Stopping by the in-grocery pharmacy to pick up a prepared prescription and kibitz, the visit lasted 20-something minutes because of separate conversations about a singular topic with two shoppers, a self-checkout supervisor, and pharmacy employees.
Excitement about Razorback football abounds.
Typically, talk includes Chad Morris’ new offense, the 2018 schedule, and the possibility of a bowl game. Hard-core fans compliment Morris for mentioning conditioning and the need for speed.
All well and good, but digesting statistics compiled by Morris offenses at Clemson and SMU and repeating the new head coach’s promise-filled catch phrases can precipitate unreasonable expectations.
In January, determining a won-loss record that should be acceptable in Morris’ first year is tricky.
For starters, Morris did not inherit a great deal more talent than Bret Bielema did when he replaced John L. Smith, and the new, earlier signing date for recruits has crimped pursuit of new blood. As a result, many of the players involved in 2017’s 4-8 record will be starters in revamped schemes.
Among the eight who signed with Arkansas in December, wide receiver Mike Woods and linebacker Bumper Pool seem most likely to contribute immediately. Expecting any of the four high school linemen to transition to the SEC in a few months is unrealistic.
That said, playmakers have a license to flourish in the up-tempo spread and wide receiver Jordan Jones comes to mind. The speedy sophomore is one of six returning players with double-digit receptions. When healthy, running backs Chase Hayden and Devwah Whaley are capable, and the coaches will figure out the quarterback situation.
Being generous, call the defense a work in progress.
Getting a handle on the number of scholarships available is difficult. Attrition comes with a coaching change, but Morris apparently inherited 70-plus underclassmen on scholarship and 85 is the limit. Arkansas is pursuing athletes Morris had contact with previously, plus some committed players who passed on the early signing period.
The UA could sign 10 or so in February, although my question concerns the number of quality athletes still available.
Twelve of the top 14 ranked recruiting classes signed 20 or more last month. Exceptions are College Football Playoff opponents Clemson, with 15 players, and Alabama, with 19, and both can skim the remaining cream.
A positive is the 2018 schedule, which appears easier than the 2013 lineup Bielema faced his first year. That year, Arkansas was 0-8 in the SEC, and the other six teams in the West won 57 games. In addition, South Carolina — Arkansas’ permanent opponent from the SEC East at the time — finished 11-2.
Morris benefits from Michigan’s decision to buy out of a home and home with Arkansas that was to begin in September. As a result of the move, none of Arkansas’ four non-conference opponents are from a Power Five Conference and even an average SEC team is supposed to beat an FCS team plus representatives from the Mountain West, Sun Belt, and American Athletic Conference.
In addition, Vanderbilt — 6-26 in the SEC in four years under Derek Mason with little reason to expect a reversal of form — replaces South Carolina on the schedule and Ole Miss should be vulnerable considering quarterback Shea Patterson’s transfer to Michigan and the NCAA’s two-year ban on postseason participation.
As for the six other SEC opponents, Arkansas faces four quarterbacks who have compiled tidy stats vs. the Razorbacks:
—Drew Lock, Missouri, 41 of 68 for 716 yards and six touchdowns in two games.
—Jalen Hurts, Alabama, 25 of 36 for 404 yards and three touchdowns in two games.
—Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State, 481 passing, 232 rushing, and nine touchdowns in two games.
—Jarrett Stidham, Auburn, 19 of 28 for 218 yards, and 49 yards rushing in one game.
Their only loss was Arkansas 58, MSU 42 in 2016.
Long-term, most fans say they will be satisfied if Morris can get Arkansas to the SEC championship game every five years.
Baby steps, first.
In 2018, six Ws is both doable and acceptable.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org