AUBURN | Auburn’s 2017 football schedule includes two tough road games in September, three more in October and two big November rivalry games at home.
Today, we continue an early look at each opponent with a second-straight road game against an SEC West rival.
WHO: Arkansas (7-6 last season, 3-5 SEC West)
WHEN: Oct. 21
WHERE: Razorback Stadium (72,000)
WHAT’S NEW: Paul Rhoads was promoted from secondary coach to defensive coordinator. John Scott Jr. was hired from the N.Y. Jets as defensive line coach and Chad Walker from the Atlanta Falcons as outside linebackers coach.
WHO TO WATCH, OFFENSE: Senior Austin Allen returns as the starter after completing 245-of-401 passes (61.1 percent) for 3,430 yards with 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions last fall. Allen, who was sacked 34 times last season, is not much of a running threat.
WHO TO WATCH, DEFENSE: McTelvin Agim had just 27 tackles, 5.5 tackles-for-loss and 2.5 sacks as a freshman but the expectation for the former Rivals100 defensive end is for a breakout sophomore campaign. Agim, who started the final five games of last season, is up to 286 pounds.
OUTLOOK: Arkansas’ top returning player on offense, running back Rawleigh Williams, injured his neck during spring practice and elected to retire from football. Sophomore Devwah Whaley, who rushed for 602 yards and three touchdowns last fall, is expected to be the primary running back for the Hawgs this year. Senior Jared Cornelius leads a young group of receivers. Four starters return on the offensive line including senior center Frank Ragnow.
Arkansas allowed a nation’s-worst 39 rushing touchdowns last season and is transitioning to a base 3-4 under Rhoads. The front seven is a little questionable outside of Agim with linebackers Randy Ramsey and Dre Greenlaw ready to step up after solid seasons last fall. The secondary should be a strength led cornerback Ryan Pulley and safety Kevin Richardson.
It would be dangerous for Auburn to overlook this game after a resounding 56-3 win over the Hawgs last season. This game comes at the end of an eight-week stretch to open the season without an off-week and right after what should be a physical matchup at LSU. The Tigers have lost three of their last four games in Fayetteville including a 54-46 four overtime defeat in 2015.
AUBURN CONNECTION: Rhoads was Auburn’s defensive coordinator in 2008. Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Martin, a January enrollee, is a former Auburn commitment. Arkansas has just one player from Alabama on its roster in freshman quarterback Daulton Hyatt from Attalla.