lead with six. The senior defensive end has 23 tackles including eight for a loss and five quarterback hurries. He’s currently projected to go on the second day of next April’s NFL draft, but he could slide into the first round if he keeps playing at the level he’s been playing.