2004 Arkansas Razorbacks Football Season Preview

<b>Head Coach:</b> Houston Nutt (48-27, 84-49 overall) <br><br> <b>Last Season's Record:</b> 9-4 (4-4 in SEC) <br><br> <b>Last Bowl Appearance:</b> 2004 Independence Bowl (27-14 victory over <A HREF=http://missouri.TheInsiders.com>Missouri</A>) <br><br> <b>Key matchup(s):</b> Sept. 11<A HREF=http://texas.TheInsiders.com>Texas</A> (ESPN); Nov. 26 <A HREF=http://louisianastate.TheInsiders.com>LSU</A> (CBS).

Star Power: QB Matt Jones, 3-year returning starter, 6-6, 237, Sr., Career stats - 3,784 yards passing, 1,913 yards rushing; TB DeCori Birmingham, rushed for 549 yards in 2003 as backup, 5-11, 200, Sr-3L; DT Arrion Dixon, 6-4, 295, Sr-3L, 99 career tackles; Jeb Huckeba, DE, 6-5, 235, Sr.-3L, 154 career tackles.

Notable Additions: Peyton Hillis, TB-FB, Fr., 6-2, 240; Anthony Brown, WR, Jr., 6-6, 201; Weston Dacus, LB, Fr., 6-2, 220; Michael Grant, CB, Fr., 5-11, 185; Rick Culbert, CB, Fr., 6-0, 180; Ernest Mitchell, DT, Fr., 6-2, 290.

Notable Subtractions: 25 seniors finished eligibility (chief losses, entire offensive line, entire secondary), five juniors left early for NFL draft including first round picks Shawn Andrews and Batman Carroll.

Notable Returnees: TB De'Arrius Howard, WR Steven Harris, P Jacob Skinner, PK Chris Balseiro, OT Zac Tubbs, C Kyle Roper, LB Clarke Moore, DT Jeremy Harrell, DE Elliott Harris, FS Vickiel Vaughn.

2004 FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
09/04/04New Mexico State
09/11/04Texas
09/18/04Louisiana-Monroe
09/25/04Alabama
10/02/04@Florida
10/16/04@Auburn
10/23/04Georgia
11/06/04@South Carolina
11/13/04Mississippi
11/20/04@Mississippi State
11/26/04Louisiana State
Offensive Overview: Quarterback Matt Jones, perhaps the most exciting player in Arkansas history, leads an offense wiped out by graduation. Jones is the only true starter returning on offense, but there are plenty with solid experience to fill the holes. Tailbacks DeCori Birmingham and De'Arrius Howard are quality SEC backs. Fullback Brandon Kennedy was a part-time starter last year, as was tight end Jared Hicks. Steven Harris, often injured, is a super wideout and is full healthy. Juco transfer Anthony Brown and sophomore Cedric Washington give the Hogs more big-play threats at wideout than they've had since joining the SEC in 1992. The offensive line will be the key. All five starters are new, although Zac Tubbs played well in the bowl game after Shawn Andrews left the team following the regular season. The line will be more athletic than the last few offensive fronts, but will need time to come together. This unit has explosive capability, but may not start strong because of the green nature of the line. However, Matt Jones, poised to become the SEC's top rushing QB of all time, gives plenty of maturity under center.

Defensive Overview: The defensive front is talented, deep and experienced, but the secondary is in a rebuilding mold after graduation and the NFL draft wiped out the entire two deep. Defensive tackle Arrion Dixon and rush end Jeb Huckeba are the best of the linemen, although end Elliott Harris was outstanding in the spring and could be ready to blossom. The linebackers are solid with Clarke Moore and Sam Olajubutu rotating in the middle and Marcus Whitmore and Michael Robinson rotating at the strongside linebacker. However, the secondary is a different story. Safety Vickiel Vaughn and corner Michael Coe are the only scholarship players returning with any experience and that was mostly on special teams or nickel packages. Corners Chris Houston and John Johnson both showed promise in the spring, but must continue to improve to be able to help against SEC competition. There is plenty of help in the first-year class with freshmen Michael Grant, Matterral Richardson, Shedrick Johnson, Dallas Washington, Desmond Williams and De'Nerian Wrighter along with juco transfers Randy Kelly and Darius Vinnett.

Special Teams Overview: The kickers, snappers and holders all return led by punter Jacob Skinner and placement specialists Chris Balseiro and David Carlton. However, the cover teams were wiped out by graduation and the NFL draft. Both gunners must be replaced along with a host of regulars who had played on special teams for three and four years.

The Arkansas Razorbacks will have a winning season if... the young offensive line provides some protection for Matt Jones and the secondary comes together in quick fashion. The Hogs play perhaps their toughest schedule in school history with Texas, Florida, Auburn, Georgia and LSU all high in national rankings.

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